Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mary - The Unburnt Bush

There are a number of 8 pointed stars on the Jesuit buildings and in chapel in the school at which I teach. This got be thinking, "What does the 8 pointed star represent?" No one seemed to be able to answer my question.

Eventually I came across some information saying that the 8 pointed star can be one of two things. First, it can be a stylized symbol of the burning bush. Second, it can be a stylized symbol of Mary the unburnt bush.

The title is meant to be an emphasis on Mary's perpetual virginity, and does not have anything to do with her being God. This is a type.

Click on the image to see a larger picture of the icon.

I found a site that explains it a little bit. It reads:
Commemorated on September 4

The Unburnt Bush Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is based on the miracle witnessed by Moses in the Old Testament. In Chapter 3 of Exodus God calls Moses on Mt. Horeb from the midst of a bush which "was burning, yet it was not consumed" (Ex. 3:2). Moses is informed that he will lead the Hebrews out of their slavery in Egypt, and then God tells him His name, "I am Who am" (Ex. 3:14).

The Church has always regarded the Unburnt Bush on Horeb as a type of the Most Holy Theotokos giving birth to the Savior Christ, while remaining a Virgin. This imagery is to be found in the Church's hymnography (for example, the Dogmatikon at Saturday Vespers in Tone 2), and also in iconography.

One of the earliest depictions of the Mother of God as the Unburnt Bush shows her holding her divine Son in the midst of a burning bush. Moses is shown to one side, removing his sandals, for that place was holy (Ex. 3:5).

Most icons now depict the bush in a symbolic fashion. There are two overlapping diamonds: one red (representing the fire), the other green (representing the bush), forming an eight pointed star. The Theotokos is shown in the center.

In the four corners of the green diamond are the symbols of the four Evangelists: a man (St Matthew), a lion (St Mark), an ox (St Luke), and an eagle (St John). These symbols are derived from Ezekiel 1:10 and Revelation 4:7. Archangels are depicted in the four corners of the red diamond.

The design of the icon has become more complex over time. Now we can see archangels, Moses and the burning bush (Ex. 3:2), Isaiah and the seraphim with the burning coal (Is. 6:7), Ezekiel and the gate through which only the Lord may enter (Ez. 44:2), and Jacob with the ladder (Gen. 28:12). The Theotokos is shown holding Jacob's ladder which leads from earth to heaven. Sometimes the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) is shown in the center of the icon's lower border.

There is an old story about a fire which was consuming several wooden buildings. In the midst of the fire an old woman stood in front of her house holding an icon of the "Unburnt Bush." A witness happened to see her there, and marveled at her faith. The next day he returned to the spot and was astonished to see the old woman's home completely unscathed by the fire, while all the other houses around it were destroyed. This may explain why the Mother of God, through her Icon of the Unburnt Bush, is regarded as the protector of homes from fire.

It is believed that the earliest icons of the Unburnt Bush originated at St Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai.
I might return to this later. Perhaps when I have more time.


Maggie said...

I love icons, especially when they come with explanations! Thanks!

RAnn said...

Hi, my name is RAnn and I am the author of This, That and the Other Thing at This is an invitation to you to participate in Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. This will be a weekly meme in which bloggers can highlight posts somehow relating to Catholicism and invite others to visit their blogs. For more information, check out this week's post.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,
You are tough to get hold of man. Do you still have the same phone number? My number is the same so if it has changed send me a text. I am currently at home so I won't be able to respond until this weekend ( I go back on Friday). Anyways, I'd love to catch up and see how things are going but if you are busy I understand.
God bless,

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