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The icon comes from an Orthodox church in Maciejowa, a village located between Nowy Sącz and Krynica. This type of presentation named Pokrov depicts the Mother of God, who is extending a veil over the world, which is hanging from her outstretched arms over figures clustered at her feet. Two legends are the sources of this theme.


This icon has been in the Nowy Sącz collection since 1950. It arrived at the museum as a result of the action of securing the property formerly belonging to Lemko people. This action was carried out in 1947, by the Provincial Conservator of Monuments in Kraków, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Culture and Art, in connection with the mass deportation of the Lemkos. At that time, a group of historians and conservators toured Lemko villages in the Nowy Sącz area, collecting objects found in attics and lean-tos. The artefacts left behind by the departing inhabitants—which had been exposed to destruction or theft—were deposited in the rented Museum Depot in Muszyna, after having been labelled with cards stating the name of the town.

One of them speaks of the Deacon Roman, living in Byzantium at the beginning of the sixth century. The Mother of God visited him in his dreams on Christmas Eve. The following day, the hymn the Virgin is giving birth to the ruler today was composed. Roman received the by-name Melodos (Sładkopiewiec, Słodkopiewca, which translates as “one who sings praise sweetly”). He also became one of the figures perfunctorily depicted in the group expecting consolation and salvation at the feet of the Mother of God. The second inscription, from the tenth century, concerns a miraculous event at the Blachernae temple in Constantinople. Andrzej Jurodiwy, who was praying there amongst many other faithful during choral singing for sinful humanity, allegedly saw the Mother of God, surrounded by saints, with the two Johns, the Baptist and the Evangelist, at the head of her retinue. Calling for penance and hope, the Mother of God was to take off her head-cover and raise it over the gathered people in a gesture of help to all those waiting for it. To this day, the head cover is in the Blachernae temple, protected as a Marian relic, and the vision itself is remembered in the Eastern Church through the feast of Intercession of the Theotokos, called Pokrov.
The Nowy Sącz icon has the following title written in Cyrillic in the upper belt of the border: “the Intercession of the Immaculate Lady, our Mother of God.” The two-part composition refers to the vision of the Blessed Andrzej Jurodiwy. The composition is dominated by the figure of the Mother of God at the top, spreading her veil, shown in the mandorla (the almond-shaped plane symbolizing the sky) above the multi-rowed grouping of saints. Above the Mother of God, there is an arch of the celestial sphere, supported by angels placed on the sides, against the background of Orthodox church buildings. The centre of this arch is topped with a dome. In the earthly zone, there are visible Orthodox church dignitaries, secular rulers, Romanos Melodos, and Andrzej Jurodiwy. The hymnographer holds a scroll with the Cyrillic text: “The Virgin with the choirs of saints today invisibly prays for us to God, angels with bishops bow, and the apostles rejoice with the prophets, since, because of us, the Mother of God prays to the eternal God.”
Of particular value is the preserved, partially damaged, foundation inscription, placed next to the patron, identified by name, shown in the bottom left corner of the icon. The inscription reads:

“In honour and for the glory of God in the Trinity the One and Only and the Pure Mother of God with all the saints. Ivan Gluz had these paintings painted: the Holy Saviour and the Holy Pure Lady, and the Imperial Gate, and the Intercession of the Immaculate Lady, our Mother of God and the Virgin Mary. For health and forgiveness of sins. To the Orthodox church of Maciejów, to the temple of the Intercession of the Immaculate Lady our Mother of God. In the year of our Lord 16..., the month of April, the day 15.”

On the border, in the lower left corner, there is another poorly preserved inscription, referring to the patron and to the painter of the icon: “It was bought by Ivan Gluz, embellished God’s house, for His Lord Jesus Christ in the heavenly holy kingdom, amen. By a greatly sinful servant of God, Paweł, a painter of Muszyna.” The possibility of identifying the author of the image gives additional value to the icon.

Elaborated by Maria Marcinowska (Nowy Sącz District Museum), © all rights reserved


The East and the West under the protection of the Mother of God

The evolution of iconography, from the instilling of an idea, its crystallisation in worship, to its materialisation in art is a long and complicated process. The example of the Protection of the Mother of God shows how creativity could develop a theme based on one idea; the idea in which the East and the West found a common source, and through the interpretation of which their paths diverged with time.


