Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Mother of God Icon Galaktotrophusa

August 9th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously here


Mother of God Galaktotrophusa (The Nursing Mother of God)

“…a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’”

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

(Lk 11: 27-28)

The Nursing Mother of God is a relatively minor subject in Christian art and Marian imagery but a rather persistent one. The earliest examples come to us out of Egypt during the Late Antique period. It has a certain heightened popularity during the medieval period but can be found at many other times as well. The visual archetypal origin of the image may be, as with the Virgin Kyriotissa, the enthroned Egyptian goddess Isis feeding her child, Horus.

It seems, like the Mother of God Eleousa, to stress Christ’s humanity and the intimate relationship between Mother and Child and therefore should be less dogmatic than the other Marian types. But St. Germanus of Constantinople (a great defender of the use of icons in worship) seizes upon that very intimate mother and child moment to make a dogmatic point:

“Christ did not just appear to be a man, like some kind of shadow, but he was really and truly a man.”

The image is, in fact, often interpreted in a dogmatic way. This is partly due to the exaggerated abstraction of the mother’s anatomy (in strict Byzantine iconic fashion) which suggests a metaphoric interpretation. The highly intimate relationship between mother and child is understood as a metaphor for the Church feeding the faithful spiritual food through the sacraments. The Church gives new life to believers through baptism and nourishes them through the scriptures and, in a special way, through the Eucharist. She comforts them and extends mercy to them in confession. In this metaphor, without the Church, the faithful cannot possibly survive. This is a very Catholic/Orthodox understanding of the role of the Church and stands in marked contrast to Protestantism.

This post brings us to the end of our brief look at the basic categories of the Mother of God icons. We will continue, from time to time, to look at some examples of Western as well as Eastern Marian images that can, generally, be placed in one or the other of those categories.

I hope you have enjoyed the series and -if you were not already familiar with the categories- are now better able to utilized the Marian icons as an aid to prayer.

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