Our Lady of the Passion
Unknown Icon painter of the XVI century, Our Lady of the Passion (copy of an original by Andreas Ritsos), 1579, tempera on panel, Sinai, St Catherine Monastery
The name of the icon draws explicitly on the presence, on either side of the halo of the Virgin, of the two angels who hold in their hands the instruments of the Passion: the reed with the sponge at the end soaked in vinegar and the spear (on the left), the cross and three nails (on the right). Their hands are gloved, thus the instruments, as a sign of respect in that they are “instruments of salvation”, are not touched directly by the angels. It is worth noting that the only evangelist who presents – directly or indirectly as is the case with the nails – all four of the symbols that appear in the icon is John, in Chapter 17. The Synoptics, however, do not speak of the centurion’s spear that pierces the side of Jesus (cf Matthew 27, Marco 15 and Luke 23).
Jesus’ gaze, which seems astray, rests on the angel on the right, because these gifts are, in effect, being presented to Him. And, seemingly spontaneously, the little one clings to the thumb of the Mother’s right hand with His little hands. Even the right foot of Jesus which is agitating the left, shows the emotional torment that the little one is living, here the mission which awaits Him on earth is envisaged.
Mary, who takes the prime place of the icon, with the right hand stretched out, is represented in the typical ‘Hodegetria’ style, is the one who shows the way, the way being Jesus. Her face, however, is serious because even She knew of her son’s destiny shortly after His birth and therefore her heart is grieved and suffering.
Well suited to the scene are some words written by Jacopone da Todi in the famous hymn ‘Stabat mater’: we will make them ours, praying before the icon.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.
Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified: