What does one do on encountering icon types one has not seen previously and cannot immediately identify? Well, there is hope.
To find what steps to take, let’s look at a couple of adjoining frescos from the 11th century Church of St. George at Staro Nagoričane in Macedonia. They were painted during a renovation in the early 14th century. And by the way, the letter č in Nagoričane is pronounced as “ch.”
There are two problems with these images for the student of icons. First, they are not a common subject for panel icons (though not unknown). Second, the title inscriptions are in Greek. What can be done? Let’s take a closer look at the left-hand image:
The first step is to closely examine the depiction. We see Jesus at left (identified by his cross halo and the IC XC Greek abbreviation of “Jesus Christ”). But notice that his hands are bound, and the rope is held by the man to his right. And farther right is a seated figure, obviously some kind of authority.
The next step is to look at the inscription for any familiar words at all. For the beginning student, these will be limited.
As is common in old inscriptions, the words all run together. But let’s transliterate it:
We can recognize the definite article H, meaning “the,” at the beginning.
The second word is ΠΑΡΑ (para). In greek it means “beside,” “before,” “by.”
Then comes the word ΤΟΥ (tou), meaning “of,” “of the.”
Anyone familiar with the Bible should recognize what comes next. It is a name: KAIAPHA. This is the Caiaphas of the Gospels. That is a huge clue, because we know the scene must have something to do with Jesus and with Caiaphas. And given that Jesus is bound and standing before Caiaphas, it can only be this, from the Passion story:
And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
We find it also in John 18:24:
Now Annas had sent him bound unto Caiaphas the high priest.
We see the word ΚΑΤΑ, which means “according to,” “down,” and “against.”
It is followed by the abbreviation for Christ in Greek, ΧΥ — for Khristou — “Christ.”
The final word is ΕΞΕΤΑCΙC (exetasis), meaning “examination.”
So if we separate out all these words, we get:
Η ΠΑΡΑ ΤΟΥ ΚΑΙΑΦΑ ΚΑΤΑ ΧΥ ΕΞΕΤΑCΙC
He Para tou Kaiapha kata Khristou Exetasis
The by (the) Caiaphas against Christ examination
Or as we would say it in normal English,
“The Examination of Christ by/before Caiaphas”
Here is the right-hand image:
We see that Jesus is bound in this image also, and at right is another authority figure (as we can tell from his important chair). And given that we already have determined that the left-hand image is Jesus before Caiaphas, we may rightly assume that this image is somehow related.
If we look at the inscription, we find this, which we can put through the same process:
Η ΠΑΡΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΝΝΑ ΚΑΤΑ ΧΥ ΚΡΙΣΙΣ
He Para tou Anna kata Khristou Krisis
The by (the) Annas against Christ Judgment
Or in normal English,
“The Judgment of Christ by/before Annas”
That comes from John 18:13:
And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
We find the fellow shown tearing open his robes in this excerpt from Matthew 26:59-66 (King James Version):
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death.
So what we see in these two fresco images is a mixture of elements from the story of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, as taken from the four Gospels.
That was not too difficult, was it?