Mary Mountain Uncut by Human Hands

July 2015


Unknown icon painter, Mary mountain uncut by human hands, 1560s, tempera on panel, Moscow, Kolomenskoye Museum

This iconography comes from the oldest one called "Jacob's Ladder" - still present in the ladder that Mary holds - through which the Savior "comes down" to the earth. This icon goes back to  the prophecy of Daniel that interprets the dream of Nebuchadnezzar: "While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by hands, and went on to beat against the foot of the statue, which were of iron and clay , and he broke them in pieces "(Dn 2, 34). The stone that shatters the statue is Christ, the mountain is Mary.

Let’s contemplate the icon and the richness of its symbolism.

Mary is wrapped in a floating cloak evoking the clouds of heaven, because she is "the greatest of the skies", having carried Christ in her womb.

Next to Christ, bearing a scroll with the words: "Before Abraham was, I am", we note, as resting on his mother Mary, the symbols: the stone that broke away from the mountain (hence the name of the icon) , Jacob's ladder that unites the earth to the sky and the rainbow running through the mantle of Mary.

A particular solemnity can be seen in the reproduction of the throne. Its columns, finely carved, rest on a lush garden, filled with flowers, a clear reference to the earthly paradise, as if Mary, the new Eve, is returned to humanity, who at the time was expelled from it because of the original sin . Then, from the back of the throne there are two green shoots, which remind us of more readings from the Scriptures (again the garden in Eden, but also Psalm 1 or the garden of which the Song of Songs is spoken about repeatedly). Finally, on the arms of the throne, there are two lit chandeliers, a clear reference to the burning bush, burning without going out, the place where God manifests himself, as he did in Mary, Virgin and Mother, the most holy.


Rejoice, You guide to the supernal advice;

Rejoice, You proof of arcane mystery.

Rejoice, You  first miracle of Christ;

Ave, compendium of its truth.

Rejoice, heavenly ladder

that brought  down the Lord;

Hail bridge that leads men to heaven.

(Hymn Akathistos, part 3)