On 31 May, a small religious ceremony conducted by an Orthodox priest, Archpriest Stephen Platt of St Nicholas Church, at the invitation of the Chaplain, welcomed to the College chapel a Greek icon of the Virgin of the Unfading Rose, most generously donated to the college by Professor Cyril Mango FBA, Bywater and Sotheby Professor Emeritus, and a world authority on Byzantine art and culture.
The icon, an anonymous eighteenth-century Greek work and a remarkable example of Greek religious art from the Ottoman period, belonged to Professor Mango’s grandmother, ‘a country beauty from West Greece’, who moved to Istanbul upon her marriage (d.1934). It shows the Mother of God and her Son wearing crowns and dressed in red, a colour traditionally associated with royalty. Christ, enthroned upon a cloud and upon an altar table with a Gospel book, wears the garments of a Byzantine emperor. Mary and Christ are flanked by bust-length figures of Old Testament prophets, each holding a scroll inscribed with verses that refer to the Incarnation.
Professor Mango writes: ‘It is not recorded how and when [my grandmother] acquired the icon, whose iconography would have been beyond her understanding, but she had a great devotion to it and regarded it as being miraculous. I do not expect the icon to work any miracles, while hoping that it will fit into the collection of religious paintings in St John’s.’
The icon has been newly restored and framed by an Oxford conservator, Ruth Bubb, and we are much honoured to be providing it with its new home.