Monday, December 14, 2009

The background to the icons at St Mary`s

I thought the notes Sr Petra Clare sent explaining the symbolism used in the icons may be of interest.
The icon draws on the account of the childhood of Mary of the Protoevengelion of James. Although from time to time there are questions about the historical veracity of the events, the tradition has been maintained in the icons because it underlines certain important mysteries in the life of the Mother of God.

The protoevangelion tells us that Joachim and Anna were left childless and the elderly Anna conceived, in a similar miracle to the conception of Isaac. The parents made a vow to give the child to the temple. I found from another source that there was a place for women - old women like the prophetess Anna and virgins given into their care to be brought up piously, serving the needs of the temple, including sewing.

After Mary is espoused to Joseph, the temple needs a new veil, and the tradition is for the undefiled virgins of the house of David to spin the veil. The priests cast lots to choose who was to spin gold, white, linen, silk, blue, scarlet and purple. Mary was drawn for the scarlet and purple spinning. In the protoevangelion, Mary is actually sitting and spinning the scarlet and purple when the angel visits her.

Whatever the material truth of the story, later exegesis takes it as a symbol that the flesh of Christ - the veil both revealing and concealing the godhead - is woven from Mary's body. I have followed an icon pattern which indicates the mountain of Sinai topped with cloud on the case of the spindle.

In the icon Mary, as a daughter of David, sits on the throne of the house of David, who will bear the new Godking of David's line. This is why her seat is always so thronelike. The MP OV is Mary Theotokon ( Mother of God). The letters are kept in Greek because the gospels were written in Greek. They are always in red and shortened, which links then to the similarly shortened name of Christ IC XC, and derives from the way of indicating the name of God in the Hebrew Bible.

The angel is always depicted below Mary, and at a distance from her. As the throne of God, she is higher than the angels. Because the angel only indicates that a divine birth will come about and the mystery is concealed from the messenger i.e. 'at a spiritual distance' from him, the space between the two, composed of gold, indicating the presence of God, is vitalling important. It is God who stands between the two. In your church, God literally is enthroned between the two in the tabernacle, and the central pillar forms the decisive division between the messenger and the Mother of God which is a feature of the icon.
Sr Petra Clare


+David said...

I think You will find IC XC and MP OV are simple contractions of names and titles.
However the YHWH found in the Old Testament...the personal name of God is not a contraction,but simply that Hebrew at the time of writing did not indicate vowel sounds.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Quite right David, the Hebrew is not a contraction. The use of ICXC I suppose is meant to be reminiscent of the Divine Tetragrammaton. It works for me.

Christmas fanatic said...

It's getting near Christmas, isn't it? Can we have a Christmassy or Adventy post, please?