From Turkey to Italy, churches built during the Byzantine period host the best-known icon of Christian art.
Any traveler who has visited churches in Greece, Turkey or parts of eastern and southern Italy is probably familiar with the hypnotic icon of “Christ Pantocrator.”
In these gold-colored icons, Christ is represented as a majestic ruler sitting on a throne, giving his blessing with his right hand, shown with three fingers positioned so as to mark an “X” and a “C,” the first and last letter of the word “Christos” in ancient Greek (Χριστός).
In his left hand, Jesus is holding a copy of the Gospels. Known as “Christ Pantocrator,” a word formed by the ancient Greek words πᾶς, pas (‘all”) and κράτος, kratos (“strength”), literally “the one who has all the strength,” it is a visual representation of Christ’s omnipotence.
This powerful image was one of the earliest depictions of Christ in early Christian times and later became a pillar of Byzantine art. That’s why today we can find it in churches that were built in parts of the now-defunct Byzantine empire, from Egypt, to Turkey, and parts of eastern and southern Italy.
The six oldest images of Jesus
Here are some of the most famous churches that host examples of Christ Pantocrator icon:
St. Catherine Monastery, Sinai Desert, Egypt
It is believed that the icon of Christ Pantocrator kept at St. Catherine Monastery in the Sinai desert is the oldest surviving example of its sort. Showing particularly piercing eyes, Christ is depicted in the usual “Pantocrator” pose, with his right hand opened in a sign of blessing and his left hand holding the scriptures. Painted during the 6th or 7th century using a wax medium over a wooden panel, it was spared from the destruction of icons carried out by iconoclasts during the periods 726 to 787 and 814 to 842. A restoration undertaken in 1962 revealed the original icon, lying under layers of overpainting, which was probably created in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople.