Saturday, February 23, 2013

The spreading
of the veneration of the sacred images
at Byzantium /

Η εξάπλωση
της προσκύνησης των ιερών εικόνων
στο Βυζάντιο

Because images were used to ward off enemies (apotropaia) and as safeguards for cities (palladia), in this climate of constant warfare, veneration of images became widespread in the Eastern Empire. In fact, the first account of a miracle tied to a religious image appears in Evagrius’s Ecclesiastical History (late sixth century). In this instance, Evagrius alleged that when the Persians laid siege to Edessa in 544 an icon of Christ saved the city. Already in the sixth century, devotion to the Virgin Mother, the theotokos, was growing, having been officially promoted at the Council of Ephesus at the end of the fourth century. But her position as “mediator” gained particular resonance in the Eastern Empire because by the sixth century, as the emperor figure assumed greater religious and “theocratic” ceremonial power, the theotokos (Mary) emerged as the patroness of the city, the empire, and the imperial household. Icons and veneration of the Virgin were growing in popularity among the powerful and powerless at the same time. By 626, the patriarch had images of the Virgin and Child painted on the west side of the city where the Persians were attacking: “On all the gates to the west of the city . . . the venerable patriarch had painted . . . images of the holy figures of the Virgin with the Lord her son.” George the Pisidian, writing a poem on the successful outcome of the Avar War in 626 (Bellum Avaricum) wrote, “If a painter wished to show the victorious outcome of the struggle, he would place in the foreground [as the conquering hero] the one who gave birth without seed and paint her image [eikona].” When the Arabs again laid siege to Constantinople in 717/18, an image of the Virgin was carried around the walls with the relics of the “true cross.”

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