Garments and Their Meaning in the Orthodox Icons of the Mother of God

In our previous article, we wrote about garments and their meaning in the icons of Jesus Christ. Now that you know that clothes depicted in the Orthodox icons are no less important than hand gestures and colors, let’s take a closer look at the holy icons of the Mother of God. After all, they remain some of the most beloved and venerated in all of Orthodox Christianity. It is also the reason why it is so important to understand what exactly is depicted in the religious icons of the Theotokos.

The Mother of God is usually depicted robed in a maphorion, a veil typical for married Jewish women of the time. This specific veil traditionally worn on top of other clothes was so large that it covered not only the head, but almost the whole of the body. It is believed that the original maphorion of the Mother of God was brought to Constantinople in the year 473 and kept in the ancient Church of Blachernae.

In Eastern Orthodox icons, the Mother of God is clothed in a large deep red maphorion, which is a symbol of life-giving energy and love. Moreover, it also reminds us of her royal origin and clearly states that she is the Mother of the King of Kings. However, there is one more meaning of the red maphorion. Since red is the color of blood, such a garment also symbolizes the Virgin Mary’s suffering of losing her only son Jesus. It is also worth noting that in Eastern Orthodox iconography, the maphorion worn by the Mother of God is almost always bordered in gold, which indicates her glorification as Queen of Heaven.

As for her inner garments, the Mother of God is usually depicted in a blue tunic and also a blue cloth cap covering her hair. Such garments are a symbol of Mary’s humanity and perfect purity. One more important symbol hidden in the Orthodox icons of the Holy Theotokos is three gold stars. They are depicted to underline her virginity before, during, and after the birth of her son Jesus. Besides, these stars also symbolize the Holy Trinity.

Thus, the garments worn by the Mother of God in Orthodox icons show her divine nature worn upon human nature. As you might have already guessed, this is exactly opposite of the common depiction of Christ who is usually clothed in a blue “human” mantle upon a red “divine” tunic.

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