Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christ Antiphonetes: The Icon That Allegedly Could Foretell the Future

Christ Antiphonetes, c. 1350 somewhere in Greece,
now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Empress Zoe Porphyrogenita (1028–50) reportedly commissioned a copy of the icon of Christ Antiphonetes in the Church of the Theotokos Chalkoprateia, one of the most important churches of Constantinople. Michael Psellos, a contemporary historian, describes her fervent piety, and apparently not totally orthodox, towards this icon in his Book VI of the Chronographia. He reports that she foretold the future with this icon, as it was capable of responding to questions by changing color. The icon of Christ Antiphonetes also appeared on her coins. Psellos writes:

"I will give an example of this piety of hers. She had made for herself an image of Jesus, fashioning it with as much accuracy as she could (if such a thing were possible). The little figure, embellished with bright metal, appeared to be almost living. By changes of colour, it answered questions put to it, and by its various tints foretold coming events. Anyway, Zoe made several prophecies with regard to the future from a study of this image. So, when she had met with some good fortune, or when some trouble had befallen her, she would at once consult her image, in the one case to acknowledge her gratitude, in the other to beg its favour. I myself have often seen her, in moments of great distress, clasp the sacred object in her hands, contemplate it, talk to it as though it were indeed alive, and address it with one sweet term of endearment after another. Then at other times I have seen her lying on the ground, her tears bathing the earth, while she beat her breasts over and over again, tearing at them with her hands. If she saw the image turn pale, she would go away crestfallen, but if it took on a fiery red colour, its halo lustrous with a beautiful radiant light, she would lose no time in telling the emperor and prophesying what the future was to bring forth."

Empress Zoe Porphyrogenita was later laid to rest in the Chapel of Christ Antiphonetes in the Church of the Theotokos Chalkoprateia

Empress Zoe, mosaic in Hagia Sophia of Constantinople