Icon corner

Icon Corner: History and Symbolic Meaning

Icons play a critical role in every faithful Christian’s life. People pray with them to connect with a spiritual world, find answers to their questions, and feel peace. The icon corner or red corner appeared in Orthodox believers’ homes in early Christian times. In the Rus’, the red corner held a special place. Let’s take a closer look at its historical and symbolic meaning. 

What is an icon corner?

An icon corner is a place in the home where the faithful set up icons along with candles, holy water, and the Bible. It used to be considered the chief place after the stove, which was the very center of the house. Icons were placed strictly diagonally from the stove and facing east or south. There was a tradition of creating a special icon shelf with images of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, the Holy Trinity, and patronal icons. Often, one could see images of St. Nicholas, St. Pantaleon, Seraphim of Sarov, and other highly revered saints. Moreover, there were certain rules concerning the order of the icons. Now they are no longer observed so strictly.

Historical facts

Some sources say that the tradition of creating a sacred place in the Rus’ arose even before baptism. However, it was a stove rather than the red corner. After the baptism of the Rus, people began to bring holy icons into their homes to pray before sleeping, eating, or doing something significant.

Guests were not allowed to approach the icon corner without permission. Only the dearest guests were seated there. Everyone who entered the house was crossed facing the icons before greeting the owners of the dwelling.

Besides, the red corner was of great importance during wedding or funeral ceremonies. Before a bride left her paternal home, she had to pray in front of the icons. 

Symbolic meaning

Every house with a red corner was considered as a semblance of the world in ancient times. The walls symbolized the sides of the horizon, the floor represented the underworld, and the ceiling meant the heavenly world. As we noted above, the icon corner was placed on the south side, associated with safety and peace. It was thought that the north and west bring darkness, death, and evil.

A sacred corner means the presence of God, goodness, and veneration of the saints. The tradition of setting religious icons at home continues even today.