The icon of the “Three-Handed” Mother of God belongs to the iconographic type known as Hodegretria but has one specific feature - a depiction of the third hand of the Theotokos in the bottom part of the icon. There are two versions of the legend about the origin of this unusual icon. According to an early 18th century chronicle, the icon appeared in Damascus on December 4, 726 AD to saint John of Damascus who was falsely accused of conspiracy against the Caliph and sentenced to having his right hand cut off. While praying to the icon of the Mother of God he fell asleep. The Mother of God appeared to John of Damascus in a dream and “perfectly healed his hand and restored it to where it had been.” Having woken up, St. John saw his restored hand, gave praise to the Theotokos and put on the head the bandage in which his hand had been wrapped, which he carried to the last days of his life. In commemoration of his miraculous recovery John of Damascus commissioned a silver hand to be made and attached it to the icon. Another story, narrated by Metropolitan Leonty during his visit to Moscow in the late 17th century, reports about an iconographer who painted an icon of the Mother of God. One day the third hand miraculously appeared on the icon. The icon-painter twice removed it from the icon but for the third time he heard a voice ordering him not to touch the third hand.
The miraculous icon had been housed in the Laura Mar Saba on Mount Athos for five centuries, then transferred to Serbia by Sabas, Archbishop of Serbia, but later returned to the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos. In reality, the icon was painted in Serbia in the 14th century. In 1661, Patriarch Nikon brought the miraculous copy of the icon to Moscow. A special veneration of the icon by the Russian royal family promoted its popularity. There is no single depiction of the third hand; on some icons it is painted in silver color to commemorate the recovery of St. John of Damascus.
The icon of the “Three-Handed” Mother of God is venerated on July 11 (June 28, O.S.) and July 25 (July 12, O.S.).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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