Islamic Portable Architecture in Christian Contexts: The Use of Islamic Tents in Medieval Italian Churches

This paper discusses the presence of Islamic tents in Italian churches in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century through an analysis of pictorial evidence and written sources. Though the use of Islamic textiles in Italian churches is widely attested by the survival of frescoes, paintings, and archival sources, the use of tents erected as baldachins has never been the object of a study while very scarce evidence has been brought to the attention of the scholarly community. In fact Islamic royal tents, often made of gold brocade and bejewelled textiles, represented one of the most valuable items of battlefield spoil as well as a prized item in diplomatic gift exchanges and their use and re-adaptation as baldachins and reredoses provided a suitable portable architectural setting for altars and tabernacles. In their new context these objects lost their Islamic resonance and became fully integrated ecclesiastical appendages.