Russia Religion Subjects Virgin Mary Our Lady of the Sign

Our Lady of the Sign

Our Lady of the Sign is a waist-length image of the Virgin Mary with her hands raised upwards and a medallion on her breast depicting the Christ Child. Jesus’s right hand is raised in blessing; He holds a rolled-up scroll in his left hand. Icons of this type were known in Greece as Oranta (“praying”) or Panagia (“all-holy”). When they reached Russia following the adoption of Christianity in 988, the image acquired the name of Our Lady of the Sign (Znamenie).

Icons of Our Lady of the Sign were popular in Novgorod in the twelfth century, after one allegedly saved the besieged city from an invasion by the Suzdalites in 1170. When Archbishop Elijah of Novgorod was praying, he heard a voice commanding him to take the image of the Virgin – the town’s patroness – from the Church of the Transfiguration of the Saviour and hang it on the city wall. During the procession, an enemy arrow struck the icon. The Virgin turned her face towards the city, giving a sign to the people of Novgorod. The Suzdal regiments were blinded and fled in terror. Following this miraculous sign, the archbishop established an official church holiday in honour of Our Lady of the Sign.

The miracle-working icon of the Our Lady of the Sign was subsequently worshipped for centuries as the protector of Novgorod, which was the leading city and cultural centre in medieval Russia. The popularity of the icon led artists to paint many copies for churches throughout the territory of Novgorod, following the original image down to the smallest details.

Icons of Our Lady of the Sign were worshipped throughout Russia from the sixteenth century onwards. Common features of this image before the Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century were the Virgin’s large, almond-shaped eyes, round eye-sockets and horizontal strokes at the corners, while the Child was depicted inside a medallion.

Random articles