The Lamentation

Emmanuel Lambardos the Younger

(after the prototype in Crete; done about 1640 C.E.)

This icon was written and given as its first icon gift to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, by members of Trinity’s Iconography Institute, as a commemoration of the events that took place on September 11, 2001. The Institute was about to start a class when the devastation occurred, leaving the would-be students so affected that the Instructor, Sherry Lynch, suggested that we work on a group icon as a way to channel our prayers and allay our fears.

THE PROTOTYPE

In accordance with traditional Byzantine Orthodoxy’s rubrics of iconography, to which Trinity’s Iconography Institute has chosen to adhere, an authorized prototype icon was sought from among several on which to base this re-creation. The image chosen was “The Lamentation” by Emmanuel Lambardos, the Younger, (Crete, about 1640 C.E.) Lambardos’ original, measuring 52.5 cm x 41.5 cm (about 20.5 inches wide by 16.5 inches high) now hangs in The Byzantine Museum, Athens, Greece. This re-creation is 44 inches wide by 37 inches high.

THE ICON TELLS THE STORY

This icon-scene contains 10 figures in addition to the Body of Christ. To the far-left (from a viewer’s position) Mary, the “Theotokos” (The One who bore God) is seated; she cradles the head of the dead Christ. Behind the Theotokos, Mary Magdalene throws up her hands and arms (in anguish or a futile attempt to hold away the horror and fear of the moment?) The other women are professional mourners or “Wailing Women” who tear their clothes and loosen their hair in grief.

THE SYMBOLISM IN THE ICON

In the center, St. John the Evangelist mourns, while Joseph of Arimathea, who provided Christ’s burial cave, holds a winding cloth and shroud to wrap the Sacred Body. On the right, Nicodemus peers through rungs of the ladder that he used to lift Christ down from the Cross. In the foreground is a basket of tools he used and the nails he took from Christ’s hands and feet. Beside the basket is a large two-handled vessel of ointment used to embalm the Sacred Body.

Colors used for virtually all garments of the women, are values of the same color used for the stone slab on which Christ’s Body rests. The Theotokos’ garments, by tradition, are in the style typical of a Byzantine Empress’ court dress. Stylized mountains at each side tell us that the icon’s action takes place outdoors. In accordance with stipulations of the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 C.E. the name of Jesus Christ, in abbreviated Greek form (IC – XC), is shown on the arms of the Cross. Essentially a “Good Friday” image, nevertheless Christian belief in the Resurrection to come underlies “The Lamentation” itself. Again, in accordance with Orthodox traditions, there is no banner with the letters INRI above the Cross; this is a later, Western Christian adaptation representing abbreviated Latin for “Jesus of Nazareth, Rex (King) of Jews”. (In Roman/Latin calligraphy, “J” was always shown as “I”.) The inscription is attributed to Pontius Pilate’s edict.

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