Miracle of Holy Fire site map  Lucy-axxe Hunt / Birmixgham. Eternal light and life: a thirteenth-century icon from the monastery of the Syrians, Egypt, and the Jerusalem Pascal liturgy

The highpoint of Holy Week was the Holy Fire or Lucernarium on Easter Saturday. This was the miraculous lighting of a lamp in the Sepulchre itself from which all candles and lamps were lit for the Holy Sepulchre and other churches throughout the city. Documented from the fifth century, the phenomenon reached its peak in the twelfth century, as the accounts of pilgrims, corroborated by a manuscript of the rite of the Holy Sepulchre of 1122 demonstrate". In the first decade of the twelfth century Abbot Daniel gives a moving, and also precise, account of his experience of the spectacle of the appearance of the Holy Fire during the Liturgy, after the ninth hour. He speaks of incandescence; of a fiery red light, the holy light of God shining in the tomb. "Then suddenly the holy light shone in the tomb and a fearful bright Flash came from the holy tomb of the Lord... The Holy Light is not like earthly fire for it shines in a different and wonderful way and its flame is red like cinnabar and it shines in a way which is quite indescribable." The light is received first by the Latin ruler Baldwin (I), who takes part in the celebrations. Then the light is spread from hand to hand, from candle to candle, through the throng of believers packing the church. The party accompanying the officiating Patriarch or Bishop is, in Theodorics later account, headed by a priest bearing a cross containing a relic of the True Cross". In the Dayr as-Suriani icon, the personification clothed in bright orange-red is illuminated by the golden flask she holds. She is assisting in the ceremony of Easter itself, in the role of one of the Myrophores. The Easter Vigil had the text of the Maries at the tomb, Matthew 28:1 20 as its main New Testament reading, after the sacrament of Baptism had taken place". This was followed the next day, on Easter Sunday, by the Orthros or morning prayer. This included a visit by the Patriarch with the archdeacon into the interior of the tomb, to participate as he emerged in a drama of the meeting of Christ with the Myrophores during which the exact words of Matthew 28:9 were exchanged". A mosaic over the entry to the marble canopied polygonal structure over the Sepulchre (positioned, Fig. 14, 510) depicted the approach of the three Maries to the tomb with their phials of ointment, to find the angel and the stone rolled back". An Orthodox Syriac Praxopostolos from the monastery of St. Panteleimon near Antioch (Vat. Syr. 21) points to the reenactment there of the Holy Fire during the Easter celebrations. While this manuscript dates from the mid-fourteenth century (1353), it has been shown to continue earlier practice". The lamps of the monastery church were lit from a candle brought from underneath the altar, in imitation of the Sepulchre ritual. The Syriac Rabbula Gospels miniature arguably shows the appearance of the Holy Fire in visual form as early as the sixth century. The popularity of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem in the twelfth century and the belief in its miraculous character served to sustain the ritual and it is highly likely that this ceremony was practiced in Orthodox monasteries elsewhere. I suggest that the Dayr as-Suriani icon could have been made for this purpose: the reenactment in a Syrian monastery of the Jerusalem Easter service. The icon depicts the salvation of mankind through the Crucifix- ion. The intercessors Mary and John pray for the dead rising below". The left female personification not only represents the Church, whose Dispensation began at the Crucifixion but is also clothed in the divine light of Easter Saturday. She carries a flask of ointment in commemoration of the Myrophores on Easter morning. This also serves as a sign for the Christian believer to be prepared, like the Wise Virgins, for their own calling to account at the Last Judgement. Western French and especially Italian art added scope to the Orthodox artists visual vocabulary, enabling him to express this idea. The Syrian Orthodox, in contact with the other indigenous communities, especially the Greek, the Armenian and Georgian, engaged in conscious and unconscious cultural exchange with the Latins during the twelfth to thirteenth centuries. The Holy Sepulchre acted as a focus for such exchange. Derived from earlier practice, as the representation in the Rabbula Gospels attests, the liturgical drama of the Resurrection was popularized under the Latins, with the Holy Fire in particular, and the visit of the Myrophores to the Tomb attracting crowds. The crux of the matter is the effect of coexistence, not schematic accounts of the import and export of works of art. After the final loss of Jerusalem from Latin rule in the mid-thirteenth century, after the respite of 1226 1244, the Orthodox liturgies continued to be celebrated in the Holy Sepulchre, under Muslim legislative control".

Cite: Lucy-axxe Hunt / Birmixgham. Eternal light and life: a thirteenth-century icon from the monastery of the Syrians, Egypt, and the Jerusalem Pascal liturgy: http://www.st-mary-mons.org/english/ancient_icon_of_crucifixion_13th.htm

Miracle of Holy Fire site map  Lucy-axxe Hunt / Birmixgham. Eternal light and life: a thirteenth-century icon from the monastery of the Syrians, Egypt, and the Jerusalem Pascal liturgy