Our Lady’s miracle-working icons and the semiotics of the world tree

Keywords: symbol


The article is devoted to study of the modes of inheritance of cultural symbols. In particular, it is a research of perception in Christianity of preceding cultures’ archetypes. The study provides the analysis of semantic links between the symbols of the World Tree, the Vivifying Cross and the meaning of the Blessed Virgin image. The article shows how the pre-Christian symbols of the World Tree and the cross itself were merged and transformed in Christian theology, liturgy and iconography in the image of Golgotha Cross. The cross acquires the features of a Cosmic Tree, which combines the lower and the upper worlds – the heaven and the earth, life and death. The symbol of the tree is often substituted by the image of a woman appearing in this case as a symbol of life and fertility and evokes the associations with the genealogical tree. Therefore, the connection between the World Tree and the Blessed Virgin is proved to be natural.

On the basis of the historical sources the author analyzes the legends and evidences of the revelations and discoveries of the Blessed Mary’s icons on the trees of a certain kinds. The study explicates the symbolic meaning of those trees spread in a global world, in Slavic and Ukrainian cultural traditions. In particular, the research encloses the semantics of the following kinds of trees: fir tree, linden, pear tree, oak, willow, blackthorn. Every kind of those trees has a special symbolic meaning. The novelty of the research is that it for the first time proves the semantic connection of sacred meaning of miracle icons and of the certain kinds of trees. The study defines the limited range of those trees and, on the other hand, the kinds of other trees believed to be vile and thus never appeared in the legends about the discoveries of miracle icons.

As a conclusion, the research proves the existence of the autochtonal tradition of correlation of the semantics of miracle icons of Our Lady with the certain kinds of trees in the result of synthesis of the ancient symbolism and Christianity. In every case, the symbolic meanings of trees had archaic origin and connection with the ancient cosmogonical concepts. Depending on the particular semantic nuance emphasized in the World Tree, the priority of a certain kind of tree determined. On the whole, the study demonstrates the importance of the symbols in forming of cultural identity and for understanding of interrelations of cultures at the deep semantic level.


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