Manuscript Hymn Akathistos

eight-week cycles; the sticherarion or collection of short poetic pieces arranged chronologically by feast day) very occasionally have some form of illustration. In an octoechos in Messina, the stichera anastasima are prefaced by unusual images of the presumed author of the octoechos, John of Damascus. This imagery has no roots in other manuscript illustration and is certainly a free and unusual improvisation on the monastic text.64

Monastic services were made up of hymns of varying lengths, above all the canon, a musical composition of nine verses or odes which, by the eleventh century, had come to replace the nine biblical canticles sung at orthros; several canons might be interwoven, ode by ode. An older hymn type, the kontakion, had been displaced by the canon, and survived in the Divine Office only in abbreviated form: its proimion and first oikos (or set of verses of a kontakion) might be inserted after the sixth ode of the canon. But one kontakion, the Akathistos, a hymn in twenty-four stanzas to the Virgin attributed to the sixth-century poet Romanos Melodos, continued to be sung in full at least once a year: on Saturday of the fifth week of Lent. The text of the Akathistos is sometimes included in Psalter manuscripts from the fourteenth century on.65 The first half of the text conveys the Infancy story from the Annunciation to the Presentation in the Temple, while the second half focuses on elaborate praise to the Virgin. One splendid Byzantine manuscript is devoted almost entirely to this one poetic text.66 The illustrations to the narrative section are fairly conventional, but when it comes to the verses of pure praise, interesting images are created of the Virgin surrounded by the faithful, in which the Virgin's poses begin to echo some of the Virgin icon types developed by the fourteenth century. Veneration of the Virgin in this ancient hymn is being conceived more and more often as the veneration of an icon of the Virgin. In the final stanza, the twenty-fourth, the faithful are shown quite literally venerating a specific icon, that of the Virgin Hodegetria placed on a wooden stand covered with a textile. 67

64 Messina, San Salvatore 51. See A. Weyl Carr, 'Illuminated musical manuscripts in Byzantium. A note on the late twelfth century', Gesta 28 (1989), 41-52. In the fourteenth-century sticherarion (Athos Kutlumus 412) the decoration consists of a sequence of holy portraits: Pelekanides, Treasures of Mount Athos, 1, figs. 377-84.

65 The earliest surviving Akathistos miniatures are in fact in a Bulgarian psalter of c.1360, the Tomic Psalter, Moscow (Historical Museum, muz, 2752). See A. Dzhurova, Tomichov psaltir [Monumenta slavico-byzantina et mediaevalia europensia 1] (Sofia: Universitetsko izd-vo 'Kliment Okhridski', 1990). This manuscript illustrates Ps. 134, the Polyeleos, with a similar image of singers before an icon (fol. 226r): Moran, Singers, pl. vu.

66 Moscow, Historical Museum gr. 429, c.1360. See Sevcenko, 'Icons in the liturgy', 50, note 35 with bibliography.

67 On the Akathistos in both manuscripts and fresco, see Moran, Singers, 93-114.

Manuscript Hymn Akathistos
Figure 5.5 Akathistos hymn, stanza 24. Markov Manastir, church of St Demetrios, north wall of the bema.

There is nothing equivalent to the elegant Akathistos illustration (fig. 5.5) when it comes to the illustration of the canons. A sequence of mediocre miniatures accompanies the canon for the separation of soul and body; these miniatures are attached to, and contemporary with, the late twelfth-century horologion manuscript on Lesbos mentioned above. The images track the course of the soul from its escape from the body of a dying monk, to its judgement and preliminary ascent to Paradise. Each ode of this canon has its own image, all closely related to the content of the verses. A comparable, but unrelated, set of images prefaces a twelfth-century Psalter (Athos Dionysiou 65); here they are attached not to a canon but to a rarely used alphabetical set of prayers designed for private not communal use, in a monastic cell.68 The format of the Lesbos illustrations, one miniature per ode, occurs in illustrations to yet another canon, the 'Penitential' canon included in manuscripts of the Heavenly Ladder of John Klimax; they preface each ode of the canon and so

68 Pelekanides, Treasures of Mount Athos, 1, figs. 118,121-2; G. Parpulov, 'Text and miniatures from Codex Dionysiou 65', Twenty-fifth Annual Byzantine Studies Conference. Abstracts (College Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 124-6.

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