Just an after thought on my recent post about the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. A friend was asking about the icon and I mentioned that several years ago, my late grandmother who knew a priest that wrote icons, had one made. It was a very special gift and holds a very special place in our home.
The term for icon is derived from the Greek eikōn which means image. But an icon is much more than a mere image. In iconography the intent is to teach through image and symbol. The making of an icon is not called painting but writing. This is because the use of symbology to convey ideas and spiritual concepts is really what is at the heart if an iconographer. As such almost everything in an Icon is a symbol for something, whether it be halos or the use of colors. Gestures and even the letters can mean something. As mentioned concerning the Black Madonna, the use of a gesture pointing to Christ is right at the center of the scene which classifies this icon as a hodegetria (she who shows the way). But there is more here to view. Mary is dressed in blue, and the Christ child is dressed in red. Blue is a symbol of humanity and red of divinity. Gold is symbolic of heavenly radiance.
It may be lost on our modern sensibilities, but in a world that was illiterate, pictures, images and symbol played a very big part in conveying information. Even today we know people learn better if they can see, than they can by just reading or hearing alone. This is why we still use pictures, graphs, videos and other visual aids. In the early church art and symbol were used frequently. Being found in catacombs, graves and eventually on church walls. One of the earliest symbols was that of the good shepherd. Used as a symbol of christianity even before the Cross, the good shepherd not only symbolized Christ but tells us something about Him.