The evolution of iconography, from the instilling of an idea, its crystallisation in worship, to its materialisation in art is a long and complicated process. The example of the Protection of the Mother of God shows how creativity could develop a theme based on one idea; the idea in which the East and the West found a common source, and through the interpretation of which their paths diverged with time.
One of the oldest images of human consciousness associated with the idea of protection is the depiction of a bird shielding its young with its wings. An allusion to it repeatedly appeared in texts; it was also often used as a metaphor (e.g. a later metaphor of “the wings of God” – a parent protecting its children). The archetypical gesture of the sheltering of the needy with a coat is associated with the power and protection of either a ruler or God (a superior force). Regarding the former, the coat is understood as a symbol of power which protected all those who found themselves under it. In the latter, it was a hallmark of being selected and anointed (St. Elijah), as well as of divine protection. In the Middle Ages, the covering with a coat was associated with the protection of patrons, and, in the case of women standing high in the hierarchy – of intercession. This deeply rooted idea became timeless as it referred to a clear symbol known since antiquity, which, by taking on a new pictorial form, appealed to the imagination of the faithful. It was adopted by the Christian religion through the image of the Mother of God, at the same time associated with maternal love. The worship developed spontaneously, and the iconography developed in a popular form long before teachings of theologians who used the phrase Mater Misericordiae as Our Lady of Mercy as late as the 14th century.
The idea of the Protection of the Mother of God, which appeared in western iconography as Mater Misericordiae, and in eastern as Pokrov, probably has a common source in the legend of a convert who was miraculously saved from death in a fiery furnace by the Mother of God, who covered him with her coat.
In the western interpretation, the iconography of Mater Misericordiae developed in two forms – as a monastic type and as the tradition of Mater Omnium, or the protector of all people. The motif of the protective coat also appeared in the iconography of other saints: St.  Martin of Tours who sheltered a beggar; in depictions of St. Ursula covering her companions, or St. Sophia protecting her daughter. Over time, the motif of the coat appeared in depictions of other saints.
The monastic type crystallised as part of rivalry among the Orders of Cistercians, Dominicans, and Norbertines, as well as the Carmelites, the Carthusians, and the Jesuits for the special patronage of the Mother of God of their community. It had a visionary character and every time was based on a legend of a revelation of the Mother of God protecting members of the congregation with her coat to a monk. This iconographic topos appeared for the first time probably in the Order of Cistercians, from where it was adopted by other orders. In the post-council iconography, the theme of the protective coat of the Mother of God merged with the cult of the scapular and rosary, creating new, contextually extended images (e.g. the Mother of God spreading her protective coat and holding a rosary in her hand), which function in the iconography as independent motifs.
In the second case, the motif of Mater Misericordiae appeared as Mater Omnium, who concealed beneath her coat representatives of every state, laity and clergy and men and women. The idea of a cloak of protection over the whole world was widely understood; therefore, the coat was sometimes so wide that in order to cover everyone it had to be held by angels and saints. It could also be narrowed to focus on of a smaller group of people, for example, one family. This idea ideologically suited the Marian brotherhoods (scapular or rosary).

