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'Rejoice, spring': the Theotokos as fountain in the liturgical practice of Byzantine hymnography
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Culture and Aesthetics.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1711-5798
2016 (English)In: Fountains and Water Culture in Byzantium / [ed] Brooke Shilling, Paul Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 2016, 246-264 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In Byzantine hymnography, the Theotokos – the God-bearing Virgin, Mother of God and Unwedded Bride of the Orthodox Church – is represented as a fountain, spring, well or source, as an ‘endless source of the living Water’. These verbal images are closely associated with the visual imagery of icons of various kinds and with structures such as the baptisterium.

The biblical sources for this watery imagery are found in the Old as well as the New Testament. From there come the river and streams (Psalms 46:4), the ‘fountain sealed’ and the well (Song of Songs 4:12, 15), the living water (John 4:10–11), and the water of life in the new, heavenly city of Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1, 17). A special kind of imagery, which should rather be understood as imprints, is the typological imagery, where narratives from the Old Testament offer prefigurations to be fulfilled and interpreted within the frame of the New Testament in the light of the resurrection of Christ. Especially with regard to springs and fountains, important prefigurations are the rock that Moses struck (Exodus 17:6) and the dew on the fleece of Gideon (Judges 6:37). But as will be demonstrated below, the Theotokos is also interpreted as a prefiguration of the baptismal font, or as a new pool of Siloam.

Usually, these typological images signify the Virgin's womb and aim to articulate and praise her role when Christ was conceived, that is her role in the incarnation of God. The water they incorporate is often interpreted as a symbol of purification or health. However, when these originally biblical verbal images are applied in hymnography, their reference might sometimes be to Christ and sometimes the Theotokos, depending on context. Careful readings and analyses are necessary to single out the significance of the spring in a certain hymn. Similar kinds of imagery with regard to the spring are known all over the medieval Christian world. It is present in Hildegard of Bingen's hymns from the twelfth century, for example with reference to Christ in an antiphon for the Virgin, as well as in the revelations of St Bridget from the fourteenth century, in a dialogue between the Mother of God and Christ, where Christ says to his mother: ‘You are like a free-flowing spring from which mercy flows to the wretched.’

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Cambridge University Press, 2016. 246-264 p.
Keyword [en]
Theotokos, Byzantine hymnography, Akathistos hymn, Zoodochos Pege, spring, fountain, hierotopy, Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthoupoulos
National Category
General Literature Studies
Research subject
Literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-137451DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316226742.014ISBN: 9781107105997 (print)ISBN: 9781316226742 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-137451DiVA: diva2:1062642
Available from: 2017-01-07 Created: 2017-01-07 Last updated: 2017-01-09Bibliographically approved

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