Cincture of the Theotokos

I read an article in the “Albuquerque Journal” back on Thanksgiving, and I keep thinking about it.  The headline, “Thousands Brave Cold To Witness Virgin Mary’s Belt.”  I should mention the only reason I had the “Albuquerque Journal” was because of the ads for “Black Friday.”  I wasn’t interested in the ads, but my two daughters are sort of caught up in the craziness of the thing.  Anyway, so I was reading the paper, they were looking at the THOUSANDS of inserts offering unbelievable sale prices, for things they didn’t know they needed or wanted.  The sub-heading, “Object thought to aid fertility but is usually kept from women.”   Hmmm.

The story was a reprint from “The Washington Post” and was bylined by Kathy Lally.  I don’t know who Kathy is, but she got a byline for the story and she obviously works at “THE Washington Post.”  What really caught my attention was the dateline:  MOSCOW.  Wow, not long ago that was a Communist country, where religion, let alone Greek Orthodox religion was banned, or so I thought.  The lead paragraph relates the “thousands and thousands of Orthodox believers” that stood in the streets in lines up to 2 km long to view a piece of a camel-hair belt that is supposed to have belonged to the Virgin Mary over 2,000 years ago.  Not just camel-hair, but a gold strand is woven through the cincture, Greek for belt.  I didn’t know that and I didn’t know that the Virgin Mary is known as Theotokos in the Sacred Traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church.

I question whether this belt, or sash could possibly have survived for 2,000 years.  Doesn’t sound credible.  The belt belongs to a Greek Orthodox monastery of Vateopedi on Mount Athos.  Only men are allowed to visit there, so the displaying of this item to view by anyone, including women, is, well, kind of extraordinary.  Mary is said to have worn this belt when she was pregnant and is the reason it is so revered, because it supposedly can help women get pregnant and cure disease.  By report there weren’t many men in the lines in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but there were some.  

Mary, by custom, would have made the belt herself, but the gold (we accept that Mary and Joseph lived modestly, I think, and wouldn’t have a spool of gold thread lying around) was added by Empress Zoe when she was cured from a deadly disease which she attributed to being in possession of the belt.  She’s also the one who cut it up into three pieces.  I don’t really understand why.  It was passed through some hands and ended up in the monastery on Mt. Athos.  That’s in Greece, in case you didn’t know.

Doesn’t camel-hair decompose?  I still don’t know, and I’m tired of searching.  Maybe you can tell me.  I just don’t think it would be relatively unfazed over 2,000 plus years.  Camel hair seems to be a very popular choice for brush-making though.  That I learned.

My daughter learned that “Black Friday” can be a tad ridiculous.  Wal-Mart made the news several times with their nonsensical idea of putting video games on sale at half their regular $60 price, at certain hours of the day.  They stacked these game cartridges on a display table and shrink-wrapped them so you could see the titles, but were unable to take them until the appointed hour.  Crowds gathered around the table fighting for position.  The poor “Wal-Mart Associates” that had to cut the shrink-wrap, barely escaped with their lives as the crowd surged forward, those up front pitching the games to people in the back, others trying to intercept the pass, fighting for position.  In Los Angeles, a woman resorted to pepper-spray to glean a favored position.  She later turned herself in to police.  WTF.  In her defense, she might have been protecting herself and fellow shoppers in the riot that ensued after the shrink wrap was removed.

My daughter says she’s never doing it again, “Black Friday” that is, not pepper-spraying customers, but I don’t believe her.  Just something about the shopping “hunt” that people can’t resist.

Photo Our Lady of Vladimir (12th century), the holy protectress of Russia, now in the Tretyakov Gallery.



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4 responses to “Cincture of the Theotokos

  1. Interesting post–juxtaposing lines to see a belt supposedly worn by Mary with Black Friday crazies. I suppose they are related in an odd way: lots of people craving something rare (an ancient holy relic or a fantastic deal).

    I can’t help you with the camel hair question. Perhaps it has an amazing half-life (like the polyester of the nomads). I don’t know. Holy things seem to have staying power, though…unlike fantastic deals purchased for the holidays. 😉

    • And I was counting on you to have the answer on the camel hair decomposition. You make it sound like a had a valid reason for the juxtaposition (love that word) but I really didn’t. I just happened to read the story the day before BLACK Friday, so it somehow became part of the story. I still have serious doubts about both the cincture and the deals.

  2. I know nothing about this stuff, but the Shroud of Turin has survived. And wasn’t it carbon dated or authenticated as being from that general time? Would an animal hair disintegrate faster than cloth fibers?

    The deals at Wal-Mart would, that’s all I know.

    • From what I’ve been able to find out, human hair decomposes around a year after death. I can’t seem to find anything much about camel hair. I don’t think the belt has been carbon tested, but I remember some controversy around the results of the Shroud of Turin. Mummification has preserved hair over 2,000 years, I’ve discovered. I think it’s interesting that different sects believe that Mary’s body was missing from her tomb when the apostles arrived, and some believe that when the apostles showed up, she rose from the dead and gave the belt to St. Thomas. To me, a current-day Doubting Thomas, they’re all great stories from great story tellers. Back in the day, those story tellers were paid based on how good their stories were. That brings the majority of the Old Testament, and most of the New Testament into question, at least from a factual standpoint. In other words, it’s all about faith, not fact.

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