COMMON ICON SUPERSTITIONS

georgiyJacksonsauction

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Fantasy and superstition are heavily woven into the fabric of icon history and veneration.  Among all the various beliefs associated with icons are a number of superstitions about their use that continue even today.  The student of icons should be aware of these.

Here are some of them:

If a man wearing a hat comes into a room in which an icon is kept, he must remove his hat, otherwise the owners of the house will have misfortune.  Also the person wearing the hat will have bad luck and may go insane.

One should not curse or swear or spit anywhere near an icon, or there will be supernatural punishment.

Icons are preferably placed on a shelf rather than hung.  Some say that hanging an icon is too much like Judas hanging himself, and in any case, a shelf is believed to be more secure and respectful.

An icon that falls from a wall or shelf is a bad sign.  If it does not break, it is a warning to change one’s ways.  If it is an icon of Mary, it means troubles or disease will strike the family.  The same if an icon of Nicholas falls, which can also signify material loss.  If an icon breaks apart from the fall, it means death is coming to the family.  Some think a falling icon is a sign that evil has tried to enter the house, so those in the house must repent and behave.  This is particularly associated with the “Semistrelnaya” type of Mary.  A fallen icon should be asked for forgiveness, with a candle burned before it.

If one is writing a will or bequeathing one’s possessions, the first decision to be made is who will get one’s icons.

If a crack appears in an icon,  it is a serious warning of misfortune coming, so one should repent and pray.

If an icon is found, it might be a good event or a bad event.  Because one does not know who owned the icon previously, and whether it was consecrated, it is a risky matter.  The icon might transmit bad influences if it came from an evil person or was not consecrated.  To be safe, the found icon should not be brought into the house or it might bring bad luck.  It should be handled with a cloth or gloves, and must first be taken to a church to be consecrated, then it may be taken home.

If an icon is bought anywhere other than a church, it must be taken to a church for consecration.  Otherwise the icon “will not work” when one prays to it.

Icons should be accepted as gifts only from very close people such as parents and grandparents, etc.  However, if the icon is known to have been consecrated, it may be accepted from someone else.  Some also say it is acceptable to receive an icon as a gift if the one giving has “pure thoughts.”

Icons should not be given as gifts to those who might not appreciate them or to non-Eastern Orthodox believers.  Icons should not be given to people of bad behavior in the belief that it might cause them to change their ways.  Instead they may just disrespect the icon.

Old or damaged icons should not be thrown away, broken up, or burned, because that brings serious misfortune and unhappiness.  Instead, such icons should either be restored or else put into storage, or placed in a tree somewhere, or be allowed to float away on water.  This belief likely accounts for those tales of supposedly “miraculous” icons found in trees or in or by rivers, etc.

When a house is to be built, an icon should be placed on the construction site, along with bread and water.

When the new house is built, before the residents move in, an icon should be first brought into the house  and placed in the icon corner before any people enter.

If a house catches on fire, the icon or icons should be taken out first.  If the icon is then carried around the house, the fire might then go out on its own.  But as one source cautions, “You should not particularly expect that to happen.”

Many Russian Orthodox believers still take these warnings very seriously, and often experience severe worry and stress if one of the negative icon “omens” occurs.

BORDER VARIATIONS

As you know, the most famous icon in Russian history and legend is the Vladimirskaya, which is believed to have come to Russia via Kyiv/Kiev from Byzantium. The date of painting is generally considered to be about 1131-1136.

And also as you know, very little of the early painting remains. Almost nothing is left of the original but the face of Mary and the face of Jesus seen in the detail below. So old and supposedly “miracle-working” icons, in spite of their legendary status, do not hold up very well over centuries of veneration and overpainting.

vladimirskayadet

Similarly, you may recall another legendary supposed “wonderworking” icon:  The Znamenie Novgorodskaya — or to put it in plain English, the “Sign” icon type of Novgorod.  It was discussed in the earlier posting on palladium icons:

THE PALLADIUM IS NOT JUST A THEATER

The Znamenie icon is generally dated to the first half of the 1100s, and was painted in the northern trading city of Novgorod. It is in even worse condition than the Vladimirskaya. Of the icon you see below, only fragments of the headcovering of Mary (the maphorion) and bits of her other clothing, as well as parts of the circle in which the image of the child Jesus is set, remain of the original. The rest is later overpainting:

The Znamenie was originally a processional icon atop a long handle, and it is painted with another image on the reverse side.  The main figures are male and female saints, and because they have no titles, no one is quite sure who they are, though speculation is that they might be Joachim and Anna (the parents of Mary), or they might be St. Peter and St. Natalya. 

znameniereverse

In any case, it was the side with the “Sign” image of Mary that became famous.

