Today we will look briefly at another type of cast metal icon. This type is distinguished from other similar icons of the crucifixion by its very large size, by the number of individual types joined to make it, as well as by the row of 19 to 21 cherubim extending along the very top.
When I say “other types joined to make it,” I mean literally that. A Great Patriarchal Icon combines forms used to make other individual icons into one very large cast icon. One can see in the casting where the individual forms were pieced together.
At center we can see the form for a standard “house cross” Crucifixion, with its side panels showing Mary and the “Mother of God” at left and the Apostle John and the Centurion Login (Longinus) at right. Around it are placed the various types for the Major Church Festivals, as well as an icon of St. Nikolai/Nicholas, Marian images, and other saints and angels.
This type of easily-recognized, very large metal icon has a specific name. It is called a Большое Патриаршее распятие — Bolshoe Patriarshee Raspyatie — a “Great Patriarchal Crucifixion.” In English it is sometimes just referred to as a “Great Patriarchal Icon” or “Great Patriarchal Cross.” But in the slang of the everyday Russian icon trade, it is often called a большая-лопата — bolshaya lopata or большая патриаршия лопата — bolshaya patriarshiya lopata — a “Great Shovel” or a “Great Patriarchal Shovel,” because of its shovel-like shape.
These “Great Patriarchal Crucifixion” icons were, as one might suspect, the product of Old Believer workshops, and were produced largely in the Moscow area in the 18th and 19th centuries, but of course in fewer numbers than the more common and less expensive smaller Crucifixion metal icons.
In previous postings I discussed Russian crosses and their inscriptions in considerable detail, so if you were paying attention, today’s image will present no serious problems. It is a relief-carved and painted wooden cross, probably from around the end of the 18th-early 19th century. It should give you a useful review of cross inscriptions.
Again, from the previous postings you should be able to recognize that this is a “Priested” Old Believer cross. We can tell that from the presence of “Lord Sabaoth” — God the Father — at the top of the crucifix, and also the presence (though partly hidden by the halo) of the letters ИНЦИ.
Can we further identify this cross? Again, if you were paying attention the the previous articles on crosses and their inscriptions, that should be possible. A major clue is not only the traditional painting style used on the figure of Jesus, but also what is found at the top of the cross. Let’s look more closely:
There are two important elements here: the image of “Gospod’ Savaof” — “Lord Sabaoth,” that is, God the Father, and second the presence of the ИНЦИ abbreviation (though it is partly hidden by the halo of Jesus). These together tell us that this is a “Priested” Old Believer cross — that segment of the Old Belief who kept the notion of the priesthood. You will recall that when Lord Sabaoth is replaced by the “Not Made by Hands” image, and the inscription is also absent on such a cross, it is likely to be a “Priestless” Old Believer cross.
Though you should know the inscriptions on the cross by now if you are a regular reader here, we will go through them again just to make sure:
At the top of the cross, we see the carved inscription:
KRESTOU TVOEMOU POKLONAEMSYA VLADIKO I SVYATOE VOSKRESENIE TVOE SLAVIM
“We bow before your cross, Master, and praise your holy resurrection.”
We see the usual Gospod’ Savaof inscription by God the Father, and with him we see the darkened sun and the moon that has become red as blood, identified like this:
Each of the two flying angels has the abbreviation АГ — AG — abbreviating Ангел Господен –Angel Gospoden — “Angel of the Lord.”
Just below them, we see the abbreviated superscription on the cross, the I. N. TS. I inscription that abbreviates Pilate’s text “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (Исус Назорянин, Царь Иудейский ).
Along the upper part of the main crossbeam, we find the partially-abbreviated inscription that is really the title of the type:
РАСПЯТИЕ ГОСПОДА БОГА НАШЕГО ИСУСА ХРИСТА RASPYATIE GOSPODA BOGA NASHEGO ISUSA KHRISTA
“CRUCIFIXION OF OUR LORD GOD JESUS CHRIST.”
You can easily recognize the large carved abbreviation IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ,” Remember that while the Old Believers use the Ісусъ [Isus] spelling, the Russian State Church uses Іисусъ [Iisus]; “Christ” is Христос — Khristos.
Now let’s look at the lower portion:
We see divided from left to right the painted inscription:
С[Ы]НЪ Б[О]ЖIЙ SUIN” BOZHIY
“Son of God.”
And carved in large letters, again jumping left to right, is the Greek word НИКА — NIKA — Greek for “He Conquers.”
With the carved images of spear and sponge on a reed, we see we see by the spear the letter K, abbreviating КОПИЕ — KOPIE, meaning “lance,” “spear.” And by the sponge is the letter T, abbreviating ТРОСТЬ — TROST’, meaning the reed/rod.
Below that are the two letters:
ГОРА ГОЛГОФА GORA GOLGOFA
“Hill [of] Golgotha”
By the skull — traditionally that of Adam, the mythical first man, buried on the site of the crucifixion, we see the identifying letters:
abbreviating ГОЛОВА АДАМА GOLOVA ADAMA
[the] SKULL (literally “head”) [of] ADAM
And finally, right at the bottom, we find these carved letters:
МЕСТО ЛОБНОЕ РАЙ БЫСТЬ MESTO LOBNOE RAI BUIST’
“The Place of the Skull Became Paradise.”
It is finding little variations on the usual common themes that helps to make the study of icons enjoyable, so it is interesting to see this wooden cross with its rosy pink background and the two very folkish plants sprouting at the sides of the cross.