Gift-Shop Icons of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child


My thanks to Mr. Stephen Austin for sending me this photograph of icons offered for sale in a gift shop across from the Chapel of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. The icon on the right is a 21st-century example of the Madonna Lactans iconographic type, in which the baby feeds at Mary's breast. As in earlier examples, the artist pictures the breast in a way inconsistent with human anatomy even though he is clearly skilled at representing the human figure.

The other two icons are modern descendants of the Hodegetria type, in which Mary looks to the viewer and points to the Christ Child, who raises his right hand in blessing. On the left, the blessing hand is configured in the Orthodox manner with the thumb pressed against the ring finger. On the right, in the Catholic manner, the index and middle fingers press together.

The middle icon is a copy of one in Bethlehem's Church of the Holy Family.1 In his left hand the child holds a mappa mundi, a stylized image of the earth that symbolizes his reign. The icon on the left has a decorated ball: round like the mappa mundi to signify Christ's divine lordship, but appropriate to a human baby in its colors and shine.

More of Portraits of the Virgin Mary

Photographed at the site by Stephen Austin, all rights reserved.

1 This page at Wikimedia Commons, retrieved 2018-11-1, presents the icon that is displayed in the church. Another photograph, together with location information, is at the Wikipedia page for the Church of the Nativity, retrieved 2018-11-1.