Now it is not hard to see that the “Sign” icon is a shorter version of the standing type of Mary known as the “Great Panagia,” also known in Greek iconography as “Wider than the Heavens.  Here is a 13th century example:

velikayapanagia

Note that in the “Great Panagia,” the hands of the child Jesus are stretched out to the sides in blessing, unlike the position in the “Sign.” 

We find the same thing in this Yaroslavl icon from the 13th century of the type known as Воплощение/Voploshchenie — “The Incarnation.”  Notice that there is no circle around the child Jesus.

YaroslavlVoploshchenie

In the Znamenie type however, Jesus has his right hand raised in blessing, and he holds a rolled scroll (signifying teaching) in his left.

But now to the real subject of today’s posting.  In the image of the original Znamenie icon above, you will note four saints at the sides.  It is believed they were later added to the image in the 1500s, and there are no name inscriptions remaining with them. There are many copies made of that “Sign” icon, and most of them just ignore the saints on the sides, omitting them and showing only the central image — like the example below:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

  There are, however, some icons that do include the four saints, though the painters making the copies were often not entirely sure who they were, so sometimes they are named differently.

We see them in this example of the Znamenie Novgorodskaya painted in 1727:

They are:

Top left:  Great Martyr George:

georgiy

Top right:  Great Martyr Iakov/Jacob/James of Persia:

Lower left:  Makariy/Macarius of Alexandria

makariy

And at lower right: Onufriy/Onuphrios the Great:

onufriy

Now as mentioned, there are no remaining name inscriptions on the four border saints in the original Znamenie Novgorodskaya, so the titles given them in various copies are later guesses.  And painters sometimes guessed differently, or even deliberately changed one saint to another.  For example, instead of Makariy of Egypt, we may find Peter of Athos/Peter the Athonite.

Here is a later example giving the same identification of Georgiy, Iakov/Jacob/James, Makariy and Onuphriy:

znamenienovgorodskaya4jacksonsauction

Here, however, is an icon in which  Georgiy and Iakov have been replaced by the unmercenary saints Kosma/Cosmas and Damian, and Makariy is replaced by Petr/Peter of Athos:

IMG_9571

(Belgian Private Collection)

Here is Kozma/Cosmas. As you can see, his garments are much like those of Georgiy:

And here is Damian:

damian2

At lower left is Onufriy/Onuphrios the Great:

onufriy

And at lower right is Petr/Peter of Athos:

PetrAfonskiy

In spite of these border variations, such icons are still classified from the main central image as Znamenie Novgorodskaya icons.

As is sometimes the case with icons that became famous for their reputed abilities to work miracles, the Znamenie type has several “spinoffs” — icons of the type that have become noted on their own.  In fact there are at least 13 of these, so one must be aware of that when identifying individual icons. Continue reading “BORDER VARIATIONS”

A VERY BUSY “WEEK”

Quite some time ago we took a look at “Week” icons. Today we will examine a rather elaborate example of that type in detail:

SedmitsaJacksonsAuction(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

You may recall that “Week” icons represent the days of the week with icon types.  This is how they appear on this example:

1. The Resurrection, representing Sunday.

vosk
2.  The Assembly of the Archangels, representing Monday.  Here it is shown in the form of the “Assembly of the Archangel Michael”:

soborarkhmikh

3.  The Beheading of John the Forerunner, representing Tuesday (or John Baptizing, in some examples).

usekioann

4.  The Annunciation, representing Wednesday:

blagoveshch
5.  The Washing of the Feet [of the disciples of Jesus], for Thursday:

fusswasch
6.  The Crucifixion, representing Friday:

raspyat

Finally, the large lower image is

7.  All Saints, representing Saturday.  It consists of the large central image depicting heaven, with Lord Sabaoth.  Above him is an angel holding two disks, each with the abbreviation Svyat — “Holy”  and an angel below holding disks with the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ.”  And below that Jesus is enthroned in the Deisis manner, with Mary approaching at left and John the Forerunner at right.  At the sides are ranks of angels:

gospodsavdeis

With the “heaven” image is the gathering of the various ranks of saints below, and those together form the “All Saints” type. 

