Virgin Hodegetria; The Wayshower

(After the prototype in Greece [Mt. Athos]; 1629 C.E.)

This icon is the second part of a diptych installed in the Chapel at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and was written to commemorate the Election, Consecration and Enthronement of Bishop Johncy Itty, Tenth Bishop of Oregon. Its counterpart is the icon of The Pantokrator (to which, please refer).

THE ICON TELLS THE STORY

The term “Hodegetria” is Greek and translates to “One who Shows the Way”. The Virgin is shown presenting Christ to the viewer and Mary’s fingers, unnaturally elongated, point to Christ as “The Way”. Although the Virgin is the largest subject, the principal person in the icon is, of course, Christ who is shown as a miniature adult philosopher. It is typical that the Virgin is never shown in any icon without Christ also being present. She is “only” revered as the “Theotokos”, the One who Bore God.

THE ICON’S PROTOTYPE

The earliest prototype version of the Hodegetria icon dates from around the mid 6th Century, C.E. However, the one used here is that from the Mt. Athos Monastery in Greece dating from 1629 C.E. The Mt. Athos prototype measures approximately 19″ high by 13″ wide. This icon measures 36” high by 26.5” wide.

THE SYMBOLISM IN THE ICON

The Virgin is shown enthroned and as usual, dressed as an Empress in the Byzantine Court. On each side of Christ’s head are the Greek letters “IC- XC” – these are the customary abbreviations of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ”. On the arms of the Cross in Christ’s nimbus are Greek characters, in abbreviation of “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14). On each side of the head of the Virgin, are the Greek characters that, in abbreviation, denote “Holy Mary” and “Mother of God”.

While the throne in the “Hodegetria” icon is virtually identical to that used in “Christ Pantokrator”, the finials of the Virgin’s throne are of white gold, symbolizing purity. The Virgin is crowned with a replica of the Byzantine Empress’s crown; Mary’s crown, which is also made of white gold, includes the gemstones sapphire, amethyst, red garnets and peridot. The many Baroque pearls used in Mary’s crown allude to her purity. A large ruby brooch at the Virgin’s throat is symbolic of the Passion and Blood of Christ.

Typically, the Virgin is always shown in icons with a starburst on each shoulder (one is often hidden by Christ’s body) and one on Her forehead. These starbursts symbolize the Church’s pronouncement of Her virginity before, during and after Christ’s birth. In this icon each of these starbursts is an iolite gemstone; in ancient mythology it is said that iolites were used by Vikings to refract light and so became navigational aids. Use of these gemstones alludes to Mary’s title of the “Wayshower”.

On Mary’s halo single roses (Rosa Rugosa) are incised into the gold, referencing Her title of “The rose without a thorn”. The floor under the footstool on which the Virgin’s feet rest is of pure lapis lazuli.