An interesting icon believed to be by Angelos Akotantos is coming up for auction on January 26th, 2019, in North Carolina (U.S.A.):

(Photo courtesy of Brunk auctions:

You may recall Angelos Akotantos (Άγγελος Ακοτάντος) from an earlier posting on this site:

He was a noted iconographer of the Cretan School of icon painting, and was active about 1425-1450.

Venetian merchants carried on a thriving trade with Crete at that time, and ordered large numbers of icons, whether painted in the maniera greca (“Greek” manner) or the maniera latina (“Latin” or Italian manner).

This icon — depicting the Anastasis, the “Resurrection” of Jesus as his descent to Hades — shows Jesus standing in a mandorla (almond-shaped, full-length halo) of light.  He reaches out to grasp the hand of Adam, the first man.  Behind Adam stands his wife Eve, as well as other figures.

(Photo: Brunk Auctions)

To the left of Jesus we see John the Forerunner (the Baptist), as well as Kings David and Solomon and others.

(Photo: Brunk Auctions)

Two angels hover above, their hands covered with cloths as a sign of reverence.

In the open cavern at the base are two open sarcophagi, and in the center are the broken gates of Hades.

Usually, icons by Angelos Akotantos are signed in Greek ΧΕΙΡ ΑΓΓΕΛΟΥ/Kheir Angelou — “Hand of Angelos,” but this one was obviously intended for a Western — most likely Venetian — customer.  It is signed in Latin rather than Greek:

(Photo: Brunk Auctions)

The signature is:  Angelus pinxit — “Angelus painted [it]” — Angelus being the Latin form of the Greek Angelos.

You may recall that though some earlier icons were signed, it was the Cretan School that really popularized the signing of icons.

The icon is offered through Brunk Auctions in Asheville.




Today we will look at a 17th century Cretan icon:

Here is the title inscription:

It reads:

In hagiography he is called Menas of Egypt, and as we see from his armor, lance and shield, he is one of the warrior saints.

If we look at the base of the icon, we see the signature of the painter:

It reads:

“[The] Hand of Emmanuel of Lampardos”

Notice the unusual ligature of the α and Ρ (a and R).

This Emmanuel of Lampardos (more commonly known as Emmanuel Lambardos), was a painter in Heraklion/Iraklion, on Crete, active between 1593-1647.  Within the last few decades scholars have determined that there were actually two icon painters by the same name, an Emmanuel Lambardos the Elder and an Emmanuel Lambardos the Younger, the latter thought to be the son of Piero Lambardos and the nephew of the former, with both elder and younger working in the same studio.  Because their works are so similar, scholars are still trying to determine who painted what.

Let’s look at the scenes from the hagiographic legend of Menas:

This illustrates the tale that a certain man went to pray at a church dedicated to Menas.  There he met another man who offered him lodging for the night.  Realizing that his guest had gold, the host killed him, cut up his body, and put the parts in a basket.  The next day a mysterious stranger in military garb, riding on a horse, appeared (who of course was St. Menas).  The soldier asked the host about his overnight guest, and the host claimed to know nothing.  Menas, however asked him about the basket, and so the whole story was revealed.  Menas then miraculously joined all the parts of the slain man’s body together, and restored him to life.  He gave him back the gold the host and taken, and sent him on his way.  After scolding the host, Menas forgave him, then disappeared.

A man decided to have two silver plates made, one for St. Menas — engraved with his name — and the other for himself and bearing his own name.  When the silversmith had completed the work, the plate intended for Menas turned out to be the more beautiful of the two, so the man decided to keep it for himself.

The same man went on a sea voyage, taking the plate with him, and having his food served to him on it.  When he had finished eating, a servant took the plate and was washing it in the sea, when suddenly it slipped out of his hands and disappeared beneath the waves.  The startled servant lost his grip and also fell into the sea.  The man was so distressed at losing his servant that he prayed to Menas, telling him that if the servant’s body were to be recovered, he would give not only the remaining plate but also the cost of the lost plate to the saint.

