This is the Marian icon known as the Arakiotissa.  It is a fresco painted in the 1100s  in the Church of the Panagia tou Arakos at Lagoudera, on the island of Cyprus.   Whenever you see that –issa ending on the title of a Marian icon, you know the title is Greek.

We need not deal with the long inscription at the lower sides of the image, but I do want to point out the first words at the upper left side that identify the image:

“The Arakiotissa.”

You can see that the  final -a is written much smaller and placed above the last C (“s”)  in the inscription:

The Arakiotissa is a “Passion” Marian icon, meaning that the image is associated with the suffering and death by crucifixion of Jesus.  We see that in the objects carried by the two angels, generally identified as Michael at left and Gabriel at right.

Here is Michael.  He bears the spear and sponge on a reed from the Crucifixion:

And here is Gabriel, who bears the cross of the Crucifixion:

In the Italo-Cretan period, when icon painters on the island of Crete provided images both for Eastern Orthodox and Italian Roman Catholic buyers, a related Marian “Passion” image became popular, still with the two angels, but with the figures of Mary and the child Jesus in different positions than in the Arakiotissa.  Here is an example of that type by the famous Cretan iconographer Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492):

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

(Ikonenmuseum Recklinghausen)

Note that the angels are not depicted below their torsos, as though coming out of nowhere.

The identifying elements of this type are the two angels with the implements of the Passion, the child Jesus turning his head sharply over his left shoulder to look at the Archangel Gabriel, and the sandal that has come loose from his right foot and hangs slightly below it:

Many writers like to say that the sandal has become loose because of the child’s abrupt jerk of fear on seeing the cross, but it is likely just a pleasant painter’s conceit.

Some painters also included the crown of thorns with the cross.

One image of this type became famous in Rome after it was brought there at the end of the 1400s.  Tradition says it was taken from Crete by an Italian merchant who stole it on the island, but then gave it to the San Matteo church in Rome.  It became known as the “Madonna di San Matteo.”  It disappeared from view when the French invaded Rome in 1812, and was gone for over forty years, but then was found in an Augustinian oratory in the 1860s.  The rediscovered image  caught the attention of Pope Pius IX, who had known it in San Matteo as a boy.  He accorded it great importance, which led to its eventually becoming a well-known Catholic printed paper reproduction found on the walls of many Catholic homes.  It was by then known as Nostra Signora del Perpetuo Soccorso in Italian, or in English “Our Lady of Perpetual Succor.”  It is more commonly known in the United States as “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” The image has undergone restoration twice, first in 1866 and again in 1940, which perhaps accounts for its rather bland present appearance.

In Greek Orthodoxy, the type is generally called either Παναγία του Πάθους — Panagia tou Pathous, meaning “All-Holy One of the Passion,” or Παναγία η Αμόλυντος — Panagia he Amolyntos — “All-Holy Pure One.”  Occasionally Greek icons are found showing Mary and Jesus in the usual positions, but without the angels and Passion implements.

It is not surprising that so popular an image also entered Russian Iconography.  There the Russian version of the type is called the Strastnaya, meaning the “Passion” Mother of God.  Its origin story relates that in the 17th century a women of the village of Palitsa named Ekaterina developed mental problems after her marriage.  She was in this condition for some seven years, and became suicidal.    She prayed to Mary, promising that if healed, she would enter a convent.  She was healed, but then forgot about her vow.

Her illness returned.  She took to her bed and again prayed to Mary.  The door opened, and in came Mary, dressed in a robe ornamented with golden crosses.  She asked Ekaterina why she had not fulfilled her vow, and told her to change her ways.  But again Ekaterina did not do as she was told.  Mary appeared to her two more times, and on the third appearance (that magic number found so often in such stories) Mary punished her by twisting her head and contorting her face and drooping her body  Then Mary told her to go to Nizhniy-Novgorod, to an icon painter named Grigory, who had painted an icon of Mary.  She was to tell Grigory of Mary’s appearances to her, and she was to provide seven silver coins to decorate the icon.  Ekaterina did all this and was healed, and Mary promised that others who venerated the image would also be healed.

Grigory’s icon is then said to have worked other miracles, and in 1641 Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich had it brought to Moscow.

By the 19th century, the Strastnaya type had become widespread in Russian iconography.  Though some Strastnaya examples include the detail of the loose sandal, more often the child Jesus is depicted without sandals, as in this image:

So the “Passion” type, by whatever name, is presently well-known in Both Eastern Orthodox iconography and in Roman Catholicism.


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