The icon of the Mother of God “the Sign” is an ancient miracle-working icon of the Mother of God.The icon is two-sided, processional..On the obverse side is a waist-length depiction of the Mother of God with the hands raised in a gesture of praying, on Her bosom in the medallion is half-length figure of Christ Emmanuel.With His right hand the Saviour makes a gesture of blessing, in His left hand He holds a scroll.On the flat raised borders of the panel are full-length figures of St.George and St.James the Persian and the ascetic hermits St.Peter of Mount Athos and St.Onuphrius (St.Macarius of Egypt).In the opinion of the restorers the original painting was preserved only in the clothes of the Virgin Mary and in the background of the medallion.The icon was refurbished in the XV1 century.

On the reverse side at the right is a venerable old man, at the left a venerable old woman in a prayer intercede with Jesus Christ depicted in the upper section in the semicircle.The Saviour blesses them with both hands.The saints are depicted full-length, and Jesus Christ –waist-length.The original background is not preserved, later captions give the names of the saints-St.Peter, the apostle and St.Natalia, the martyr.The researchers suppose,however, that these are depictions of the saints Joachim and Anne,Parents of Holy Mary. Between the figures of the saints-two small openings for the relics.On the upper border is a throne on which the closed Gospel lies, on the Gospel –a white dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.Behind the throne is a tall octagonal cross.To the left and to the right of the throne are poorly preserved waist-length figures of the archangels.In the upper section of the left and right borders are full-length figures of venerable women, in the lower section-smaller figures of St.Clement, Pope of Rome, and St Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia.In the opinion of the restorers,the painting of the centerpiece of the reverse side except the background is ancient likewise depictionsof two venerable women on the borders. (later captions refer to them as martyrs St.Catherine and St.Eudokia).Based on the historic sources E.S.Smirnova considers that the icon was painted in the second thied of the X11 century.The timing of depictions on the upper border is still not determined.The holy hierarchs St.Clement, Pope of Rome, and St Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia were painted in the XV1-XV11 centuries.V.N.Lazarev thinks that this icon reflects the local Novgorod tradition.

The earliest mention of the icon dates back to the First Novgorod chronicle. It says that the people of Novgorod won a victory over the army of Suzdal which was laying siege of the city “by the heavenly powers and with the help of the Mother of God”.A more detailed account of the miracle is contained in the manuscript of the Festal Menaion of the X1V century from the Cathedral of St.Sophia.The text is entitled “ the Word on the Sign of the Mother of God 6677(1169)”.

It says a story about Prince Andrew Bogolubsky who got furious at the people of Novgorod because they did not allow the levies*** to be collected in the Land of the Dvina which was earlier under the authority of Novgorod but decided to change allegiance for the Prince of Suzdal.Prince Andrew called up a big army and sent it to lay a siege to Novgorod. “On the second night of the siege when the St.Nicholas the Archbishop was praying…in horror he heard a voice which said:”Go to the church on Ilyin street take the icon of the Mother of God and take it out to the fortifications”. The icon was taken out to the fortifications.Whenthe Suzdal army started the assault and “arrows were launched to the city as if it was a heavy rain.Then the icon on the Holy command turned its face to the city and the Archbishop saw tears rolling down on the icon and put his phaelonion under them”.And the attacking regiments were covered with darkness and the warriors were struck with horror and they got blind and started fighting each other.On seeing that the Novgorod defenders came out into the field and killed some and took others prisoners”.

The icon owes its name “the Sign” to this chronicle and this name was first used in the Novgorod chronicles of the end of the XV century, whereas in the Moscow chronicles similar icons were referred to as “the Mother of God Incarnation”. The name “the Sign” has become assigned to this iconographic version in the XV11 century.

In the Byzantine art depictions of the Mother of God with the Divine Child in the medallion were known from the end V1 century-beginning of V11 century, but finally the iconographic type comprising the icon of the Mother of God “the Sign” was formed in Constantinople around the middle of the X1 century.This iconography is associated with the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah about God incarnation: “…Our Lord will give us a sign: Behold, a Virgin conceive and bear a Son and call his name Emmanuel” (Is.7:14).E.C.Smirnova links appearance of such icons with the miracle-working icons from the Church of Blachernae which stored the veil and girdle of the Mother of God. These holy relics are connected with the worship of the Mother of God as a patroness, protectress and tutelary goddess of the city ensuring its victory over the enemy

Before the revolution the miracle-working icon was kept in the Church of the Holy Sign of the Monastery of the Holy Sign.In the 1930ies the icon was handed over to the Novgorod Museum, and since 1991 it has been in the Cathedral of St.Sophia.

The initial restoration of the icon was carried out in the 20ies of the XX century, the final removing of paint of all the fragments of the X11 century was done at the State Research Institute of Restoration in the 1980 ies by G.Z.Bykova (the obverse side) and Y.A.Ruzavin (the reverse side).

This iconographic version also comprises other miracle-working icons which got their names after the place of their finding and worship: the Kursk-Korennaya icon of the Sign, the Seraphimo-Ponetaevka icon of the Sign the Abalakskaya icon of the Mother of God of the Sign,the Mirozh icon of the Mother of God and others.

Celebration in honour of the Mother of God of the Sign is held on the 10th December (27th November old style) 


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