When the ship reached land, the man looked to see if the body had washed up on the shore.  But instead, he saw the servant coming out of the sea alive, holding the lost plate.  The servant reported that as soon as he fell into the sea, a handsome man appeared with two others, grasping the man and traveling with him until he arrived at the shore.

A certain woman was on her way to pray at the shrine of Menas when she was attacked by a man who wanted to rape her.  It happened that when he got off his horse to do the deed, he tied the horse to his right foot.  Then when he attempted to rape the woman, the horse became very upset, and dragged the man off, all the way to the shrine of Menas.  Once there, the horse was so violent, and whinnied so loud, that a crowd of people soon gathered.  The man was worried the horse would injure or kill him, so he blurted out his confession of attempted rape before everyone, and immediately the horse became calm.  The repentant rapist then asked the saint to end his suffering and pardon him.

It happened once that a crippled man and a mute woman happened to both be staying in the shrine of Menas.  In the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, Menas appeared to the crippled man, telling him that if he would touch the cloak of the sleeping mute woman, he would be healed.  The crippled man managed to get to the mute woman, and when he grabbed her cloak she awoke, and began loudly blaming him.  Fearing the woman’s noisy shouting, the cripple got up and began to run away, when suddenly both of them realized that they had been healed by the saint.

There was a Jewish man who was friends with a Christian, and trusted him so much that when he traveled to foreign lands, he would leave considerable amounts of gold behind with the Christian as safekeeping.  However, once when the Jew had done this, on returning he went to the Christian and asked for his money.  The Christian replied that the Jew was mistaken, that no money had been left with him.  The Jew was so upset by this that he said he wanted Menas to determine the truth.  So both set off for the shrine of Menas.

Now it happened that when they arrived at the shrine, the Christian repeated his claim, swearing that no gold had been left with him.   Having said that, he exited the shrine with the Jew, and both got on their horses.  Suddenly the horse of the Christian began behaving violently, and rearing up, it threw its rider to the ground, where he lost his kerchief, a key, and a gold seal.  He got back on his horse and both continued on their way.

The Jew, however, was groaning and lamenting the loss of his gold.  The Christian suggested that they stop, dismount, and pause to eat some food.  As they were eating, the Christian looked up and saw that his servant from home had come, and was standing there holding the money bag of the Jew in one hand, and the lost key [a signet ring in another version, which accounts for the “gold seal”]  and kerchief in the other.  He was quite shocked, and asked the servant to explain.

The servant replied that a man riding a horse came, and giving the lost key [or signet ring] and kerchief to the Christian’s wife, he told her that she must send the money bag of the Jew to the Christian with great haste, so her husband would not meet with danger.  And so, thinking the Christian had requested this, the wife sent the servant quickly off to him with the Jew’s gold.

The Jew was of course overjoyed, and immediately wanted to return to the shrine of the saint, where he vowed to become a Christian himself through baptism in thanks for the miracle.  As for the lying Christian, he asked to be forgiven, and both returned satisfied to their homes

So those are the legendary miracles of the saint depicted on the Lambardos icon.

The last image is of the martyrdom of Menas:

Menas, by tradition, is said to have been an Egyptian Christian who became a soldier and was martyred under Diocletian after he left the army, then later returned and confessed his faith publicly during the festival games.  He was said to have been tortured, then (as we see in the icon) beheaded in 304 c.e.

Menas is one of those saints whose iconography has changed over time.  In the early centuries of his veneration, he was depicted not as an old man with grey hair and beard, but rather as a young and beardless man in a short tunic, without armor, standing with arms outstretched between two kneeling camels.

The camels relate to the legend of what happened to his body after death.  Though there is some variation in it, the essence is that his decapitated body was placed on a camel, and the camel on which it was traveling stopped at Lake Mariout (Mariotis), and refused to go farther.  This was seen as a divine sign, so the body was buried where the camel stopped, and a chapel was built there that later became a significant pilgrimage site.  You perhaps recognized that the motif of an animal carrying some holy object and stopping at the place where the object is intended to remain is a common tale in stories of saints and icons.  Many pottery ampullae (small clay vessels) with the image of Menas and his camels on them — eagerly purchased by visiting pilgrims — are to be found in various public and private collections.  They were produced at the  popular shrine, presumably as containers for supposedly holy water from the spring there, and some bear as well the inscription ΕΥΛΟΓΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΜΗΝΑ/EULOGIA TOU AGIOU MENA — “The blessing of the Holy Menas.”

