The color is the thing

A photo I posted yesterday (below) of the sparkling shrine at Agios Riganaki contained quite naturally little flags of The Hellenic Republic and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This symbol of Orthodoxy, the double headed eagle on a yellow field caught my attention because the double-headed eagle is used as a symbol for other entities as well.

What make this unique? The big bird (2 heads, 2 wings, 2 feet) is stylized and apparently can be presented in various ways and still mean the same thing. In the photo below the eagle holds a sword with one claw and an ‘orb’ in the other. Other representations on a yellow field (above) have the bird holding a cross and an ‘orb’. Still others show it empty-handed. What’s the catch?

Exactitude in Christian iconography is a big deal and individual saints are always depicted exactly the same way from icon to icon. One simple example are St. George is always shown riding a white horse facing to the right while St. Dimitrios is mounted on a brown horse facing left. One glance lets the faithful know which saint it is.

The double headed eagle symbol pops up a lot as the symbol of the (old) Russian Empire (holding a sword and orb), the nation of Albania (black bird, red field, empty handed), the Russian Federation (golden bird, red field, orb and scepter/ black bird, golden field, orb/scepter), Montenegro and Serbia also use the empty handed double eagle. The “Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain” Mt Athos uses the yellow field, black bird, sword and orb combination.

With all these variations, it seems that the color of the field and not other details which makes the emblem unique and meaningful, at least in the case of the Orthodox eagle.


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