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Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds - Manichaean Book Art


By Bonnie Stevens

Flagstaff, AZ – If a picture truly paints a thousand words. . .then exquisitely illuminated book-art fragments of the mediaeval Manichaean religion speak volumes to art history associate professor Zsuzsanna Gulacsi.

This is Inquiring Minds. . .insights from the campus of Northern Arizona University.

Vivid depictions of white robed men, golden halos and symbolic meals of bread and fruit tell the story of Manichaeism - the only world religion that has become completely extinct. But a closer look unveils a more mysterious tale.

Encoded in the extravagant pictures are tinier images. . .faces in what appear to be jewels in ornate crowns.

Decoding the mystery is a life-long page turner for Gulacsi, one of the world's foremost experts on Manichaean art.

The religion's founder, Mani, lived in the third century. For 1,400 years, Manichaeism spread from the Mediterranean to China. It's based on a belief in one god and the struggle between good and evil.

As revealed in this ancient book art, Mani's god is the source of light and not of the earth. It's demonstrated by light transmitting from the hand of god reaching in to the world of humans.

Ironically, this black and white world of light and darkness was expressed through an extravagance of color, now faded in a hundred or so tattered book art remains.

Through digital reconstruction, Gulacsi is restoring luminous blues, metallic golds and other details to undeciphered chapters of this Central Asian religion.

Through her pioneering research and Mediaeval Manichaean Book Art, Gulacsi is revealing what may have been hiding in the shadows of this religion of light. . . .a more complete picture of an extinct religion, identifying a specific deity lighting the way from a distance.