Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Mother of God Icons:The Virgin Hodegetria

June 19th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

Continued from Icons of the Mother of God

The Virgin Hodegetria, 16th century

(“She Who Knows the Way”)

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”* (Is 9:6)

The most distinctive characteristic of the pose of Mary in this icon is the position of her right hand which points to the Christ child as if to present the child to us. That really accounts for the title of this category of Marian icon: “She who knows–-or shows– the way” (The Virgin Hodegetria). It depicts for us in a fairly formal way the relationship between the mother and the child. Mary the Mother of God supports the savior of the world on her left arm while she presents him to us; to the Church and to the world. The savior comes to us through her. The mother is the Theotokos, the God-bearer, and she directs our prayers to her son.

This icon type enjoys preeminence among the Marian icons as a legend informs us that the original was painted by the Evangelist Luke. The original apparently possessed miraculous powers after the Holy Mother promised that her blessing would always follow that icon. As a consequence, subsequent icon painters (actually, icon artists do not paint icons, they ‘write’ them) of this image have striven to copy faithful copies… faithfully. The Hodegetria type is as popular in the Western Church as in the Eastern although rendered in a Western or Renaissance style in the West.

The mother and the child often gaze at each other in this icon, lost in thought. Sometimes their heads incline toward each other and sometimes they look out at us, inviting a relationship. People often notice that the Christ child appears rather grown-up. This is meant to underscore the paradox of the person of Jesus; he is both God and man. He has the stature of a child but the air of an adult. His divinity is also indicated by the scroll he holds in his left hand; he is the eternal Logos, the Word of God. He is also, of course, the savior of the world which is indicated by his right hand raised in blessing. He brings glad tidings which is a blessing.

“It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim; without defilement you gave birth to God the word: True Theotokos we magnify you.”*

(From the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

*The prayers in this post appeared in Solrunn Nes’ book, The Mystical Language of Icons, in her section on the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, page 52.


Book Suggestion: The Mystical Language of Icons by Solrumn Nes, (Eerdmans)

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2 Responses to “Mother of God Icons:The Virgin Hodegetria”

  1. Nerina says:


    I love these posts. Keep ’em coming.

  2. Bernie says:

    Thank you, Nerina.
    “Thank you” to Dr. K for helping me learn how to link to a previous post. I think I’ve finally got it.

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