a) Icons of the Crucifixion
b) Icons of the "Epitaphios"
c) Icons of the "Bridegroom"
The icon of the Crucifixion from the XV century is a good example of the simplicity of an icon composition. It show Christ dead on the cross with his eyes closed, angels weeping above him, at the sides the Mother of God and John the Apostle. The large body on the large cross is just above the ground. The elongated proportions, the saints poised on tip-toe, the deep drama of the scene point towards a different reality. That extended body is totally weightless. Christ turns towards his mother who is so close to him that they are almost touching. His body is curved to signify the arch of Christ’s suffering and the scale of justice now inclined in favour of mercy, because all that what is evil has been captured by the Redemption of Christ. The city of Jerusalem symbolizes the Church, a redeemed humanity.
The icon does not show any dramatic moment like Christ being nailed to the cross, nor does it portray triumph, rejoicing or celebration at his victorious triumph over death. It is more likely a representation of a funereal mourning, a sense of prayer loaded with suffering. Figures in the scene don’t show any great emotional expression in their faces; all are silent witnesses.
John is also silent, the look of his face, the gesture with his hand shows him meditatiing on what she is experiencing as she witnesses the death of her Son. Death and birth are related at this moment. Simeon’s words are brought to mind as she experiences their truth: “A sword will pierce your heart.” The giver of life is contemplated in a shameful death.
Among the Russian Orthodox on Wednesday in the First Week of Lent they echo the hymn: “My Son, what is the meaning of this mystery? Why do You, who give eternal life to all, suffer willingly a shameful death on the cross? At the foot of the cross, Mary’s motherhood which began at Christmas is renewed.”
Details on the icon of the Crucifixion have meaning. The size of the cross is astonishing, The base of the cross comes out of the ground in an unusual way because Golgotha is hardly represented. Frequently in icons the Golgotha is depicted like a little mound. Here, it looks as if the cross was planted in the earth, it looks like a tree. Those who contemplate it are venerating a new tree, a tree from the paradise that has been re-opened by Christ.
Many icons also emphasise the way in which the ransom was paid at the Crucifixion of Jesus for the sin of Adam. It is frequently seen as a stream of blood coming down from Jesus’ feet pierced with nails. It flows down onto Adam’’s skull that is hidden in the cave of Golgotha. In the Eastern Liturgy for Friday it says: Just as the enemy captured Adam with a tree heavy with fruit, so you O Lord, captured the enemy with the tree of your cross and sufferings. Now the second Adam has come to find the one who was lost to restore life to him who was dead.”
Another important element in the icon is the plea of those who are suffering silently, a personal prayer to the Crucified Lord. Keeping to the Gospel narrative, the centurion and the other two Marys are frequently depicted. They are mourning as in a funeral. This atmosphere is expressed by the simplicity of the buildings and colours. In contraposition, Christ is shining with the whiteness of his cloth, like the Sun shining out from his flesh.
This icon is also called the “entombment of Christ.” However, the literal meaning of this name is a composite word from the Greek επί, epí, "on" or "upon", and τάφος, táphos, "grave" or "tomb". The Epitaphios is really a common short form of the Epitáphios Thrēnos, the "Lamentation upon the Grave", which is the main part of the service of the Matins of Holy Saturday, celebrated in Good Friday evening.
Today it is most often found as a large cloth, embroidered and often richly adorned, which is used during the services of Good Friday and Holy Saturday in the Eastern Orthodox Churches and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite. It also exists in painted or mosaic form, on wall or panel.
The scene is taken from John’s Gospel (John 19:38-42) It shows Jesus lying on the stone, and around him, mourning his death, frequently are placed his mother Mary, John the beloved disciple, Joseph of Arimathea; and Mary Magdalene, the other women and Nicodemus. Sometimes they place angels and evangelists in the corners. Sometimes the body of Christ appears alone and sometimes with His mother. This scene of Mary and Christ displays similar interpretation of Mother and child in the Elousia icons.
Epitaphios is used on the last two days of Holy Week in the Byzantine rite as part of the ceremonies marking the death and resurrection of Christ. It is then placed by the priest and deacon on the Holy Table (altar table) before Vespers, where it remains throughout the Paschal season, until the Ascension Thursday, in relation to the cloths left in the tomb at the resurrection of Christ. It can be anointed with perfumed oil, and the chalice veil and the Gospel book are placed on top of it.
The Bridegroom Icon
One of the first images in this subject appeared in XII century. In the XIII century it is found frequently in icons, miniatures of codices and on walls of churches, mainly within the sanctuary. Unlike the Epitaphios icon relating to mourning and lamentation for the dead Christ, this icon shows Christ in an apocalyptic vision, and the celestial Jerusalem is depicted in the background behind Christ and Our Lady.
The book of the Apocalypse in the vision of Juan refers to the new heaven and new Earth illuminated by the glory of God and the Lamb is the source of light (AP. 21:1). Moreover, this city also symbolises the earthly Jerusalem, because Jesus Christ was crucified outside the walls Christ.
The body of Christ is illuminated with greater intensity than the head; and this is to the fact that the head (Christ) was crucified for his body, the Church.. The same Church that Christ redeemed with his death in the cross now appears behind the main figures as the celestial Jerusalem. It is, therefore, The single act of salvation occurred in Christ’s own body for the Redemption of the world. Thus, it is not the head, Christ head that is illuminated because Christ as head did not need to be saved from anything. It was the body. The icon reflects what our faith believes.
In icons of Christ the halo represents the crown of thorns. Inside the halo the cross is delineated, because it is the reason for Christ’s glory and our salvation. In it appear “I am”, written in Greek. This is a reference to the name of God, described in the passage of the Old Testament, where God revealed His Name to Moses in the burning bush with His Name, in Hebrew יהוה, YHWH.
The naked body, humiliated by the death on the cross, is held by Our Lady, as he rise from the tomb. Behind the cross there is a text written: “Do not cry by me, Mother, when you see in the tomb the one you conceived virginally in your womb: indeed, I shall rise and shall be glorified, I shall raise to everlasting glory those who ceaselessly celebrate you with faith and love.”
This icon is called the Bridegroom and associates Mary with the Passion. By this act she is sharing his sufferings as well as the fruit of this cosmic act of Redemption. In fact, Mary is dressed as a bride, adorned with pearls, ready for the wedding. This becomes a sign of the new alliance that Christ makes with His Church. She holds her Son as well as her spouse. Indeed, Christ in his wounds shows the signs of his sacrifice; even more, He shows his victory over death. Doing so, Christ with his blood purifies his bride, the Church.
Finally, the colours of Mary’s garments show her human condition. Blue and green symbolize her humanity by nature. The red colour symbolizes her divinity by Grace. That is to say, Mary, in her humanity is overshadowed by divinity. In Christ Pantocrator the opposite is depicted: that is to say, his divine nature assumed his human nature from Mary. By the Incarnation, Divinity became human; by Grace, human nature is divinized. This is the Mystery that brings the New Jerusalem into being.
The History of the Mandylion of Edessa
According to Iconographic Tradition, King Abgar of Edessa wrote a letter to Jesus, asking him to come and cure him of an illness. This story is found in the History of the Church (1.13.5-22) written by Eusebius of Caesarea who claimed that he had transcribed and translated the actual letter in the Syriac chancery documents of the king of Edessa. In this earliest account, Christ replies by letter, saying that when he had completed his earthly mission and ascended, he would send a disciple to heal Abgar. The image “not made by hands”, that Jesus sent to cure the king, was known later to the Byzantines as the Mandylion (“holy towel”).
I present two interesting texts: the first one is an excellent account of the "History of the image of Edessa", written by Professor Sebastian Brock, Oxford University. You will find here a connection he makes between the mandylion and Adai and his disciple Mari, later related to the "Anafora Adai andMari" http://www.jaas.org/edocs/v18n1/Sebastian%20Brock-mandili-Final.pdf
The second text, here below, is a quick account on the image of Edessa, its journey and a brief analysis of the icon. Enjoy!