(Photo courtesy of Luisa Ghirimoldi)

Now as sometimes happens with saints, there is more than one St. Menas.  Another is Menas Kallikelados (Menas the Sweet-Sounding) sometimes translated as Menas the Eloquent, said to have been martyred under Maximian.   But as with the multiplied saints Cosmas and Damian, scholars believe this Menas (also said to have been an Egyptian) and the better known Menas were originally one and the same, but became multiplied by their veneration at different places.



Here is a rather long posting that will likely severely bore anyone who is not interested in learning to read Greek icon inscriptions.  But it is a helpful posting for those peculiar souls who do want to learn that rather esoteric skill.  In any case, it is something any serious student of icons should know.

A reader asked about inscriptions on icons of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene.  That gave me a good excuse to talk a bit more about ligatures in Greek icon inscriptions.  “Ligature,” in writing, is the linking or joining of letters together.  When icon students first encounter ligatures, they find them mystifying and confusing, but really the principle is quite simple once one knows what to look for.

First, let’s take a look at the main portion of an example of such an icon type in this fresco from Mt. Athos:

Here is what Mary is saying to Jesus in the inscription:


Let’s look a little closer:

It begins with an abbreviation:  ΚΕ.  But notice the horizontal line above the two letters.  Do you remember that such a line (sometimes curved, but still horizontal) indicates an abbreviation?  Here, the two letters abbreviate ΚΥΡΙΕ (Kyrie).  You may recall that ΚΥΡΙΟC (Kyrios) is the Greek word for “Lord.”  KYRIE is just another form of it — the form used in addressing someone — in talking to them directly.   So here KYRIE also means”Lord” (but see below).

Now in a previous “lesson,” I told you that when encountering unfamiliar inscriptions, one should look at the visual context, at what is in the image.  And here the context is the biblical story of Mary talking to Jesus after his resurrection.  So all we need ask is, where in that context does she address him as “Lord?”  We must also remember that Kyrie is the standard respectful way for a woman to address a male in Greek — which is why the King James version of the Bible sometimes translates it as “Sir.”  So again, where in this context does Mary address Jesus as “Lord” or “Sir?”  We find it in the Gospel called “of John,” Chapter 20, verse 15:

Jesus says to her, Woman, why weep you? whom seek you? She, supposing him to be the gardener, says to him, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.

The next step, of course, is to take a look at the same verse in a Greek New Testament, so that we can verify that we have chosen correctly:


Now, let’s compare that with the inscription on the icon:

Here’s where we run into the ligature issue.  We already know that the first two letters, KE, abbbreviate KYRIE — “Lord”/”Sir.”  that means, if we have the chosen the correct text, the next two letters should be EI in Greek.  But in the actual icon inscription, the third symbol does not look like any recognizable letter at all.  The reason is that it is a ligature, a joined letter.  We find it it two places in the inscription:

The first occurance is somewhat marred by a crack in the painting surface, but the second, almost just below the first, is quite clear.  It looks rather like the number nine.  But the rounded part to the left is the “E” portion of the ligature, and the vertical line is the “I.”  So we can be reasonably certain that we have the correct text, because the third and fourth letters in the inscription are EI, meaning “if.”

The next two Greek letters in the inscription look like CV:

C in Greek is “s” in English.  And the V is actually just a way of writing the Greek letter Y, which in lower case is υ.  So the word in Greek is CY, which we can transliterate as SY or sy.  Sy is Greek for “you.”

Up to this point we have:

Lord/Sir if you…

The next word in the inscription is not complete:


It has one ligature, the fourth symbol.  That is a combination of C and T in Greek.  So it reads  EBACTAC — Ebastas.  But the word is shortened.  It is really EBACTACAC — Ebastasas, meaning “carried off”

The next word is also missing its ending:

The first symbol is a ligature of a and u, so the three letters shown are aut, which if written in full would be auton, meaning “him.”

