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Athos Holy Mount

Church Embroidery
11.7 Epitrachelion with the Akathistos Hymn
16th c.
Stavronikita Monastery
Length (without fringe) 280 cm, length of each panel 12.8-13.2 cm, width 11.5 cm


The Original New Testament

Represented on this epitrachelion (stole) are the twenty-four oikoi of the Akathistos Hymn, which lands the mystery of the Incarnation. The arrangement of the scenes is traditional. The first twelve oikoi, characterised as historical, illustrate the scenes of the Mariological and Christological cycles, from the Annunciation to the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The other twelve troparia, of the theological and dogmatic cycle, are divided into two groups of six: one celebrating the Virgin as a source of light, venerated by the people, the saints, virgins, clerics and hymn-writers, and the other focusing on Christ and his Incarnation, which brought salvation to mankind.

The twenty-four oikoi are illustrated in twenty-three panels. The first, placed at the centre of the epitrachelion, on the neck, is set horizontally, while the other twenty-three are ordered vertically down the two bands, one per panel with the exception of the fourth and fifth, which occupy a single panel, to balance the single scene at the centre. There is an irregularity in the arrangement of scenes two through eight, which read from right to left; with the ninth, the normal order is restored. The name of the owner of the vestment, Archpriest Dorotheos, is recorded in the twenty-third panel, at the bottom of the epitrachelion.

The iconography of the representations differs from the corresponding scenes in known manuscripts and frescoes (Velmans 1972) as well as in the Painter's Manual. Predominant in this vestment is the type of the Virgin that had dominated the great Church of the Virgin of Vlacherna since the age of the Comnenoi. The icon of the Vlachernitissa appears twice (panels 4 and 21) and of the Hodegetria once (panel 24), just as it appears in the sanctuary of the homonymous monastery in Constantinople (Grabar 1957).

Added here is a precious iconographic documentation of the veneration of this icon, as described by the pilgrim Stefan of Novgorod in 1350, with deacons holding liturgical fans (Khitrowo 1889, pp. 119-20). A fourth icon of the Virgin is depicted in the tenth panel, which narrates the episode of the Wise Men returning from Babylon with - according to Damaskinos - an icon of the Mother of God.

In scenes eleven and twelve, the Flight into Egypt and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the chronological order has been reversed, not by the embroiderer but by the poet, who followed the Protoevangelion of James.

In the thirteenth oikos the Tetramorph of the Painter's Manual has been replaced by the Deesis, the sole known example of this substitution. In the twenty-second panel, where the salvation of the human race is expressed by the Anastasis, Christ holds a manuscript in this representation rather than the usual Cross.

The twelve dogmatic scenes, where the faithful are represented as venerating Christ or the Virgin, have been compared to the iconographic theme of the Laudes addressed to Emperors (Velmans 1972, p. 153). On this vestment there are only four such scenes (14, 16, 17 and 23), all the others are purely dogmatic in character.

The twenty-four scenes have been worked in polychrome gold threads on a gold-embroidered ground, the dominant colours being green, red, aquamarine, orange and azure. The inscriptions, taken from the oikoi, are embroidered at the top of each scene in whatever space is available, without a dividing line as they are in other examples (cf. the epitrachelia in the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Great Lavra). The outlines of the buildings and the design in general are worked in silver thread variegated with coloured silks. The facial features are coarse and the expressions lively. There is a general tendency to stylization: the contours of the landscape are suggested by simple curved lines, the hills by coloured checkerboard pattern, the trees by green branches with two or four leaves.

The faithful reproduction of Constantinopolitan icons-palladia suggests that the anthivolon used for this vestment probably came from the imperial capital or its environs. As for the owner of the vestment, the Archpriest Dorotheos, nothing more is known of him, except that he was also the owner of a pair of epimanikia with representations of the Annunciation, also in the Stavronikita Monastery.

Bibliography: Millet 1947, pp. 56-7, pls. CXII, CXV. Patrinelis - Karakatsani - Theochari 1974, pp. 157-73, figs. 73, 75-9.

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