The Hodegetria Icon and Its Monastery in Constantinople between Byzantium and the West
Ein Vortrag von Dr. Nicolas Melvani (Mainz).
The Virgin Hodegetria is one of the most famous iconographic types of the Virgin and Child in Byzantine art. The icon’s prototype was housed in the monastery of the Hodegoi, an imperial foundation located in the southeastern part of Constantinople, not far from the Great Palace and the Hagia Sophia. The monastery, which was probably founded in the 8th century, first became famous as a pilgrimage site thanks to a miraculous spring within its premises, but after the 11th century its icon replaced the spring as the shrine’s primary cult object. The written sources provide ample evidence on the veneration of the icon by the city’s population and by international visitors, as well as on the ceremonial attached to the image, thus revealing a great deal on its impact on the Byzantine capital’s public life. In addition, the monks resident in the monastery played an important role in the political and ecclesiastical events that marked Byzantine history from the 11th to the 15th century.
Throughout the Komnenian and Palaiologan periods, the monastery of the Hodegoi also functioned as a productive hub of intensive intellectual and literary activity. The political and symbolic role of the monastery and its icon was grasped by westerners as well, as is evident in the efforts of the Venetians to appropriate the Hodegetria icon for their own agenda in the aftermath of the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. In fact, the iconographic type of the Byzantine Hodegetria was imitated in the Latin East, as well as in the West, where its popularity was analogous to its veneration in Byzantium.
The icon was honored as the palladium of Constantinople until the end of the Byzantine era and was invoked in order to reinforce the defenses of the city’s on several occasions. After the Fall of Constantinople it was treated as the embodiment of the Byzantine Empire itself, as its visual imprint survived the end of the Empire.