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In addition to the original sense of the word, there are also the following:
  • In computer jargon, an icon is a tiny, clickable picture used to provide a startup link to a program or a file.
  • The Icon programming language.

In religious art, an icon (also spelled ikon, from the Greek word eikon, which means "image") is an artistic representation or symbol of anything considered holy and divine, such as paintings (including relief[?] paintings), sculpture, or mosaics, sometimes quite small in size, generally regarded by their users as a physical manifestations of the thing represented. Icons are used particularly in Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern-rite Catholic[?] churches and places of worship. In such use, they are typically paintings on wood. Many religious homes in Russia, for example, have icons hanging on the wall. There is a rich history and rich patterns of religious symbolism[?] associated with icons. The Orthodox sometimes call them "windows into heaven". In Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern-rite Catholic churches, the nave is typically separated from the sanctuary by a wall of icons called an iconostasis.

In practice, icons are often illuminated with a candle or jar of oil with a wick. (Beeswax for candles and olive oil for oil lamps are preferred because they burn very cleanly.) Besides the practical purpose of making them visible in an otherwise dark church in the days before electricity, this symbolically indicates that the saint(s) depicted are illuminated by the Christ, the Light of the World. Orthodox Christians venerate or show honor and respect for icons in a variety of ways, in order to show honor and respect for the people and events depicted. They do not worship icons, for worship of icons was forbidden by the same council that defended their use, the Second Council of Nicaea (also known as the Seventh Ecumenical Council). By venerating icons, Orthodox Christians acknowledge that matter is not inherently evil, but can be used by God. St. John of Damascus observed that iconoclasts who attacked the use of icons often found themselves denying the goodness of matter to such an extent, that they wound up doubting the real incarnation of Jesus Christ as fully human, or that he was resurrected with a real physical body.


Eusebius of Caesarea, a bishop and early church historian, reports one popular story of the first icon. In this story, King Abgar of Edessa sent a letter to Jesus Christ during Jesus' public activities in Gallilee, asking Jesus to come and heal him of leprosy. Instead, Jesus took a linen cloth and pressed it against his own face, leaving the imprint of his face on the cloth, and sent it back to the king. This cloth reportedly remained in Edessa until the 10th century, when it was taken to Constantinople. In 1204 it was lost when Constantinople was sacked by Crusaders. This is allegedly the first icon. Eusebius also reports seeing many icons of Jesus, Peter and Paul that were of some age, as well as seeing a bronze statue of Jesus outside the house of the woman who was healed of a twelve year hemhorage; the woman is mentioned in the Gospels, though the statue is not. There are also simple paintings of Jesus as well as depictions of Old Testament scenes found in early Christian catacombs, where Christians were not only buried but also lived in to hide from their Roman persecutors. Luke the Evangelist is also credited with painting at least three icons of the Virgin Mary, at least one of which is believed to be still extant.

Iconography flourished during the Byzantine Empire beginning in the fifth or sixth century. It developed further in Russia following Russia's conversion to Orthodox Christianity in the late tenth century.

See also iconographyiconostasisiconoclasm

By extension from the primary sense of the word, an icon is also a name, face, picture or symbol that readily recognized by most people to represent some well-known entities or attributes. Many icons are based on famous objects or landmarks. Icons are usually culturally dependent though many are recognized internationally.

Example of well known icons, symbols and what they represent:

Hammer and sickle
(former) USSR

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