Mother of God “of the Sign”

Icon
Mother of God “of the Sign”
or
Our Lady of the Sign
St. Petersburg, ca. 1700
H 26 in. x W 21 in. x D 1 1/4 in.

The image of the Virgin was well known in Byzantium and common in early Russia and is one of the most revered icons of the Mother of God.It is said to have protected the city of Novgorod from invading Suzalians in 1170. At that time the city was besieged by the troops of Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky, but in his distress the Archbishop of Novgorod processed the icon around the city walls, and shortly after, the siege was lifted.

The Mother of God is portrayed in an orant position, her upraised hands characteristic in both the Old Testament and in the ancient Greco-Roman world.She is accompanied by a sign — a portrait of Christ Emmanuel enclosed in the heavenly sphere of her womb. The icon depicts the Virgin as the “sign” of the Messiah prophesized in the Old Testament: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel” (Isaiah, 7, 14).

The Virgin personifies the Church who contains within herself the living God. In the New Testament the verse is interpreted as a prophecy of the coming Messiah, and that God will not forsake his people. The three stars exhibited on Mary's maphorion are a symbol of her perpetual virginity: before, during and after the birth of Christ.She wears purple, the color of the Advent and of royalty, because as queen of heaven and earth. The faint letters above her head MP OY are abbreviations for “Mother of God.”The inscription, in Old Church Slavonic, reads “Maria /Theotokos” or “Mary/Blessed Mother of God.” Jesus is dressed as an adult, not as an infant. He wears a rich tunic and cloak, symbolic of his divine royalty. With one hand the Christ child imparts his blessing to the viewer, while holding the Gospels with his other. The three bars in Christ's halo symbolize the Holy Trinity.