1. Introduction

“Christianity and Islam” is an extremely rich and nuanced text that provides a wide range of detailed accounts on landscape, architecture, and material culture in the early 20th century Mediterranean. Frederick Hasluck combines, in his field-based observation, his archaeological “eye” for material traces with an almost ethnographic sensibility towards oral history narratives, beliefs and social practices. In this sense he gives us a rare insight into the interwoven social and material practices that render a place as sacred by different ethnic groups and faith communities.

Hasluck makes a distinction between urban and rural sacred sites or built and “natural” sanctuaries that he uses throughout the text, especially in the “Transferences” section in the first Volume of “Christianity and Islam”. Using this distinction, he refers to “urban transferences”, “transference of rural sanctuaries”, and “transference of natural sanctuaries”.  He also clearly defines, in his Conclusion (p. 113) that when it comes to holy places: “these are generally towns, whose sanctity consists ultimately in an accumulation of saints’s tombs due to the long importance of the town in question as a centre of population.

An isolated sanctuary, if on a frequented road, (…) stands a greater chance of popularity than one remote from it: if the road becomes less populous, the sanctuary suffers with it.

Specifically for “natural sanctuaries” Hasluck explains that they are (p. 114): “of purely local religious importance, though curative springs, some of which fall into this category, attract for practical reasons a wider clientele.
It is clear that Hasluck views “natural sanctuaries” as rather marginal, compared to major urban centers and pilgrimage sites. He also sees, however, the potential of certain “natural” sites to attract more visitors if part of a pilgrimage route or if associated with certain practices or purposes like healing. In other words, the more a rural or “natural” site is connected to routes, networks and practices, the more likely it is that its sanctity escapes a local or marginal importance.

We tried to trace these associations or connections of mostly “natural sanctuaries” as potential “sanctity markers” through text analysis.

2. Visualizations

We used two collocation analysis networks to identify “neighbor” terms associated with certain “key terms”. “Key terms” and “neighbor” terms are words that co-occur in the text and could potentially help us semantically map the ways in which sanctity is anchored to certain places with certain features. “Key terms” were selected based on their frequency in the text and semantic association to what Hasluck defines as rural or “natural” sanctuaries.

The first network maps the key terms “stone”, “water” and “tree” in relation to “neighbors” that appear at least twice in proximity to the key term. The size of nodes represents the frequencies of co-occurrence.

Collocation network 1

It is clear that a dense network, with a higher number of connections is built around key term “stone”, followed by “water” and “tree”. This has to do with the higher frequency of the term in the text, but it also highlights the fact that “stone” is semantically linked to a diversity of other terms across the domains of both the built and “natural” environment. In this sense, a stone can be “round”, “black” or “natural” as part of the landscape, but at the same time “ancient”, “inscribed” or “columnar”, as part of a structure.

The density of the network makes it hard to highlight unique associations or clear clusters but it enables us to map a field of “sanctity” through certain semantic domains. By grouping “neighbors” together, we defined the following semantic categories:

  • place and location: keui (koy), Constantinople, further, Jerusalem, above, Cairo, placed, Rhodes, discovered, below, Mecca.
  • religious and material practices: venerated, inscribed, pierced, incubation, patients, cured, veneration.
  • figures and communities: Noah,  Elias, dervishes, arab, christian, George
  • animals: snake, dragon (karstic landscapes), fish.
  • built/environment material culture: pillar, tomb, church, castle, tower
  • speculation: probably, supposed, history, legend (that has to do with location as well but also with storytelling).
  • association: connexion, connected.
  • sanctity / transcendental markers: spirit, sacred, miraculous, medicinal, magic, talisman, saints, legend, oracle.

We were also able to identify some terms that are neighbors to all three key terms (“stone”, “water”, “tree”): “tomb”, “sacred”, “tekke”, “legend”, “miraculous”.
For the second collocation network we used a slightly different approach. We used a higher number of key terms, including certain variations (e.g. singular and plural) and a higher threshold of co-occurrence (“neighbors” appear at least five times close to the key term) hoping to isolate unique, strong associations and well-defined clusters. The key terms we used were: “spring” and “springs”, “water” and “waters”, “tree” “trees”, “hill”, “cave”, “mountain” and “mountains”, and, finally, “stone” and “stones”.

Collocation network 2

The network produced represents some rather clear patterns. Two isolated clusters around “hill” and “waters” refer to the specificity of these two terms, the latter reflecting a close connection to a certain ritual (“the blessing of waters”, as part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition). “Stone” and “stones” lie at the core of more closely connected terms, while “spring(s)”, “tree(s)” and “mountain(s)” rather lie at the periphery of loosely connected terms. It is quite clear that while some connections are obvious or insignificant (e.g. “spring” > “water”, “cold”, “clear”), others indicate stronger or even unique associations that reflect (e.g. “cave” > “sleepers”, “dragon”, “stones” > “venerated”, “inscribed”) long established links of certain landscape features to certain narratives or religious practices. “Stones” and “cave” are good examples representing a link between the sanctity of a site and the density of its associations with stories or practices.


Throughout Hasluck’s text, the sanctity of rural or “natural” places tends to be considered as of rather local importance, only elevated through wider routes, networks or associated practices. It is a sanctity that is not randomly or arbitrarily attributed to places, but rather, woven through long established narratives and traditions or materially inscribed through certain practices. What seems to resonate through the text is that the sacredness and significance of these sites is both story-driven and materially specific. What surfaces from text analysis is a “repertoire of sanctity markers” that locals would use to anchor value and meaning to certain places, and continuously use them and venerate them. This reflects both cultural practices in this particular historical moment, but also showcases Hasluck’s own mode of inquiry. As Shankland reminds us: “ for Hasluck material culture and the built environment is always (…) embedded within a multiple social context.” (Shankland vol.3.p. 20).