Sunday, November 18, 2007

Three Romes and the Holy Icon

I have become a fan of Iain Pears after reading his Death and Restoration, a novel in the Jonathan Argyll series.

The story about a mysterious murder and theft in an obscure church in Rome has a subplot which takes the reader to the last days of Byzantium. The icon that had disappeared from the church turns out to be, possibly, the sacred hodigitria, painted by St Luke himself.

It is this subplot which is dear to my Russian heart: I grew up knowing that one of the most sacred of Byzantine icons, the Vladimir Mother of God (illustration) was brought to Russia by the daughter of the last Emperor when she married the Grand Prince of Moscow. Legend holds that it is as old as Christianity itself and was painted in a live sitting from Mary, mother of Jesus. When Constantinople fell to the Turk in 1453, a medieval Russian book says, the Holy Spirit rose from the fallen city and descended on Moscow blessing the emerging centre of Eastern Church as the Third Rome.

It was amusing for me to read a different version based on the same historical episode. The holiest icon is smuggled through Turkish naval blockade not to Russia, but to Rome...

Iain Pears' novels are in between women's and men's literature - light, romantic, but full of well-grounded factual material - the author is an authority in the history of art. There is also, unlike Dan Brown's books, no hidden agenda. Pears is refreshing and enlightening, pure pleasure to read.

Jonathan Argyll novels include:
Giotto's Hand
The Last Judgement
The Bernini Bust
The Titian Committee
The Raphael Affair
The Immaculate Deception

Among his bestsellers are:
An Instance of the Fingerpost
The Dream of Scipio

Author's page on Italian mysteries web-site is here.
A Russian-language review of Death and Restoration is here.

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