Many congratulations to Frank McMahon whose poem ‘Saving Byzantium’ has just been published in the award-winning literary magazine Acumen.

The poem references The Triumph of Orthodoxy, an icon created in Constantinople around 1370 CE when the Byzantine Empire was under mortal threat from Turkish, Islamic armies.

The Empire stood alone and the icon was created to show the people what the Empire would look like when God protected it.

It is based on a much earlier icon, Hodgeteria, created in 843 on the orders of Empress Theodosia to show that it was permissible to have images that showed the godhead.

There had been major disputes as to whether this was acceptable.

More information can be found in The History of the World in 100 objects and by looking on-line for pictures of both icons.

The poem, published in Acumen 104 can be read below.



Every time he asks

is this allowed?

They do not paint God’s face,

our enemies. They are

ocean, plague, unanswered swords,

surely God must love them more?


They tell him: this is a settled question

and this is your commission,

The Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Only God and Faith can save this city now.

So pray, forgive your enemies,

paint as if God is with you in this room.


The monk takes wood and tempera

creates within the icon

a copy of a second, ancient and revered.



Child and Virgin veiled in damson blue,

the frame red like ripening mulberry,

held by saints against a wall of gold.

Martyrs, Emperor and Patriarch,

Byzantium summoning the past

to stand against the future.

One thought on “Byzantium

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