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Welcome to Pilgrim to the Past!

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

This is a website dedicated to people who enjoy medieval and ancient art, and want to know more.

Maenad, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

This is a maenad--a celebrant of the cult of Dionysus. They're usually presented in this mythic style, embodying joy in experiencing both the sensual and the divine. I use maenads on my various social sites as my avatar for a festive experience of learning.

I named this site "Pilgrim to the Past" to convey an attitude toward art and architecture I've developed over 35 years of photographing pre-modern sites. Often, one's interest in history is to find ways in which people from the past are just like us; I try to teach my students to approach ancient and medieval subjects to listen and look for how they were and how they thought of themselves. Yes, art can be a mirror, but we can try to "see through a glass darkly," in hopes of coming face to face.

Most of the images here are from religious sites. Ancient and medieval religious bodies had the resources and the mission to build things to last, and to be of the highest quality materials. The remnants are enduring, and they are protected by living people who feel their continuing value.

I am not a religious person, and this site is not an advocate for any particular religion. I think of myself as an "art pilgrim," because, to me, it is art that endeavors to connect us with each other, the future, and the past. In physical travel, and in study, I journey to where the past is. I invite you to come along.

Blog posts and images here will aim to connect you to the past by giving you context and cues for looking more deeply, and for planning your own pilgrimages.

Often, when people go on tours to see sites from hundreds of years ago, they're caught in a kind of cattle drive through buildings, thronging with others who are there for diverse reasons, carried along in a distracting carnival of humanity. The art and architecture can be overwhelming because it is so complex and out of your normal understanding, and you're being rushed through it. My hope is that this blog gives you some time to look in peace, to think about what you see, and, when you can travel, to have some guidance which will allow you to approach an ancient object new to you, without feeling it is too complex for you to look into it for some connection to the past.

This is a maenad-like figure on a Romanesque Revival building in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is carved on the main humanities building on the U of M campus. A culture may purposely employ a style from an earlier period, to make a claim on some of the values it thought that predecessor had. Imitation is, indeed, the sincerest form of flattery.

How to enjoy this site:

My blog posts focus on a particular object, building, or common theme from the classical era or the Middle Ages.

Please refer to the topics page if you wish to focus on posts about a particular place or time period.

If you are interested in travel advice, please post a question in the comments area of the related post.

If you have questions related to the historical context or the artistic qualities of something in a post, please use the comments box to ask me for more information.

If you have some expertise to add to information in a post, I welcome your comments.

I've provided a page of resources for further study. A lot of them are academic sources, which may be difficult for you to come by in a conventional library. I list them for students and scholars (with privileges in academic libraries) who may wish to dig deeper, or for professionals to know that I've attempted due diligence in analyzing the subjects in the posts. I have a list of internet resources which should be of interest and help to both the inquisitive "civilian" and to scholars.

Please feel free to comment and "like" posts. It will make the site come alive for both of us. I look forward to hearing from you!

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