Next come these words, all pushed together, as is often common in Greek inscriptions:


The first letter is the ligature of e and i that we have already seen.  With the next two letters, it makes the word ΕΙΠΕ — EIPE–, meaning “tell.”  That is followed by the word MOI, meaning “me.”  And the final word in the line has a common ligature of the letters O and Y, with the Y placed atop the O.  So it is the word ΠΟΥ — POU –, meaning “where.”

So now we have:

“Lord/Sir, if you carried off him, tell me where…”

Then comes:


The first four letters are ΕΘΗΚ — ethek, but the writer has left off the ending.  The whole word would be ΕΘΗΚΑC — ethekas — meaning “[you] have laid.”  That is followed by the abbreviation for AUTON (AVT) that we have already seen, and so we know AUTON means “him.”  The last four letters form the combined word KAΓω — KAGO –, and the two words put together to make it are ΚΑΙ ΕΓω, kai ego, meaning “and I.”

Adding that to what we already have, it gives us:

Lord/Sir, if you carried off him tell me where you have laid him, and I...”

Then come the last words of Mary’s little speech:

Here the word AYTON — auton, which we saw earlier in its shortened form, is spelled out in full.  You will recall it means “him.”  Next comes a ligature, the letters A and P (R) joined, so the last word is ARω — ARO, meaning ” [I] will take away.”

So the inscription, in our rather literal translation so far, is

Lord/Sir, if you carried off him tell me where you have laid him, and I him will take away.

If we put that into more normal English order, we get,

Sir, if you carried him off, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.

Now keep in mind that you did not have to know the entire inscription to know what it was.  You determined that from the first few words, seen in the context of the image shown — Mary kneeling before the resurrected Jesus.  Then all you had to do was to find those few words in the Greek text of the New Testament where the story of Mary before the resurrected Jesus is told.  Using that process enables one to recognize a great many inscriptions without knowing the entire vocabulary of the text at first glance.

We can see how useful that is if we look at another icon of the same type, also with a Greek inscription:

If we look at what Mary is saying to Jesus in this example, we find it to be:

It is very much the same as the inscription in the first example, with only slight differences in writing.  And the one word separated at the bottom is easy.  In Greek letters it is ΡΑΒΒΟΥΝΗ — RABBOUNI — an Aramaic word that means loosely “My Master/Teacher.”  That, according to the Gospel called “of John,” was the exclamation of Mary to Jesus when she finally recognized him.

Just for completeness, let’s deal with the other inscriptions one is likely to find on icons of this type.  First, there is the identifying inscription above Mary:

Picture 089
Picture 089

As you might guess, it just reads:


You probably noticed that the HAGIA is abbreviated.  In the name “Mary,” the A and Ρ (R) are joined, and the HE (H) is linked to the M in Η ΜΑΓΔΑΛΙΝΗ — “the Magdalene.”

And of course the title as a whole means “THE HOLY MARY THE MAGDALENE.”

There is also an inscription found in this type that you should already recognize from a previous posting.  For it, we will go back to this example in the first image:

The inscription is just above the empty grave of Jesus (with the graveclothes lying in it):

Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΤΑΦΟC — HO HAGIOS TAPHOS — “The Holy Sepulchre.”

Let’s also look back at that first image to see what Jesus is saying to Mary:


The IC at the top is of course just the standard abbreviation for “Jesus.”  But the inscription below it has the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene:


In normal English that is “TOUCH ME NOT,” or more modern, “DO NOT TOUCH ME.”  That accounts for the common Latin title often given these images in the West, Noli Me Tangere, which is just the translation of Me Mou Aptou.

I hope you noticed that the letters ΜΗ are joined in a ligature, as are ΟΥ in the word ΜΟΥ, and there is another ligature joining the letters Π and Τ in ΑΠΤΟΥ.

Finally, let’s take a look at the title inscription of the whole image at the very top of the first example.  It is cut off in the photo, but we can fill in what is missing:



The After the Resurrection to the Magdalene Mary of the Savior Appearance

In normal English,


One will often find little variations in Greek spelling (as in ΕΓΕΡCΗΝ / ΕΓΕΡCΙΝ in the above example), but usually they are not severe enough to cause confusion.

