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Athos Holy Mount

8.6 Cross
17th-18th c.
Skete of St Anne
Wood, 63.5 x 51.5 cm, without the metal base


The Original New Testament

This is a typical example of Athonite miniature carving and nicely illustrates the respect and admiration which the monks accord their heirlooms. This cross, which until relatively recently was on the right-hand icon-stand in the church of the skete, must have been made by some anonymous monk living there. The skete has been known since at least the seventeenth century as a centre for the production of wood-carvings (Komnenos 1701, p. 38). What is most striking, however, is the fact that the craftsman has produced an almost exact replica, at least as regards the shape, of one of the most important and deeply venerated Athonite treasures, the wooden Byzantine cross decorated with miniatures which belongs to the Monastery of St Paul. The latter cross is divided into a number of compartments, each bearing a miniature on parchment and covered with a thick piece of glass; it is also embellished with gemstones, pearls, and silver leaf decorated with filigree (Thesauroi 1979, pp. 209, 312-13, figs. 312-19).

Like that of St Paul's, the cross from the Skete of St Anne has arms of unequal length, radiating from a square. Each arm consists of a trapezoidal compartment widening at the outer extremity, followed by a smaller compartment - lozenge-shaped on the vertical arms, triangular on the horizontal arms -, and terminating in a disc. On either side, on small stems, and at the extremity of the disc, the three upper arms have three smaller discs; the lower arm has two small discs on stems, another large trapezoidal compartment, and terminates in a smaller compartment in the form of an elongated hexagon.

The various compartments - square, trapezoidal, lozenge-shaped, triangular, hexagonal, and round - are decorated with tiny carved representations in quite high relief. On the one side of the cross, the central compartment bears the Nativity, and the other scenes include the Annunciation, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the Baptism, the Transfiguration, and the Presentation of the Virgin. On the other side, the Crucifixion is in the centre, and the other scenes include the Raising of Lazarus, the Lamentation, the Anastasis, the Ascension, the Hospitality and Sacrifice of Abraham. Both sides together contain a total of fifty-two scenes.

The small round and triangular compartments contain single angels, saints, prophets, and apostles. In addition to the cycle of the Dodekaorton the iconographical programme is enriched with scenes from Christ's Miracles and Passion, the events following the Anastasis, the Old Testament, the Life of the Virgin, and the martyrdom of various saints.

All the compartments are framed with simple rope-like or zigzag ornaments, some have rows of lozenges too, and the central squares are surrounded by a band of relief seraphim.

The carving is somewhat unsophisticated in style, the forms summarily and naively executed, and the work is embellished with picturesque details. Such is the craftsman's dread of horror vacui that even compositions which should normally contain only a few figures are crammed with as many extras as the space will permit.

Bibliography: Tavlakis 1982, p. 134.

Index of exhibits of Skete of St. Anne
17th 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

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