Reference address :

ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Athos Holy Mount

Portable Icons
2.114 Christ High Priest and saints
16th and 18th c.
Wood, egg tempera, 148 x 100.5 x 3.5 cm


The Original New Testament

This is the great icon of Christ from the Protaton's iconostasis, which together with John the Baptist (2.118), St Panteleimon (2.117), the Dormition of the Virgin (00), St Stephen, St Nicholas and St John the Theologian (2.116) and St Athanasios the Athonite, St Spyridon and St Peter of Alexandria (2.119) adorned the 1611 iconostasis until the middle of this century, when they were removed together with the iconostasis to reveal the original marble screen that was still in place (Millet 1927, pl. 52). It can be seen that the icon of the Virgin is missing from this list, being replaced by the icon of the Dormition, doubtless due to the Protaton's being dedicated to this feast. With one exception the above icons were probably painted in 1542 together with the Great Deesis (00) (Chatzidakis 1969-1970, p.327, Papachrysanthou 1992, p.394) for another iconostasis constructed in 1542. When the 1542 iconostasis was replaced in 1611, according to the custom of the time (Tavlakis 1996), the openings were adjusted to receive the earlier large icons, and the remaining gap at one end was covered with a narrow icon (2.119) with three saints arranged vertically. At the same time the seven icons depicting the Great Deesis were hung behind the screen for safekeeping (Millet - Pargoire - Petit 1904, no.29).

All five icons have the same height (148 cm.), a fact which confirms that they were originally a set for the 1542 iconostasis, though later overpainting had until recently concealed the excellence and age of these important examples of Cretan painting. We may feel fairly confident that this work is by Theophanis the Cretan, to whom is also attributed the Great Deesis on the same screen (Chatzidakis 1969-1970, p. 327. For a different view, see catalogue entries nos.2.47-2.53). This view supports the suggestion that Theophanis move from the Great Lavra to Karyes in 1543 was connected with his work.

The subject matter of the icon is divided into two parts, the centre, where Christ is portrayed as King of Kings and High Priest (Ο ΒΑCΙΛEYC ΤΩΝ ΒΑCΙΛΕΥΩΝΤΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΜΕΓΑC ΑΡΧΙΕΡΕΥC), and the border, which contains twenty-six half-length figures of saints, set close together down the sides (10 and 10) and more openly spaced along the top and bottom (3 and 3). Christ, in high priest's vestments, is shown frontally and full-length, seated on a high-backed throne. His right hand is raised in blessing, while in His left He holds an open book with the phrases from the Divine Liturgy: `Take, eat....' and `Drink ye all of it....'. Two cushions, one red and one green, with delicate foliate ornamentation have been placed on the throne for the Saviour to sit upon, and a third cushion, also red, serves as a footstool. The face and hands have been overpainted.

Christ as High Priest appears in iconography after the Fall of Constantinople (1453), roughly as in this icon, starting from a model created in Crete in the fifteenth century (Chatzidakis 1985, p. 67). The first part of the text in the open book is usually different (`My kingdom is not of this world'), while the mitre, episcopal vestments and splendid throne are common elements. This icon is iconographically closely related to that by Michael Damaskinos in the second half of the sixteenth century (Vokotopoulos 1990, no. 22, pl. 23), even though details in the decoration of the throne, the footstool and the episcopal vestments are reminiscent of the katholikon of the Stavronikita Monastery, which was painted by Theophanis in 1545/46, and particularly reminds us of the portrayal of St Nicholas with the founder Jeremiah, and also the scenes showing the Ecumenical Councils (Chatzidakis 1986 (1), pl. 10, 11, and on p.8).

The figures of the saints in the border are the originals, not having been overpainted. Along the top are the three Hierarchs and along the bottom Sts George, Demetrios and Christopher. Down the sides are the twelve Apostles and the Martyrs Kyrikos, Jacob the Persian, Menas and Theophilos on the left and Sergios, Bacchus, Nicholas the Younger and Eustathios on the right. The inscriptions accompanying Sts George and Demetrios are to be found in a fuller form in the refectory of the Dionysiou Monastery (Millet 1927, pl. 2101).

Bibliography: Smyrnakis 1988, p.697-8.

Index of exhibits of Protato
16th century

The Authentic Greek New Testament Bilingual New Testament I

Icon of the Mother of God and New Testament Reader Promote Greek Learning
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Learned Freeware


Reference address :