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Images of Hope: Representations of the Death of the Virgin, East and West

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image of Religion and the Arts

Christianity has existed for nearly two thousand years, yet its divergent forms and rituals almost belie its existence. Perhaps the best image to express its reality is the cross, but that too has many interpretations. Is there any image that can be said to represent all that Christianity intends? The Death of the Virgin, which was first represented in art in the tenth century, is an image which includes all of the basic elements of the Christian faith: incarnation, death, and resurrection. The story of this icon spans much of Christian history as the icon evolved through legend, liturgy, art, and theology. It is an imaginative rendition of centuries of speculation, study, discussion, prayer, and devotion. Although Christian unity is more of a desire than a reality, this image transcends the divisions and separation which have marred the religion and stands as a sign of hope and unity. In order to understand the icon, it seems necessary to trace the process of its signification. Icons of Mary's death occur in eastern and western art; thus, they represent a call to be mindful of the essential unity of the Christian faith. This article will focus especially on the categories of legend, liturgy, and art.


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