The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 8 – The ‘Maphorion’ belonging to the ‘Hodegitria’

In the City of Constantinople, the ancient Blachernae district Church and once called the ‘Holy Reliquary Church’ was built by Augusta Pulcheria and her husband Emperor Marcian in 450, and completed by Emperor Leo I (457-474). The Holy Veil (Maphorion) of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Hodegitria Icon were kept within this church. In 626, the procession of the Hodegitria Icon and Holy Veil was initiated from the Holy Reliquary Church. In those days, Our Lady’s ‘Holy Veil’ was referred to as the ‘Maphorion,’ later at Chartres, France; it was described as the ‘Holy Shift.’ During a battle against the fire-eating Persians, Our Lady exited the Holy Reliquary Church and fearfully terrorized them in their camps. This race was not accustomed to the fire which burns forth from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Reliquary Church survived for one thousand years and there Our Lady was honored under the Greek title of ‘Strategos’ or ‘Commander of War.’

In 678, a siege by the Islamists proved fruitless and unsuccessful. In 717, Emperor Leo III the Iconoclast seized the imperial throne during a period when Constantinople was in danger of being overrun by Saracens. Although ill mannered and illiterate, he was considered to be a brilliant soldier and delivered the east from the large invasion. In 718, when the Islamists besieged the city, the procession of the Hodegitria Icon and Holy Veil were carried out through the streets of Constantinople. On the Eve of the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, the Islamists gave up the siege for their losses were too high. Emperor Leo III lapsed into heresy and rather than giving due honor to Our Lady for delivering the city, he adopted the Islamic hatred for the sacred icons and images of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Leo III, who now became known as the Iconoclast, destroyed many sacred images, icons and statues. Pope Saint Gregory II was pressured by the Iconoclast to enforce the abolition of icons in the form of a dogma. To Leo’s surprise, Saint Gregory refused, no sooner had the Emperor received word from the Roman Pontiff he sent his fleet to seize the Pope and bring him bound hand and foot to Constantinople. Before accomplishing this order, Leo’s entire fleet was destroyed in a storm off the coast of Ravenna, Italy. According to Saint Alphonsus Maria on Saint John Damascene, the latter was expelled by Leo and taken to the Saracen Caliph Hiokam, who cut the Saint’s hand off. The Saint went before an Image of Our Lady whom he defended, placed his amputated hand in contact with his stump, prayed to Our Lady that his hand be connected to his body for him to be able to write on her defense. His prayers were heard and he was miraculously healed. During this period the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa was saved by Leo’s wife, Empress Irene, who secretly hid the Icon in Leo’s palace.

Leo’s next plan was to send for Saint Germanus, the Catholic Patriarch was brought before him. The Emperor sought in vain to convince Germanus on the uselessness and the ‘idolatry’ of icon veneration. The saint refused to concord with Leo’s views and replied that: “…whoever would strive to abolish the veneration of images was a precursor of Antichrist, such a doctrine had the tendency to upset the mystery of the Incarnation.”(1) He also stated that he was ready to lay down his life for the sacred images, which were always venerated in the Church. The Patriarch refused him the Holy Sacrament of Communion and the Emperor deposed the Patriarch replacing him with a certain Anastasius. Calamities followed, the most beautiful provinces of Leo were laid waste by an invasion of Saracens and the Emperor himself died in 741. At the Council of Nicea in 787, Germanus was praised for his stand, he is venerated as a saint by both the Greek and Latin Christians. His feast is held on May 12, eve of the future Feast reserved for Our Lady of Fatima, May 13. It is possible that Leo conducted trade and political dialogue with the neighbouring Islamic races and was influenced by the Islamists on Icon veneration which accordingly, in Islamic thought, is non other than blasphemy.

Similar schismatic events occurred one century later during Emperor Michael III’s reign. His regent, Bardas, lived in incest with his daughter-in-law, when the Patriarch Ignatius (846-857) refused him Holy Communion on the Epiphany of 857. Ignatius was deposed and on November 23, 857, was exiled and kept in chains. A certain Photius was elected Patriarch and excommunicated ipso facto by the Latin Church. Photius of Constantinople is remembered by the Catholic Church as the chief author of the great schism between east and west. His mother was a nun and he was illegitimate. Before his birth, a certain Bishop Michael of Synnada, foretold that Photius would one day become Patriarch of Constantinople, but he would work so much evil that it was better for him never to have been born. In his life he exhibited an Antichristian spirit against the Church of Christ similarly to what Judas Iscariot had done before him. Photius charged Rome with heresy in matters of the faith and doctrine, especially regarding the teachings on the Holy Spirit.

