Η Αχειροποίητος-Φανερωμένη των πρώτων ΠαλαιολόγωνPart of : Δελτίον της Χριστιανικής Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας ; Vol.42, 2003, pages 89-100
The Acheiropoietos-Phaneromene of the Early Palaeologoi
Represented on the reverse type of a late thirteenthcentury lead seal is the figure of the Mother of God standing and holding the Christ-Child in her right arm, accompanied by the legend Acheiropoietos. On the obverse type the inscription refers to a certain Kerameus, who invokes the Virgin to help him carry out the tasks incumbent upon him in accordance with royal commands (Fig. 1). The owner of the lead seal is identified as the pansebastos (all august) sebastos (august) Nikolaos Kerameus, domestikos of the western themas during the reign of Michael VIII Palaeologos and census-taker (?) of Thessaloniki from 1270 until 1283/4. I believe that Nikolaos Kerameus was indeed census-taker of Thessaloniki and that his invocation was addressed to the icon in the church of the Acheiropoietos in that city. Therefore, the time of naming the church is placed around the year 1270, shifting it about half a century earlier than the date hitherto accepted. The prosonym acheiropoietos is preserved next to the icon of the Mother of God in the church of St Nicholas of the Orphans (1310-1320) in Thessaloniki (Fig. 3) as well as in the parekklesion of St Stephen in the Holy Trinity church at Sopocani (1272-1276) (Fig. 4). Two lead seals of the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Iakovos (1290-1300) (Fig. 2) are also associated with the icon in the church, while in the sale contract between Anna Paxamados and the Iviron monastery on Mt Athos (c. 1320) the 'neighbourhood of the Acheiropoietos' is mentioned. In my view the renaming of the large church of the Theotokos in Thessaloniki to Acheiropoietos is associated with Michael VIII Palaeologos (1258/1261-1282), who considered this city his home. According to Konstantinos Armenopoulos, because of the donor's sin, the icon of the Mother of God that was inside the church was formed standing and supplicating towards Christ in a divine manner and not by human hand, which is why it was named acheiropoietos. The donor's sin was the usurping of the throne and the blinding of John IV Lascaris, for which he was excommunicated by Patriarch Arsenios, as well his pro-Unionist stance regarding the Union of the Churches, events that caused terrible turmoil and brought Byzantium to the brink of civil war. Michael VIII Palaeologos, in his so-called "Autobiography" -the Typikon (Rule) of the refounding of the family monastery of St Demetrios of the Palaeologoi at Constantinoplenamed the monastery of the Mother of God of the Kellibaroi at Latros, which foundation he united with that of St Demetrios, Acheiropoietos. Henceforth, the new monastery in Constantinople was called monastery of St Demetrios that is of the Kellibaroi. There are serious indications that Michael VIII was also responsible for instituting the veneration of the Theotokos Acheiropoietos in monasteries in Asia Minor. The emperor enjoyed special relations with the Metropolitanate of Cyzicus, since during his triumphal entry into the Queen of Cities, he was welcomed at the Golden Gate by Georgios Kleidas. The honour the Palaeologoi bestowed on the holy pilgrim shrine of the Theotokos Acheiropoietos in Cyzicus is described by John Cantacuzenos. In 1328, Andronicus III venerated the acheiropoietos icon in the church, an act which should surely be related to the abdication of Andronicus II and the end of the civil war. The existence of the acheiropoietos icon of the Mother of God was instrumental in preventing Nephon I (1310-1314) from relinquishing his rights to the Metropolitanate of Cyzicus, while the patriarchal decree issued by Neilos (1380-1388) confirms that the monastery had come under patriarchal jurisdiction. This acheiropoietos icon is identified with the renowned icon of the Virgin Phaneromene of Cyzicus, which is now in the Phanar (Fig. 5). Tradition has it that the acheiropoietos icon came from the monastery of the Mégalos Agros, which was destroyed in the first decade of the fourteenth century. The icon was lost but reappeared after the Virgin herself had indicated its whereabouts, and was placed in the monastery of the Theotokos Acheiropoietos and Phaneromene in Cyzicus. In my opinion, this version of the loss of the icon and its divine revelation probably conceals the transfer of the veneration of the Theotokos Acheiropoietos from the Mégalos Agros monastery to the monastery in Cyzicus. Michael VIII, who had previously ruled Bithynia, had ceded the Mégalos Agros monastery to his trusted confidant Athanasios II of Alexandria (1276-c. 1316), when he sought refuge in Constantinople (1278). Indicative of Athanasios's interventions in the Mégalos Agros monastery is the extremely interesting information that he removed an icon of Christ from there and put in its place an image of the king. Athanasios apparently renovated the monastery, as is evidenced also by the surviving fragment of wall-painting, which is dated towards the end of the thirteenth century. In the icon of the Virgin Phaneromene of Cyzicus, the Mother of God is depicted in the type of the Hodegetria, with the Christ-Child on her left arm (Fig. 5). Although the icon is covered by a parcel-gilt revetment and the faces are worn, the work is dated to the twelfth century on the basis of the frontal pose of the figures. The same iconographie type was the model for all the Palaeologan portable icons dedicated to the Virgin Phaneromene. It is certain that Michael VIII Palaeologos purposely chose the famous icon of the Virgin Hodegetria to head his triumphal entry into Constantinople. Although the City had been liberated since 25 July, the Byzantine emperor returned on 15 August 1261, intent on his triumph coinciding with the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin, protectress of Constantinople. As a result, the palladium icon in the Hodegon monastery was conspicuously invested with the status of imperial symbol as well, subsequently receiving special honour and cult by the Palaeologoi. As Michael VIII explicitly admitted in his 'autobiography', he was duty bound to show through deeds his gratitude to the divine protectors of his kingdom and his life, the Virgin and St Demetrios. Consequence of these confessions and debts was the housing of the Virgin, protectress of Constantinople, in the monastery of St Demetrios of the Palaeologoi in the Byzantine capital, where the protector of his lineage, St Demetrios, was honoured. With this act of unification of the family monastery with the Latros monastery, the appellation "Acheiropoietos" was ascribed to the Mother of God. It is very possible that the co-worship in the church of St Demetrios of the Kellibaroi is imprinted in the unique representations on two later silver coins issued by the minor John V Palaeologos and Anne of Savoy (1341-1347). Represented on the obverse are the emperor with his mother, and on the reverse the frontal figures of the Mother of God and St Demetrios side by side (Fig 6). In the large church of the Theotokos in Thessaloniki, where tradition has it the conjugation of the cult of the Virgin and of St Demetrios as protectors of the city took place, the new epithet of Acheiropoietos, which was attributed to the Mother of God, was preserved through the version of the divine forming of the icon as well as the myth of a repugnant act by the donor. Nevertheless, this donor, whom I believe was none other than Michael VIII Palaeologos, should be credited with the endeavour to establish an important cult which was incorporated in the prevailing ideology of the period, main aim of which was the restoration and perpetuation of the Byzantine Empire.