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Madonna of Montserrat Sml

Container of the Uncontainable

Madonna of Montserrat

On the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, I happened to be doing some work on one of my favourite black Madonnas: Our Lady of Montserrat (image above). Yes – I have visited and prayed there.

She is in the style of the ‘Throne of Wisdom’. Mary becomes, as it were, the throne for Christ. She is the Seat of Wisdom. The Byzantine origin of this image is called Χώρα του Αχωρήτου (Chora tou Achoretou – Container of the Uncontainable). This, I find, such an attractive metaphor. God is the Uncontainable One – certainly not containable in words, by metaphors, or images. Here is the apophatic tradition (God is not like this; God is not like that…) in one word – uncontainable. And yet, Christmas celebrates that the Uncontainable One is contained in Mary! And the point of this Incarnation is that we too, each one of us, become a Container of the Uncontainable.

[Some readers might like to explore a more recent Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom by renowned English sculptor Peter Eugene Ball located, since 2014 in the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford UK]

The more I played with these ideas, the more fun and more insight was gained.

Here is a different image of Χώρα του Αχωρήτου – chora tou achoretou- Container of the Uncontainable, this time it is a mosaic over the entrance of Chora Church in Istanbul (yes – I’ve visited it).

Mary Chora

Here Χώρᾳ, in the title of the Church, is often interpreted to mean field – this Church was built in the empty space of the countryside. Χώρᾳ is empty space and container. There is also a mosaic of Christ as ἡ Χώρα τῶν ζώντων (he chora ton zonton) – the field (land, empty space) of the living.

In Timaeus, one of Plato’s dialogues, Χώρα is the empty, placeless place in which everything comes to be.

My final playfulness is to notice that Χώρα connects with περιχώρησις (perichoresis) the early-church imagery for the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity. περιχώρησις is composed of περι (peri – around) and the verb χωρέω (choreo) which is directly related to the noun χώρα. So the Trinitarian dance of the three Divine Persons is around an empty space – χώρα.

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Top image by Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca – https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltb/3227926254/, CC BY 2.0, Link

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6 thoughts on “Container of the Uncontainable”

  1. I like to see what Google Translate comes up with. It translates Χώρα του Αχωρήτου as The country of Unconquer. I’m guessing that is modern Greek?

    1. Your comment, David, made me try it also. I got the same. του Αχωρήτου it translated as “of the Uncle”, and Αχωρήτου as “uncontained”. So – possibly not the best place to start exegesis 😉 Blessings.

  2. Dr. Nicholas Johnson

    Dear Rev. Bosco Peters.

    I am writing a paper which includes reference to the mosaic at Chora church, Istanbul, and would like to include your photograph of the Virgin as containing the uncontainable. Do I have your permission to reproduce your photograph for possible publication?

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Nicholas Johnson (Dr)

    1. Bosco Peters

      Dear Nicholas, thank you for your message. I cannot currently trace whether this is my own photograph or if I have used an image that I understood at the time of writing as being available for fair use for a not-for-profit blog site. I have done a Google image search and find that a photograph of this mosaic is available here. I hope that helps. Blessings.

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