vsesvyat

It is rather difficult to see, but just below heaven is a tree with a serpent in it, part of a scene with Adam and Eve and God the Father in the Garden of Eden at left of the tree, and at right Adam and Eve being forced out of the garden by an angel with a fiery sword:

adameva

This example adds to those seven “day” types the six days of Creation, each showing Lord Sabaoth:

sotvmir

They begin at upper left.  Each is given a letter number, followed by the word den’ — “Day.”  in the two at lower right we see the creation of animals and birds, followed by the creation of Adam and Eve.

At top center is the “Lamb of God” type — The altar with a vessel containing the child Jesus, and two angels with ripida — ceremonial fans — at the sides.

agnetsbozh

To the left are saints Nicholas the Wonderworker and Vasiliy/Basil the Great:

nikvasiliyu

At right are Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom:

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Down the left side we see:

John the Theologian (the Evangelist), Petr and Alexiy, Metropolitans of Moscow, and Isaiah and Jacob of Rostov:

ioannbogosl

Below them are Antoniy and Feodosiy Pecherskiy and the Evangelist Mark:

AntonFeodmark

At top right we see the Evangelist Matthew, and below him the Metropolitans of Moscow Iona/Jonah and Filipp/Philip; and below them Leontiy and Ignatiy of Rostov:

matfeimiona

In the central area at bottom we find at left Blessed Vasiliy/Basil and Blessed Maxim, Fools for Christ’s sake. 

vasiliymaksim

At right are the Fools for Christ’s sake Blessed Isidor and Blessed John:

isidorioann

The final and center image at the base is one we do not often see — the Убиение/Killing of Tsarevich Dmitriy of Moscow, Wonderworker. That, of course is a political image, but then religion and politics often mix in Russian icons:

ubienietsarevdmitriy

A COMBINATION OF OLD MOTIFS

Today we will look at the supposedly “wonderworking” icon of Mary just added to the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church this year (2021).

Here it is in its elaborate metal cover:

Tashlinskaya

As a reputed “wonderworking” icon, it has been given its own name:  the Ташлинская/Tashlinskaya icon of Mary. Its full form is Избавительница от бед Ташлинская/Izbavitelnitsa ot Bed Tashlinskaya — the “Deliverer from Suffering Tashlinskaya.”  In English is is sometimes called simply the “Tashla” icon.  It may also be called the Tashla “Deliverer from Troubles.”

It takes its specific name from the village of Tashla in the Samara region of southwestern Russia.  Do not confuse it with the Samarra in the Somerset Maugham version of an old tale:

A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Soon afterwards, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace, he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, who made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant’s horse, he flees at great speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles (125 km), where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture to his servant. She replies, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

That Samarra is in Iraq, not in Russia.

The Tashla icon is a name variant of this type that is so common in icons of the 19th century:

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

It is the Ot Bed Strazhdushchikh image.  The title means “Of the Suffering from Distress,” but this type is sometimes given the fuller title Избавление От Бед Страждущих — Izbavlenie Ot Bed Strazhdushchikh — “Deliverance of the Suffering From Distress” — which makes a bit more sense. In the Canon to the Mother of God are the words Богородица Владычица, поспеши и от бед избавь нас/Bogoroditsa Vladuichitsa, pospeshi i ot bed izabav’ nas — “Mother of God, Mistress, hasten and from distress deliver us.”  Little is known of its origin, but it was a popular image among the Old Believers.

The Tashlinskaya variant, however, became noted more recently.  It’s origin story relates that a young woman in the village of Tashla had a dream on October 8, 1917.  In it, Mary appeared to her and told her of a buried icon.  Now we have heard that motif of dream about a buried icon before, for example in the tale of the origin of the “Kazan” icon.  In any case, Mary supposedly told the young woman exactly where the icon was to be found.  So the young woman went with two of her female friends to the ravine that had been indicated, and on the way they had another vision of white-robed angels carrying the icon.  There in the ravine they dug, and of course as these stories go, found the buried icon.  The tale further relates that when the icon was dug out, a spring of healing water miraculously sprang forth there as well.  You may recall the Roman Catholic story of St. Bernadette and the miraculous spring that is said to have appeared on the site of her visitation by Mary at Lourdes. The notion of the appearance of a miraculous spring is also an old motif in this stories of the appearance of certain “wonderworking” Marian icons. 

