Today we will look again at an icon type you should be very familiar with by now — the Raspyatie — “Crucifixion.”  It is painted in the traditional manner, and has a couple of interesting details not found in all such icons.

First we should add a word to your vocabulary — staurothek.  Now if you look up the usual definition, you will likely find the word written as staurotheke, meaning a reliquary holding fragments (supposedly) of the “True Cross.”  But in common icon terminology, it is often found as staurothek, perhaps because that is the form favored in German icon literature.  And again in icon terminology, it refers to an icon panel that has a separate cross inset into a wooden panel and forming the central image.  The word comes from the Greek σταυρός/stauros — “cross,” and θήκη/theke — “case.”  If you pronounce it in modern Greek, it is stav-ro-THEE-kee, but I spell and pronounce it as staurothek — STOW- as in “cow”, -row as in “throw” -tek as in “peck.”

So to make things simple, a staurothek is an icon panel with an inset cross forming its main image.  The inset cross is often cast brass, but sometimes — as in today’s icon — it may also be of wood.  Now the connection with cast brass crosses should give you a clue that staurothek icons in Russia are generally connected with the Old Believers, who were the chief makers of cast metal icons — and that is the case with the icon we are examining.  So let’s take a look:


(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)


Let’s begin at top center:



At top is the abbreviated title.   It reads RASPYATIE  GOSPODNE.  Did you notice that the C (“s”) in each word is written very small just below the curved line of abbreviation above each word? 

Now below each word are separate smaller inscriptions at right and left.  They refer to the images of the sun and moon.



In the center is Lord Sabaoth — God the Father, which tells us this is a “Priested” icon, not from the “Priestless” group of Old Believers.  Below are all the usual inscriptions, which you will find described in detail in my earlier postings on Crucifixion icons.

At  the top sides are two related types.

At left is “Removal from the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ”:


And at right is “The Placing in the Tomb of Our Lord Jesus Christ”:


We see the usual image of Jesus on the cross, with the IC XC,  “King of Glory,” “Son of God” and “We Bow Before Your Cross, Lord, and Praise Your Holy Resurrection” inscriptions. At his side are the usual K and T abbreviations for “Spear” and “Reed” — two of the instruments of the Passion (the spear and reed with a sponge atop it).


At left we see Mary, then Mary mother of Jesus, Martha, and the disciple John.  Behind them is the Centurion Longinus, and behind him the “Repentant Thief” on the cross.  Note that he has a halo and is at the right hand of Jesus:


At right in the icon, but at the left hand of Jesus — the “sinister” side — we see other onlookers, and behind them is the thief who did not repent.  Note that he not only has no halo, but the painter has also placed a chort — a demon/devil — right at his side.  The demon is a seldom seen element in such icons, one of the two most notable things about this particular example:


Now as I have mentioned before, there is a discrepancy in the Gospels as to whether one of the “thieves” actually repented — one of a number of disagreements we find in them:

 In Matthew 27 we are told that two thieves (lestai) were crucified with Jesus, but neither is repentant:

43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

 44The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

The earliest gospel — that called “of Mark” — also has thieves, but in Mark (chapter 15) they are simply there to fulfil  supposed prophecy.  They neither scorn Jesus nor does either “repent”:

27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.

28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which says, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

Finally, we look look at the base of the cross, where we find the second unusual thing about this example:

We see the slanting footboard with its usual letters abbreviating “The Place of the Skull Becomes Paradise” and “Hill of Golgotha.” The board slants up to the right hand of Jesus, traditionally indicating those who go to Heaven, and it slants down at the left hand of Jesus, signifying those who go to Hell.  And below that is the skull with the two letters identifying it as the “Skull of Adam.”  But at the bottom we find something different:  a date inscription telling when the icon was painted.  A couple of letter numbers are slightly damaged, but in any case we can tell it was painted in  the month of November, and in the 1880s by the new calendar system, though the inscription dates it in the old traditional manner of numbering years “from the Creation of the World.”  However if we take into account the change of the New Year from September to January, and assume the last letter is И (8) — that would make the date 1879.  For more on dates on icons, see this posting:


Again, if you want more detail on “Crucifixion” and cross inscriptions, just look in the archives.  There is a search box at the right of every page.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.