You may also wish to know that this ME MOU APTOU icon type of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is another of those borrowings into Eastern Orthodox art from Western Catholic art, from the time when Venice controlled the island of Crete, and the icon painters there worked to supply both Greek Orthodox and Western Catholic markets for paintings.  You may have also noticed that Mary Magdalene’s head is bare in these icons, which is a little unusual, given that most women have their heads covered in icons.  But it is usual for Mary’s hair to be seen in this particular type, because the image was borrowed very closely from Western examples — and in the West, Mary Magdalene is often seen with head uncovered.




If you happened to be a Byzantine Greek in 1453, it was not a good year.  It was a disaster.  In that year Constantinople, the chief city of the Eastern Orthodox world, the focus of Byzantine civilization, fell to the invading muslim Turks.

The news sent shock waves as far north as Russia, where the fall of Constantinople, known as Tsargrad — the “Emperor City” — was seen as a judgment from God.  It was felt in ultra-conservative Russia that the Byzantines had been much too friendly with the Latin Catholic West, much too interested in some kind of reunification between the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity.  And so, the Russians decided, God had taken the crown away from Byzantium, and had bestowed it upon “Holy Russia,” which took on itself the title of “Third Rome.”  The first Rome had fallen, the second Rome — Constantinople — had fallen, Russia was now the Third Rome, and as they said, “a Fourth there shall not be.”

People in the 1400s had been very worried, both in Byzantium and in Russia, because according to Eastern Orthodox belief, the world had been created in 5,508 B. C.  And just as the world had been created in six days, and God rested on the seventh day, it was widely thought that the world would last no longer than seven “days” consisting of 1,000 years each — 7,000 years.  That 7,000 years would be completed in the year 1492.

Some icon painters in Byzantium, however, had seen trouble coming, and had already moved to a safer place.  And after the fall of Constantinople, others followed them.  That safer place, that haven for refugee iconographers, was the island of Crete, which at that time was known, after the name of its chief city, as Candia.  There the business of icon painting (and it was a business, make no mistake) could not only continue, but could flourish.  It was safe because the Island was under the control of the Republic of Venice (in what is now Italy), which had taken it from the Byzantines in 1205.

Venetian control meant not only that the icon painter refugees from the Byzantine Empire could practice their craft in peace, but it also meant they had a ready-made market for religious art in the Catholic West, through the Venetian Republic, and further that through a kind of cultural interchange, Cretan iconographers were exposed not only to Italian religious art of the Gothic period, but also to the art of the blossoming Italian Renaissance.  That gradually  brought Italian influence and softness and feeling into Cretan iconography.

Before the fall of Byzantium, much emphasis had been placed on the art of mosaic, used to ornament the walls of churches.  But mosaic — and its cheaper substitute fresco painting — are by nature largely immovable art forms, and on Crete, which relied heavily on sea trade,  it was very important for religious art to be easily portable.  It had to transported by ship, and in large quantity.  So the focus in Crete was primarily on the painting of icon panels on wood.

When Venetian merchants sent their orders for new icons to Candia — and they ordered them by the hundreds — they told the iconographers just what they wanted, sometimes even down to the color of garments.  But the major distinction in the ordering of icons was between two different styles of painting.  Some icons, it was specified, should be painted in the Greek style, the Greek manner — the maniera greca, but also large numbers of religious images were ordered to be painted according to the prevailing taste of the Italians  — in the maniera latina — the “Latin manner.”  The Greek manner was the style customary in Greek orthodoxy, and the Latin manner was that preferred at the time by the Latin-using Catholic Church in Italy.

The Greeks, in spite of their historical and theological differences, felt much closer to the Catholic West than to the church-and-icon destroying Turks, and certain iconographic elements of Western theology even began to enter Greek Orthodox art.

