Angel Iconography: Symbolism and Key Features
The Orthodox angel iconography occupies a special place among the revered Christian shrines. It has specific features and is mostly based on symbols since angels represent incorporeal and invisible spirits created by God. In this blog post, we explain who angels are and how they are depicted in religious icons.
1. Who are angels?
The word “angel” from Greek means a messenger. They are spirits who are endowed with divine power and live in the heavenly world to serve the Lord. Scripture says nothing about the number of angels, but it is known that there are quite a few. Michael and Gabriel are the names most often mentioned in the Bible.
There is a certain hierarchy among the angels. One group of angels consists of seraphim. They hold the highest rank. In the second group are the cherubim who fulfill certain functions and have their duties. For example, they guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve’s expulsion.
2. Angel iconography
The Orthodox angel iconography has certain features. Many icons are dedicated to the Archangel Michael, as he is the leader of angelic forces. The figures of angels are usually depicted full-length or waist-length as beardless young men. Their main attributes are wings and a halo, which indicate grace and spirituality. Some Orthodox icons depict the angels “all” together.
Icons of angels are displayed both in churches and in the homes of the faithful as part of an icon corner.
3. Angel symbolism
The angel iconography is richly symbolic. The images of angels are formed with an array of symbols that reveal the essence of angels rather than their appearances.
The main symbols of angel images are the following.
- Wings – a symbol of divine power and service as a messenger of the Lord
- Mirror – a sphere with a cross, which means the gift of foresight
- Diadem – a symbol of power and service for the good of mankind
- Staff – another symbol of power
- Scroll – instructions for the righteous who enter the Orthodox Church
- Censer – a symbol of the heavenly liturgy, where all the angels serve and praise God
With its rich symbolism, it is no wonder that angel iconography is highly revered throughout the Christian world.