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Athos Holy Mount

Byzantine Minor Arts
9.5 Panagiarion, known as 'The Pulcheria Paten'
14th c.
Xeropotamou Monastery
Light green steatite with relief work and footed gilt base
Diameter 15 cm, height of foot 7 cm



The Original New Testament

This paten, which is one of Mount Athos' greatest treasures, is bound by an encircling engraved metal sheet and is attached to a round, footed base decorated with a rosette-shaped ornament in relief. The outside of this band bears the following inscription, engraved in majuscules: '+ ΔωΡΟ CΕΒΑCΤΟΝ - ΠΟΥΛΧΕΡΕΙΑC ΑΥΓΟΥCΤΑC - ΠΟΙΜΝΗ CΕΒΑCΤΗ, - ΤΕCCΑΡΑΚΟΝΤ(α) ΑΓΙΩΝ' (Venerable gift of Pulcheria Augusta to the reverend flock of the Forty Martyrs); this probably dates from the eighteenth century (Kondakov 1902, pp. 225-6), when the tradition associating this paten with the Empress Pulcheria (5th c.) seems to have first appeared. Two handles in the form of rings attached to polygon bosses protrude from the otherwise smooth surface of the metal strip, which is held in place by means of four screws.

This round and slightly convex paten, in the form of a shallow rosette-shaped dish, follows a decorative pattern commonly used since the eleventh century, with a central medallion framed by two concentric bands of horseshoe grooves. On the central medallion, full-length and frontal, is the Virgin in the type of the Vlachernitissa, flanked by archangels in the garb of deacons, worshipping and offering incense. The incised inscription 'Mother of God / the Great Panagia', frames the head of the Virgin, while the names Michael and Gabriel appear above the archangels in abbreviation. The Virgin is represented in contrapposto, standing on a decorated footstool, arms wide-spread, creating a generous frame for the oval medallion with the bust of the Christ Child. Around the rim framing this central medallion is inscribed in majuscules the text of the Hymn of the Cherubim, which is chanted during the Great Entry, marking the beginning of the ritual of the Holy Eucharist: '+ We, mystically representing the cherubim and singing Holy, Holy, Holy, to the life-giving Trinity, offer up all earthly cares as we receive the Lord of all, surrounded by the invisible hosts of heaven'.

The decoration on the two rosette-shaped bands with sixteen compartments framing the medallion represents the Divine Liturgy with Christ officiating and assisted by angels (on the inner row) and apostles (on the outer row). On the inner row, as in many other depictions of this subject, Christ appears twice, standing on either side of the altar on which the Melismos is represented, accompanied by the inscription 'The Lamb of God, The Holy Altar'. Occupying the same position on the outer row is the representation of the Hetoimasia (Preparation of the Throne), with the inscription 'The Preparation'.

The style of the relief work, especially the rendering of the Virgin and the angels, is similar to that of two steatite patens of known date: the panagiarion of the Athonite Monastery of Panteleimon, with an historical inscription, and the icon of St Demetrios in Moscow, both from the second half of the fourteenth century. The heads and bodies are somewhat undercut, in an attempt to produce a three-dimensional effect; the heavy drapery has also been rendered three-dimensionally, and envelops the outlines of the figures (Kalavrezou-Maxeiner 1985, p. 47).

The conjunction of the Virgin in the type of Vlachernitissa and of the Holy Eucharist is a representation of the dogmatic concept of the Incarnation, and is commonly used in the decoration of the conch of the apse, where the Virgin Platytera occupies the upper part of the vault and the representation of the Holy Eucharist, divided into the scenes of the Giving of the Bread and the Receiving of the Wine by the disciples, is usually placed on the walls of the sanctuary.

The decoration of this panagiarion, then, with its combination of iconography associated with the Incarnation, affirms its use in rituals honouring the Virgin, where it holds the 'bread' on the altar to be elevated and later distributed to the faithful (Yiannias 1972, pp. 225-36).

Bibliography: Barskij 1887, p. 314. Kondakov 1902, pp. 225-6, fig. XXX. Smyrnakis 1903, p. 548. Millet - Pargoire - Petit 1904, no. 546. Doelger - Weigand 1943, pp. 158-9. Thesauroi 1973, p. 319, fig. 317. Kadas 1979, p. 181, fig. 117. Kalavrezou-Maxeiner 1985, pp. 204-5.

K. L-T.
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