The icon painters of Candia, of Crete, then, had no qualms about painting images for western Catholics along with painting for Eastern Orthodox customers.  After all, painting was their livelihood.  In fact one Cretan icon painter eventually gave up icon painting entirely and moved west, ending up in Spain, where he was called by his new countrymen “The Greek” — El Greco.  But he still signed his paintings — no longer icons but a kind of mannerist religious art — in Greek.

In fact speaking of signing, it was the icon painters of Candian Crete who popularized the signing of icons with the name of the artist.  And so today we still know who the painters of many of those Cretan icons were, something that cannot be said of most earlier icons.

The Cretan School of icon painting began flourishing in the second half of the 1400s.  Some iconographers, as mentioned earlier, had already immigrated even before the fall of Constantinople; others came after.

Among the well-known earlier Cretan iconographers was Angelos Akotantos — Άγγελος Ακοτάντος –who signed his icons ΧΕΙΡ ΑΓΓΕΛΟΥ — Kheir Angelou — “The Hand of Angelos” — and died c. 1457-1450.  Though borrowing some western motifs, his painting was largely conservative, preserving the Byzantine style favored in the 15th century.

Here is an example of his work — ΑΓΙΟC ΦΑΝΟΥΡΙΟC — Hagios Phanourios — “Holy Phanourios,” a warrior saint.  Notice the red border around the outer edge, and bright gold background, both generally characteristic of Cretan School icons; the red outer border is also found in later Greek iconography.

Phanourios is a rather obscure saint.  His veneration, which was prominent both on Rhodes and Crete, is completely dependent on the story that when the Turks ruled Rhodes, they wanted to rebuild the city walls, and began taking stones from ruined buildings for that purpose.  As they did so, they supposedly came across a church, and digging within it they discovered several old and disintegrating icons.  Among them, however, was one that looked bright and new, depicting a young warrior and scenes of his martyrdom, and the title read “Holy Phanourios.”  And that slim tale — whether true or not — was enough to put him in the calendar of saints.  Later he became known as a patron saint of finding lost objects, probably because his name is derived from φανερώνω — phanerono — meaning “I reveal.”  A folk belief in Greek Orthodoxy is that to get Phanourios to help you find something, it is considered wise to bake a panouropita (phanouropita) — a “Phanourios cake,” and to have it blessed by a priest.

There were a number of other Cretan School painters whose names are known today, and their work, over time, increasingly showed the influence of art in Italy of that period.

The same trouble that had brought Constantinople to ruin, however, eventually came to Crete.  The muslim Ottoman Turks fought the Venetians for control of the island from 1645-1669, and finally the chief city itself, Candia (now Iraklion) fell in 1669.  Even before its fall, however, icon painters had begun leaving the island, some going northward into Orthodox strongholds where they resumed the more conservative maniera greca, and others going to Italy, where they continued working largely in the maniera latina.

By 1715, the island of Crete was completely under muslim Turkish control, but by then its once flourishing “school” of icon painting had come to an end.


When we think of Greek Eucharistic icons, we commonly think first of the standard type called Ο ΜΥΣΤΙΚΟΣ ΔΕΙΠΝΟΣ, Ho Mystikos Deipnos, — “The Mystic Supper.” It represents the institution of the Eucharist, what Protestants commonly call “The Lord’s Supper,” the same event depicted in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “Last Supper” painting. It shows Jesus seated at a table with his apostles.

There are, however, other Greek Eucharistic types. There is the elaborate ΘΕΙΑ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΑ (Theia Leitourgia), “Divine Liturgy,” which shows the liturgy being celebrated in heaven by Christ robed as a bishop, though with bare head; look for standing angels as identifying elements in this type. Instead of being seated at a table, Jesus stands, and is generally depicted twice.

There is also the similar Η ΘΕΙΑ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΑ (He Theia Koinonia) “Holy Communion” type, which we generally call “The Communion of the Apostles.” It too depicts Christ standing at an altar, giving communion to the apostles, who approach from left and right. Again Christ is shown twice, at left in the so-called metalepsis of the wine, and at right in the so-called metadosis of the bread. This represents Christ giving the communion in and to the Church on earth.

I will probably discuss those latter two types in a future posting.