The cult of the Mother of God intensified through centuries of wars and disasters of all kinds. Mater Misericordiae was portrayed as a protector of towns and armies, called Palladium, who shielded them with her coat. At the same time, familiar fiction motifs, repeated in literature as a topos were adopted, namely the miraculous defence of a town by Mary, who covered it with her coat (Constantinople, Chartres, Mont-St-Michel, and Jasna Góra).
Over time, the figure of the Mother of God came to assist the figure of Christ, or the Child sitting on her lap, and the accompanying angels spread apart the flaps of her coat. An interesting example, which can be found in the Polish art of the Middle Ages, is a Madonna of the cabinet type. In a closed arrangement, a figure depicts the Madonna with Child (an iconographic type Sedes Sapientiae – the Seat of Wisdom). After opening the door, in the middle there is the Throne of Grace, and on the side – there are figures kneeling under the protective coat. The whole image has a meaning referring to the triple birth of Christ. The depiction of the Protection of the Mother of God was eventually incorporated into various iconographic cycles, or mixed with other themes, which complement the context with new additions. The idea was later adopted by secular art, which did not associate the image with Mary, and considered the coat as the symbol of protection only.
In the East, the cult of the Protection of the Mother of God took quite a different form. It was combined with an illustration of a particular event. Due to this, it had its own liturgy and iconography. It combined an idea with a relic, which was the robe of the Mother of God kept in the monastery in Blachernae (a district of Constantinople). Therefore, the feast of the Deposition of the Robe of the Mother of God which would fall on the 2nd of July was established in the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century. When in the 12th century part of the miraculous robe of the Theotokos was moved from Constantinople to Rus, the feast was officially recognised in the form of the Pokrov celebration in the entire Orthodox Church, to fall on the 1st of October (the 14th of October according to the Gregorian calendar). However, the Ruthenian cult had developed much earlier; as early as the 10th century, there was a strong influence of the vision of the Mother of God included in the Life of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ.
The earliest Pokrov images had, in some sense, a symbolic character; they grouped together figures of the Mother of God, Christ and the angels supporting her headscarf. After some time, the iconography was enriched with more people, namely, the direct witnesses of miracles – St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ and Epiphanius. The composition was divided into two areas: earthly and heavenly; then in the background an architectural staffage was added. Over time, more characters were added to both areas. Their numbers also increased for compositional reasons – to maintain symmetry.      
The procession in the lower area underwent the greatest of changes, as it was augmented with other miracle witnesses – saints, the Fathers of the Church and people hiding under the protective coat of the Mother. The iconographic scheme evolved further, being influenced by the events of that time, as well as by the local cult. During subsequent transformations, the figures of Ananias and Romanos the Melodist were added; the latter was placed in the centre of the composition, covering the tsar's gate. With time, the extension reached a stage of  the irrational grouping of all the saints associated with the 1st of October. The composition became more theatrical and the representatives – the figures of Emperor Leo the Wise and his wife Zoe, along with their court appeared (they were often regarded as St. Helena and Constantine the Great). The lower area was divided into the group of the emperor along with his retinue on one side, and the group of Ananias with the bishops, local saints or saints of the Greek calendar on the other. Between them, in the centre, there was Romanos the Melodist, and the composition was complemented further by a nameless crowd hidden under the coat of the Mother of God.
The cult developed so much that the Pokrov split into local types (e.g. Novgorod and Moscow types) with processions of relevant figures. The participants in the vision were modified continuously; even the figures of contemporary people were introduced: tsars and courtiers, founders, and representatives of the nobility during the period of democratisation. At the same time, the protective coat of the Mother of God underwent a metamorphosis from the robe of the Theotokos, an omophorion, and a scarf, to a Rushnyk, but it still retained the same meaning.
The iconography of the Mater Misericordiae was creatively developed in art, as opposed to the idea of which it was a representation, which for centuries remained clear and functioned unchanged in the minds of audience. The evolution of this iconographic motif ceased in the 19th century. Later, it was used only sporadically in sacred and secular art; the latter adopted a significance associated with an action or a motif, but not with a specific image, in accordance with the principle of iconographic inertia.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Mieczysław Gębarowicz, Mater Misericordiae – Pokrow – Pokrowa w sztuce i legendzie środkowo-wschodniej Europy, Wrocław 1986.
Ryszard Knapiński, Od Pokrowy do Płaszcza Opieki. Przeobrażenia motywu ikonograficznego Mater Misericordiae, „Studia Warmińskie”, XXXIX (2002), s. 131–160.
Beata Szafraniec, Matka Boska w płaszczu opiekuńczym, [w:] Krystyna S. Moisan, Beata Szafraniec, Maryja – Orędowniczka wiernych. Ikonografia nowożytnej sztuki kościelnej w Polsce, Warszawa 1987, s. 10–43.

See also:
“The Mother of God” (Pokrow), Nowy Sącz District Museum
Icon “The Mother of God” (“Pokrow”), The National Museum in Kraków


Icon “The Mother of God” (“Pokrow”)



Ikona „Matka Boska Opieki” (Pokrow) Tells: Piotr Krasny
Ikona „Matka Boska Opieki” (Pokrow) [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA

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