Holy Icons of Our Lady of the Sign
Today, on December 10, Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the feast dedicated to one of the most beloved Marian holy icons, known as Our Lady of the Sign or “Znamenie.” Depicting the Mother of God facing the viewer, with her hands upraised in prayer, and the Child Jesus in her chest, within a round aureole, this image symbolizes the Virgin’s pregnancy. It is interesting that the first known depiction of this type (Oranta) was found in the catacombs of Saint Agnes in Rome. Dating to the 4th century, it is one of the most ancient and important images of the Theotokos to date.
Antique Russian icons of Our Lady of the Sign
In Russia, holy icons of Our Lady of the Sign appeared in the late 11th – early 12th century in Novgorod. According to the legend, the antique icon of the Mother of God, which was kept in the Church of the Transfiguration, saved Novgorod from invasion when the city was besieged by a large army of Andrei Bogolubsky. The forces were so unequal that the Novgorodians could only pray for the miracle, and the miracle happened. Captured with fear and trembling, the enemies became blind and fought amongst themselves. Those who survived were turned into prisoners of war. As for the antique icon, since then, it is considered miracle-working, so are all its copies that can be now found throughout Russia. The original icon is currently kept in the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod.
Holy icons of Our Lady of the Sign show the Mother God either half-length or full-length, dressed in a large red maphorion over a blue tunic. The Child Jesus is symbolically depicted in the Virgin’s womb, with His right hand raised in a blessing gesture. Besides, in many Russian icons, He also often holds a scroll in the left hand, which is a symbol of His role as a teacher. It is also worth noting that Christ’s garments depicted in the holy icons of Our Lady of the Sign can be either blue and red, showing His human and divine natures, or white and gold, symbolizing the uncreated light of God.
Eastern Orthodox icons of Our Lady of the Sign are among the most highly venerated Marian holy icons not only in Russia but across the entire world. It is no wonder that hand-painted icons of this type can be found in many homes of Christian believers.