During the following century Rome attempted to heal the rift between east and west. Yet in 913 another Emperor Leo married his mistress and crowned her Queen, in so doing he sealed the rift between Catholic Rome and Orthodox Constantinople. This event was reminiscent of King Herod’s adulterous union and a for-runner of another Church division caused by King Henry the Eight. Up till the year 1453 many attempts at forging peace between the Eastern and Western Empires were attempted. The rulers in Constantinople did not accept the question on doctrine regarding the Holy Spirit, ‘…as proceeding from the Father and from the Son.’ On May 29, 1453, Constantinople was invaded and overrun by Ottoman forces. May 29 commemorated the Feast of the Holy Spirit in the Eastern Orthodox calendar. Churches were demolished and the Cathedral of Saint Sophia was converted into a mosque. The invasion was carried out by Sultan Mehmet who had a Frankish mother and liked to claim that he had Greek and Armenian blood, or Christian blood, in his veins. Mehmet was the terror of Europe, he had an extensive knowledge of Islamic and Greek literature and was adept in science and philosophy. The Sultan was fluent in Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Persian. A man of great cruelty and monstrous ways, a wine lover and a pederast. On entering Constantinople he quoted the Persian poet Sa’di saying: “Now the spider weaves the curtains in the palace, Of the Caesars, Now the owl calls the night watches in the Towers of Afrasiab.”(2) Evidently, oblivious to the fact that it was the sinful actions of the heretics in Constantinople, which brought the city’s destruction. In 1453, at Constantinople 40,000 people were killed and 50,000 taken into captivity. The Church containing the Hodegitria Icon and Holy Veil was completely raised to the ground. Thankfully, the Holy Relics themselves survived the destruction.

The Holy Veil is believed to be Our Lady’s robe worn when she, by way of a virgin birth, gave the Messiah to the world. The Maphorion was given to Emperor Charles the Great, by Constantine Porphyrogenitus and Irene of Constantinople. In 876, it was transferred from the Cathedral of Aachen, Germany, to Notre Dame de Chartres in France. King Charles III, the Emperor’s grandson, was king for eight years when the Norman Viking tyrant named Raoul or Rollo led a large army into France, slaying and putting all to the sword. Raoul entered French territory in 878 and laid siege to Chartres on March 15, 911. Enemy mangonels hurled stones at the walls and houses within. The inhabitants were terrified and the attackers swiftly breached the city walls. The citizens of Chartres sought the aid of, “…she who held sovereignty over Chartres.” They pleaded with the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Chartres, to deliver them from the enemy. The Holy Veil of the Blessed Virgin was carried around the walls and set up on the battlements beside the ensign and banner of the Bishop Gasselin or Gantelme. When the enemies beheld the Holy Veil they jeered and mocked the Catholics, laughing amongst themselves ridiculing the action of the Chartrians. They shot arrows and Turkish darts and bolts at the Holy Relic. No sooner had they carried out their detestable acts, the attackers were mysteriously struck by blindness. Loosing their sight, this condition prevented them from retreating or pressing forward. Their jeering was replaced with terror as they groped around to trace an escape. The Bishop Gasselin, who for the defense and protection of the City of Chartres bore the Holy Veil of the Virgin, blessed the soldiers as they carried sallies against the besiegers. A great slaughter ensued. The ground was strewn with the slain, Richard Duke of Burgundy joined the Franks at smiting the Vikings. Rollo took to flight and together with ten of his Vikings, retired to Lisieux. The meadows where the battle was fought are to this day referred to as, ‘the Meadows of the Repulsed.’ Nevertheless, the Blessed Virgin intervened for the conversion of the Viking Rollo, who accepted to be baptized into Christianity. Charles III ceded Normandy to Rollo and his warriors, who became his Catholic vassals. In turn the Vikings pledged to defend their new duchy against any other invading forces. Rollos’ Vikings in Normandy came to be known as the ‘Normans.’ At Chartres, Our Lady’s intercessory work saved the Christians and intervened for the conversion of the Viking pagans to Christianity. Rollo became Duke of Normandy, wedded Charles III daughter and was William the Conqueror’s ancestor. As the Northern Vikings also embraced Christianity, one of their kings becoming a canonized saint, Saint Olaf. A tradition of Viking pilgrimages to the Holy Land began in this period. The ‘Olaf Saga Helga’ testifies to such voyages, where the Viking’s battle cry was: “Fram! fram! cristmenn, crossmenn, konungsmenn!” or “Forward! forward! champions of Christ, of the Cross, and of the King!”(3)

In 1194, the Holy Veil miraculously survived a fire which broke out in the Cathedral. In 1568, the Holy Shift or the Holy Veil was once again placed on the city gate, the Drouaise gate, to fend off besieging heretics. The besiegers fired repeatedly towards it with their muskets and cannons. It was never struck. This miraculous event of ‘Our Lady de la Breche’ is commemorated yearly on March 14 in Chartres. However, the sacred vestment did experience one dark episode which occurred during the French Revolution. On September 24, 1793, the Holy Veil/Shirt of Our Lady was profaned at the hands of the Masonic French Revolution, it was torn and mutilated. The priest at the cathedral was able to recover a large portion. In 1876 the 1000th year of its presence in Chartres, was celebrated. In our modern day the Maphorion is carried in the streets of Chartres once yearly to celebrate Our Lady’s Feast of the Assumption. Together with many other precious holy and inestimable sacred relics, a small part of the Maphorion is present at the Vatican Museum in Rome for public viewing. The Orthodox Christians celebrate the ceremony of the Virgin’s Maphorion on July 2 and the delivery of Constantinople from the Avaro-Slavs and the fire worshipping Persians on August 7.

(c) 2008 – 3000



  1. […] Chapter 8 – The ‘Maphorion’ belonging to the ‘Hodegitria’ […]

    Pingback by Relics, Knights and Constellations « The Catholic Southern Front Dispatch — December 27, 2009 @ 10:48 pm | Reply

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