The Image of Edessa Revealed, by Joe Nickell
The story of the Edessan Image is related in a mid-fourth-century Syriac manuscript, The Doctrine of Addai. It tells how King Abgar of Edessa (now Urfa in south-central Turkey), afflicted with leprosy, sent a messenger named Ananias to deliver a letter to Jesus requesting a cure. In the letter (according to a tenth-century report [qtd. in Wilson 1979, 272–290]), Abgar sends “greetings to Jesus the Savior who has come to light as a good physician in the city of Jerusalem” and who, he has heard, “can make the blind see, the lame walk . . . heal those who are tortured by chronic illnesses, and . . . raise the dead.” Abgar decided that Jesus either is God himself or the Son of God, and so he entreats Jesus to “come to me and cure me of my disease.” He notes that he has heard of the Jews’ plan to harm Jesus and adds, “I have a very small city, but it is stately and will be sufficient for us both to live in peace.”
Abgar, so the story goes, instructed Ananias that if he were unable to persuade Jesus to return with him to Edessa, he was to bring back a portrait instead. But while Ananias sat on a rock drawing the portrait, Jesus summoned him, divining his mission and the fact of the letter Ananias carried. After reading it, Jesus responded with a letter of his own, writing, “Blessed are you, Abgar, in that you believed in me without having actually seen me.” Jesus said that while he must fulfill his mission on earth, he would later send one of his disciples to cure Abgar’s suffering and to “also provide your city with a sufficient defense to keep all your enemies from taking it.” After entrusting the letter to Ananias, “The Savior then washed his face in water, wiped off the moisture that was left on the towel that was given to him, and in some divine and inexpressible manner had his own likeness impressed on it.” Jesus gave Ananias the towel to present to Abgar as “consolation” for his disease.
Quite a different version of the story (see Wilson 1979, 277–278) holds that the image was impressed with Jesus’ bloody sweat during his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22: 44). (This anticipates the still later tradition of Veronica’s Veil, wherein Veronica, a woman from Jerusalem, was so moved by Jesus’ struggling with his cross on the way to execution that she wiped his face on her veil or kerchief, thus imprinting it with his bloody sweat. Actually, the term veronica is simply a corruption of the Latin words vera iconica, “true images” [Nickell 2007, 71–76].) In this second version of the story, Jesus’ disciple Thomas held the cloth for safekeeping until Jesus ascended to heaven, whereupon it was then sent to King Abgar.
Significantly, the earliest mention of the Abgar/Jesus correspondence—an account of circa ad 325 by Bishop Eusebius—lacks any mention of the holy image (Nickell 1998, 45). Also, in one revealing fourth-century text of The Doctrine of Addai, the image is described not as of miraculous origin but merely as the work of Hannan (Ananias), who “took and painted a portrait of Jesus in choice paints, and brought it with him to his lord King Abgar” (qtd. in Wilson 1979, 130).
Historian Sir Steven Runciman has denounced all versions of the legend as apocryphal: “It is easy to show that the story of Abgar and Jesus as we now have it are untrue, that the letters contain phrases copied from the gospels and are framed according to the dictates of later theology” (qtd. in Sox 1978, 52).
The Mandylion’s Journey
Nevertheless, Runciman adds, “that does not necessarily invalidate the tradition on which the story was based ...” (qtd. in Sox 1978, 52). The best evidence in the case would be the image itself, but which image? There have been several, each claimed to be the miraculous original. Obviously, only one could be authentic, but does it even still exist?
The Mandylion has a gap in its provenance (or historical record) of several centuries. It was reportedly transferred in 944 to Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, along with the purported letter from Jesus to King Abgar. The image may once have been incorporated into a triptych of the tenth century. Its side panels, now reposing in the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai, illustrate the pious legend of Abgar receiving the image. Interestingly, the panels portray Abgar as having the features of Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos.
After the Venetians conquered Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, the Mandylion was reportedly transferred to the West, where its history becomes confused. Three traditions develop, each associated with a different “original” of the image:
Parisian Mandylion. Allegedly obtained by Emperor Baldwin II and sold or donated by him in 1247, this image was eventually acquired by King Louis IX (1214–1270), who had it installed in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It was lost in 1792, apparently destroyed during the French Revolution (“Mandylion” 2008; Wilson 1991, 129).
Genoese Mandylion. Although this image reportedly can be traced back to the tenth century, its verifiable history dates from 1362 when then Byzantine Emperor John V donated it to Genoa’s Doge Leonardo Montaldo. After Montaldo died in 1384, the Mandylion was bequeathed to the Genoese Church of St. Bartholomew of the Armenians, arriving in 1388. It remains there, displayed in a gilt-silver, enameled frame of the fourteenth-century Palaeologan style. The image itself is on a cloth that has been glued to a wooden board (“Mandylion” 2008; “Image” 2008; Wilson 1991, 113–114, 137–138).
Vatican Mandylion. This image has no certain history before the sixteenth century, when it was known to be kept at the convent of San Silvestro in Capito. In 1517, the nuns were reportedly forbidden to exhibit it, so it would not compete with the church’s Veronica. And in 1587 it was mentioned by one Cesare Baromio. In 1623 it received its silver frame, donated by Sister Dionora Chiarucci. It remained at San Silvestro until 1870 when, during the war that completed the unification of Italy, Pope Pius IX had it removed to the Vatican for safekeeping. Except when traveling, it still reposes in the Vatican’s Matilda chapel (“Mandylion” 2008; “Image” 2008; Wilson 1991, 139–140).
These are the three Edessan Mandylions that have been claimed as original. Others—such as a seventeenth-century Mandylion icon in Buckingham Palace in London, surrounded by painted panels (Wilson 1979, 111)—need not concern us here.
The Vatican now concedes (in the words of the official Vatican Splendors exhibit catalog [“Mandylion” 2008]) that “... the Mandylion is no longer enveloped today by any legend of its origin as an image made without the intervention of human hands....”
In the summer of 1996, the Vatican Museum’s chemistry and painting restoration laboratory analyzed their Mandylion. It was taken out of its baroque reliquary and removed from its silver-sheet frame (made in 1623). Glued to a cedar support panel was the linen cloth on which the face of Christ was clearly “painted,” although the non-destructive tests were insufficient to specifically confirm that the painting medium was tempera.
While “the thin layer of pigment showed no traces of overpainting,” there were nonetheless “alterations in the execution of the nose, mouth, and eyes” that were “observed in the x-rays and thermographic and reflectographic photographs.” Specifically, the nose had once been shorter, “so that the image originally must have had a different physiognomy” (“Mandylion” 2008, 57–58).
The museums’ scholars learned (according to “Mandylion” 2008, 56):
The version in the Vatican and the one in Genoa are almost wholly identical in their representation, form, technique, and measurements. Indeed, they must at some point in their history have crossed paths, for the rivet holes that surround the Genoese image coincide with those that attach the Vatican Mandylion to the cut-out sheet of silver that frames the image. ... So this silver frame, or one like to it, must also have originally covered the panel in Genoa.
The Mandylion clearly has been copied and recopied, as if the different versions were just so many “icons” (as they are now called). It is not surprising that many of them appeared. According to Thomas Humber (1978, 92), “Soon the popular demand for more copies representing the ‘true likeness’ of Christ was such that selected artists were allowed or encouraged to make duplications.” Indeed, “there was, conveniently, another tradition supporting the copies: the Image could miraculously duplicate itself.”
Because icons were traditionally painted on wood, the fact that both the Vatican and Genoese Mandylions are on linen suggests that each was intended to be regarded as the original Edessan Image. That image was described in the tenth-century account as “a moist secretion without coloring or painter’s art,” an “impression” of Jesus’ face on “linen cloth” that—as is the way of legend—“eventually became indestructible” (qtd. in Wilson 1979, 273).
While the original image appears lost to history, Ian Wilson (1979, 119–121) goes so far as to argue that the Edessan Image has survived—indeed, that it is nothing less than the Shroud of Turin, the alleged burial cloth of Jesus! To the obvious rejoinder that the early Mandylions bore only a facial image whereas the Turin “shroud” bears full length frontal and dorsal images, Wilson argues that the latter may have been folded in such a way as to exhibit only the face. Also there is an eighth-century account of King Abgar receiving a cloth with the image of Jesus’ whole body (“Image” 2008). Unfortunately, the Turin cloth has no provenance prior to the mid-fourteenth century when—according to a later bishop’s report to the pope—an artist confessed it was his handiwork. Indeed, the image is rendered in red ocher and vermilion tempera paint—not as a positive image but as a negative one, as if it were a bodily imprint. Moreover, the cloth has been radiocarbon dated to the time of the forger’s confession (Nickell 1998). (Another image-bearing shroud—of Besançon, France—did not come from Constantinople in 1204 as alleged but was clearly a sixteenth-century copy of the Turin fake [Nickell 1998, 64].)
The evidence is lacking, therefore, that any of these figured cloths ever bore a “not-made-by-hands” image. Instead, they have evolved from unlikely legend to Edessan portrait to self-duplicating Mandylions to proliferating “Veronicas” to full-length body image—all supposedly of the living Jesus—and thence to imaged “shrouds” with simulated frontal and dorsal bodily imprints. Finally, modern science and scholarship have revealed the truth about these pious deceptions.
Humber, Thomas. 1978. The Sacred Shroud. New York: Pocket Books.
Image of Edessa. 2008. From Wikipedia, available online, accessed September 5, 2008.
Mandylion of Edessa. 2008. Vatican Splendors: From Saint Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guard. Vatican City State: Governatorato, 55–58.
Nickell, Joe. 1998. Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books.
Sox, H. David. 1978. File on the Shroud. London: Coronet Books.
Wilson, Ian. 1979. The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? Revised ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books.
—. 1991. Holy Faces, Secret Places: An Amazing Quest for the Face of Jesus. New York: Doubleday.
Volume 19.2, June 2009
The Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin is the most analysed artefact in the world, yet remains the world's greatest unsolved mystery. Could it be the actual burial cloth that wrapped the historical Jesus or is it nothing more than a medieval hoax? For centuries, scientists and historians, artists and believers have pored over the mysterious Shroud of Turin.
Here you will find a comment of a new discovery made in Italy:
Here is an excellent video produced by BBC. In addition, there is a video commentary by an Eastern Orthodox expert; and, finally, a talk given by an important Jewish expert on the shroud.
New testing dates Shroud of Turin to era of Christ, by Doug Stanglin (RNS, USA)
New scientific tests on the Shroud of Turin, which went on display Saturday (March 30) in a special TV appearance introduced by the pope, date the cloth to ancient times, challenging earlier experiments that dated it only to the Middle Ages.
Pope Francis sent a special video message to the televised event in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, which coincided with Holy Saturday, when Catholics mark the period between Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The Vatican, tiptoeing carefully, has never claimed that the 14-foot linen cloth was used to cover Christ after he was taken from the cross 2,000 years ago, as some believers claim.
Francis, reflecting that careful Vatican policy, on Saturday called the cloth, which is kept in a climate-controlled case, an “icon” — not a relic.
But Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, the “pontifical custodian of the shroud,” said the special display on Holy Saturday “means that it represents a very important testimony to the Passion and the resurrection of the Lord,” The Telegraph reported.
The burial shroud purports to show the imprint of the face and body of a bearded man. The image also purportedly shows nail wounds at the man’s wrist and pinpricks around his brow, consistent with the “crown of thorns” mockingly pressed onto Christ before his crucifixion.
Many experts have stood by a 1988 carbon-14 dating of scraps of the cloth carried out by labs in Oxford, Zurich and Arizona that dated it from 1260 to 1390 — well more than 1,000 years after the time of Christ.
The new test, by scientists at the University of Padua in northern Italy, used the same fibers from the 1988 tests but disputes the earlier findings. The new examination dates the shroud to between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D., which would put it in the era of Christ.
It determined that the earlier results may have been skewed by contamination from fibers used to repair the cloth when it was damaged by fire in the Middle Ages, the British newspaper reported. The cloth has been kept at the cathedral since 1578.
The new tests also supported earlier results claiming to have found traces of dust and pollen on that shroud that could only have come from the Holy Land.
The latest findings are contained in a new Italian-language book — “Il Mistero Della Sindone,” or “The Mystery of the Shroud,” by Giulio Fanti, a professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua, and journalist Saverio Gaeta.
Fanti, a Catholic, used infrared light and spectroscopy — the measurement of radiation intensity through wavelengths — in his test. He said the results are the outcome of 15 years of research.
Here is an excellent video produced by BBC. In addition, there is a video commentary by an Eastern Orthodox expert; and, finally, a talk given by an important Jewish expert on the shroud.
The Face of God: Shroud of Turin and Orthodoxy
The Shroud and the jew: Barrie Schwortz
at TEDx ViadellaConciliazione