The paper deals with the history of the greatest holy item of Chilandar, the icon of the Three-Handed Theotokos, in particular the time frame of its creation and arrival in Mt. Athos, the origins of the painter and the spread of the cult of this miracle-working icon in Serbia and beyond.
Much has been written about the icon of the Virgin Tricherousa. And yet, the analysis of written sources, presented in the introductory part of the paper, shows that there is a certain divergence between ecclesiastic tradition and scientific claims, which makes it very difficult in studying the subject to distinguish historical fact from myth and legend.
The article further cites sources in studying the history of the icon of the Panagia Tricherousa (Παναγία Τριχερούσα), the most important being king Milutin’s charter of 1300 to the monastery of St. George in Skoplje. Among the property of the monastery, the document includes the estate of the episcopal Church of the Virgin Tricherousa, which may have been the keeping place of the eponymous icon, starting from the late 13th century at the latest. The sources further point to the year 1347, when tsar Dušan issued the charter of his coronation, which raised the episcopal Church of the Three-handed Theotokos to the rank of a protothronos metropolitanate in that same year. Keeping in mind that the Virgin Tricherousa icon is stylistically linked to tsar Dušan’s rule, the paper presents the hypothesis that he may have commissioned a new icon in the old one’s image. The icon could have been taken from Skoplje to Chilandar during tsar Dušan’s 1347–1348 stay at Mt. Athos.
Relying on the latest scientific research, the paper highlights the viewpoint that the icon of the Panagia Tricherousa, kept today at Chilandar, was painted in the early 18th century to replace an earlier one – no longer in existence, when it had deteriorated after centuries of liturgical use. The switch may have occurred in the second quarter of the 18th century, i.e. between the first and second visit of monk and travel writer Vassily Grigorovich Barsky to Mt. Athos. In 1744, Barsky was the first to note that the third hand in the Virgin Tricherousa icon was not painted, but forged in silver and attached to the Mother of God’s maphorion, as seen on the icon today.
Placing the Three-handed Theotokos icon in the context of the 19th-century ep och, when it originated, the paper focuses its attention on the iconography and the style of the icon, including the representation of St. Nicholas on the back. The detailed description of the icon underscores its iconographic particularities – the Three-handed Theotokos of Chilandar is not the Mother of God with three hands, but a Mother of God Hodegetria type, holding however the Christ child on her right arm, not the left, as customary for the Hodegetria type.
Finally, the closing portion of the paper points out the importance that the Virgin Tricherousa icon has held for the Serbian people and traces the path of the spread of its cult across Serbia and other Orthodox countries, especially Russia.