The Greek word icon
(eikon) means image. Not only does it mean a picture
in the ordinary sense of the word, but in the Orthodox tradition
it carries an additional, spiritual, meaning. Within the prevalent
world view, the universe was seen as a series of stages, issuing
outwards and downwards from God. Each stage was more material
than the higher world, and the icon was thus a material image
of a higher spiritual reality.
This icon is in the
form of a triptych, a central picture with a folding door on either
side. It represents an imaginary, heavenly conjunction of the
dead Christ and His sorrowful mother (a group known as the pieta,
most familiar from Michelangelos famous marble Pieta in
the Vatican). To the left stands Saint Francis of Assisi, the
founder of the mendicant order of friars known as the Franciscans.
On the right is St Mary Magdalen, the repentant prostitute who
was present at the Crucifixion and was the first person to see
the resurrected Christ.