The icon was taken by a priest to the Holy Trinity Church, and on the way a woman was said to have touched it and to have had her vitality renewed.   But again as these tales often go, the icon mysteriously disappeared from the church. 

In December of 1917 the icon appeared again at the spring where it was originally found, but it could not be retrieved until the priest knelt and confessed his sins; then the icon allowed one of the three women who had found it originally to remove it from the spring and return it to the village.  The icon became very famous in that region, and religious processions were held with it.

During the 1920s the Communist regime tried to discourage the veneration of the icon.  They closed the church where it was kept and attempted to obscure the spring by placing a stockyard and a garbage dump at the site, but the spring eventually appeared again nearby.   Meanwhile, the villagers kept the icon safe and secretly hidden by passing it from house to house, and later during the II World War the church was reopened, and the icon was once more placed in it. 

The icon is still apparently kept in the church at Tashla, and the waters of the reputedly healing spring that appeared when it was found are still visited by those with various ailments. 

BRING ME A TOWEL

Yesterday I mentioned that two supposedly “wonderworking” icons were added to the Russian Orthodox Church calendar this year.  As previously mentioned, one is Marian and one is of Jesus.

Here is the latter:

spassnerukotyaroslavl

Now as you can easily tell from its rather archaic style, this is an early icon.  It has been undergoing restoration for the past two years at the State Institute of Restoration in Moscow, and now the original image is again visible.

The image is the “Savior Not Made by Hands” type, but more specifically, as we can see from the curved and pointed beard, it is of the subtype called Spas Mokraya Boroda/Brada (Спас Мокрая Борода/Брада — “The Wet-bearded Savior.”  It is also sometimes called “The Savior with Wet Hair” (Спас Омоченные Власы/Spas Omochennuie Vlasui).  Why a wet beard and hair?  Well, you may recall the origin story (the Abgar legend) of the “Not Made by Hands” type, which says that Jesus once pressed a cloth/towel to his wet face, and his image was miraculously imprinted on it — thus becoming the “first icon.”  Of course as I have mentioned in a previous posting, that is just a story that developed and changed over time.  But in Eastern Orthodoxy it was considered historical fact, like many of the fictional stories that became regarded as truth concerning the saints.

The “miracle-working” claim for this icon dates back to 1612, during the period known as the “Time of Troubles,” when Russia was in chaos and the Poles had invaded.  A butcher merchant from Nizhny Novgorod named Kuzma Minin was chosen to handle the funds needed to form a volunteer militia.  This militia, led by Prince Dmitriy Pozharskiy, drove the Poles out of the Kremlin, and for his service Minin was made a boyar — one of the class of aristocrats just below the rank of prince.

It happened that in 1612 an epidemic of cholera broke out among the people and militia in the city of Yaroslavl.  In those pre-scientific days, people had no idea what caused epidemics, so their solution was to pray before this icon of the Wet-bearded Savior.  And when the epidemic receded, as epidemics eventually do, the icon got the credit.  Now this story of one “miracle-working” icon or another causing a plague or epidemic to recede is very common in the tales of Russian “wonderworking” icons, and you will find it repeated again and again, set at various times and in various places in Russia.  Cholera epidemics frequently broke out.

The icon was formerly kept in the Yaroslavl Art Museum, but since its restoration it has been transferred to the Kirillo-Afanasievskiy Monastery.

Regarding Minin and the militia, there is a rather amazing and very large painting by Konstantin Makovskiy (1839-1915) depicting Kuzma Minin’s appeal to the public in Nizhny Novgorod for funds to form his army.  It shows an immense crowd of people flocking to him with chests and bags of money and gold and silver objects and jewelry to donate to the cause.  It is said that the painting took six years to complete, and was carefully researched for accurate detail.  It is noted as the largest easel painting in Russia.

AppealofMinin

Here is Minin at the center of it all:

appealofMinindet1