Sixteenth century, Late Novgorodian tradition

Q: What is the meaning of the cut-off hands in representations of Mary's dormition?

A: The image you are referring to is more than just Mary's dormition. It is in fact a depiction of the funeral procession. The gruesome scene of bloody hands stuck to the linen covering the body of Mary is a typical feature and is called the Jechonias scene. One, two, sometimes three, unbelieving Jews attack the bier in an attempt to profane the body of Mary. Immediately the hands wither, are torn from their bodies or cut off by an avenging angel. The scene is patterned after 2 Sam 6, 6-8 describing the translation of the ark and an attack similar to the one mentioned here. Mary, being Mother of the Redeemer, is understood as the ark of the covenant. Her body, even in death, is sacred. Well, the scene also sadly partly reflects a not so latent anti-Semitism!


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