Today, however, we are going to look at an uncommon allegorical icon of the Eucharist that is apparently borrowed from a Western prototype. It shows Christ with blood spurting from his side into a chalice at left, and on the right his fingers rest on the eucharistic bread, which is stamped with the word NIKA, meaning “He conquers”:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

The chalice and bread are the chalice of wine and loaf of bread used in the Eucharist rite, which Eastern Orthodoxy considers to be also the blood and body of Christ (a notion that relates it to the mystery religions popular in the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity’s founding).

Here is the inscription on the banner below Jesus:

It reads:


Labetai phagetai touto esti to soma mou
Pietai ex autou pantes touto esti to [h]aima mou

“Take, eat, this is the body of-me
Drink of it all [of you], this is the blood of-me”

The inscription is borrowed from Matthew 26:26-28:

Ἐσθιόντων δὲ αὐτῶν λαβὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἄρτον καὶ εὐλογήσας ἔκλασεν καὶ δοὺς τοῖς μαθηταῖς εἶπεν,
Λάβετε φάγετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου.
καὶ λαβὼν ποτήριον καὶ εὐχαριστήσας ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς λέγων,
Πίετε ἐξ αὐτοῦ πάντες, τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessing, he broke it and gave it his disciples, saying:
‘Take, eat, this is my body’;
And taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying:
‘Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.

You perhaps noticed that the calligrapher arranged the words of the inscription in an odd way. Here is how he did it (in transliteration):


Compare that with how it should be read:


You can see that the calligrapher has used some ligatures, which you must learn to recognize if you want to read Greek icon inscriptions.

First, he has joined the letters S and T in this form:

Next, he joins the Greek Y (u) and O like this, placing the Y atop the O:

He also joins the A and N (as in the word pantes, meaning “all”):

Be sure to notice the very little mark that looks like an apostrophe above the first letter A in the word [H]AIMA, meaning “blood”:

When it is written like a crescent with the opening facing the right, as it is here, it signifies what was called the “rough” breathing in ancient Greek. It means simply that you add an “h” to the beginning of the word if you want to pronounce it as in ancient Greek. In later Greek, however (including icon inscriptions), that “h” was no longer pronounced; it was silent. But the Greeks still often wrote it in, as in this inscription, though frequently it is omitted on upper case letters.

Notice also that the calligrapher has written the word “this” — TOYTO (touto)– in two ways; in one he writes it without a ligature:

But the second time he writes the same word with the ligature combining the O and Y (u):

Remember that it is very common in Greek inscriptions to see “S” written as C. That is how it is written in today’s example. But later Greek icons may instead use the form Σ. When written in lower case letters, “s” at the beginning or within a word is written as σ; but at the end of a word it becomes ς.

Here is a Cretan Eucharistic icon very influenced by Western Roman Catholic art:

Jesus sits enthroned on the creatures symbolizing the four Evangelists, his feet resting on a globe symbolizing the cosmos.  Mary is at left, John the forerunner (the Baptist) at right.  Blood spurts from the side of Jesus through his fingers and into a golden chalice held by a small angel.  Another angel opposite him holds the Eucharistic bread.  More angels above hold the symbols of the Passion — the cross and ladder, the pillar to which Jesus was tied when scourged, the crown of thorns and the sponge on a reed.

Ιf you have been a faithful reader here, you should be able to translate all the inscriptions on Mary, Jesus, and John the Forerunner.

Here is the inscription on the book:

It is taken from the Gospel of John 6:56-57:
Ὁ τρώγων μου τὴν σάρκα καὶ πίνων μου τὸ αἷμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μένει κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ.
Ho trogon mou ten sarka kai pinon mou to haima en emoi menei, kago en auto.
“Who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
καθὼς ἀπέστειλέν με ὁ ζῶν πατὴρ κἀγὼ ζῶ διὰ τὸν πατέρα, καὶ ὁ τρώγων με κἀκεῖνος ζήσει δι’ ἐμέ.
Kathos apestele me ho zon pater kago zo dia ton patera, kai ho trogon me kakeinos zesetai di eme.
“As the living father sent me and I live by the Father, so who eats me, even he shall live by me.”