The second main theme of the Chora church is the life of the Theotokos. The scenes depicted in these mosaics are based on the life of the Mother of God contained in the apocryphal Gospel of St James. Most of this is unfamiliar territory, though it fed through into Renaissance iconography. Here are some examples of this theme illustrated in the Chora.
Zechariah rejects the sacrifice of Joachim and Anna (the parents of the Mother of God) who long for a child though Anna is barren and unable to bear a child:
Joachim spends 40 days and nights fasting and praying in the wilderness:
An angel brings the good news to Anna about the birth of a child: I love the combination of the everyday (Anna about to draw water from the well) and the transcendent; the movement implied by her robe and her foot as she steps onto the area surrounding the well, as she suddenly freezes: and the surprise on her face as she looks over her shoulder and sees the angel.
The birth of Mary:
Zechariah entrusts Mary to Joseph who has been recognised by the fact that his staff has turned green:
The Annunciation: I love the setting of this mosaic, with the elaborate buildings behind and the garden with its trees and fountain. I wonder whether the inclusion here of the running fountain is a reference to the curious Greek icon of Mary as the life-giving spring (zoodokhos pigy).
The Nativity – Mary is shown as giving birth in a cave (an Orthodox tradition), rather than a stable, whilst Joseph is deep in thought and the angel announces the news of the birth to the shepherds:
The Census – Mary stands before Quirinius, Governor of Judaea, and remains silent when she is asked who is the father of her child, whilst Joseph steps forward.
The Magi arrive on horseback and ask Herod where they can find the king of the Jews:
The Massacre of the Innocents – Elizabeth, holding the baby John the Forerunner, escapes from a Roman soldier by hiding in a cave:
The holy family visit Jerusalem during the Passover. Interestingly, Christ in the centre of the mosaic, is depicted as beardless:
The final mosaic in the cycle is the Dormition of the Theotokos, one of the very few mosaics left in the nave of the church: