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Monastery of St. Catherine
13th Century icon of The Nativity, with Scenes from the childhood of Christ

This icon of the Birth of Christ also features multiple scenes that include Joseph visited by an Angel; King Herod, on his throne, directing the Massacre of the Innocents; The Adoration of the Magi; the washing of the Babe; and the Flight into Egypt.

Before there were nativities, there were precious icons—The Birth of Christ, Byzantine icon from the Monastery of Stavronikita, the Holy Mountain, Greece
An icon of many scenes

The icon of the Nativity doesn't just tell the story of the Birth of Christ—it also pictures all of creation at the manger.

The Virgin Mary—the largest image in the icon—reclines, her Newborn Son lies in the manger, and the ox and ass keep guard.

There may not be references to an donkey or ox in the Gospels, but iconographic tradition includes them as fulfillment of the words of the Prophet Isaiah:The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: [but] Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

Joseph—who is usually shown pensive in wonderment, tempted by Satan in the form of a shepherd—is depicted asleep, being visited by an angel. Is he being told of the impending danger unfolding just below him?

That's King Herod, shown on his throne, presiding over the Massacre of the Innocents, his henchmen shown slaughtering the innocent children.

Other scenes include The Adoration of the Magi (upper left hand corner); the Three Kings being told by a angel to take a different way back (upper right hand corner); the washing of the Babe (middle) that emphasizes Christ's humanity; and just below, The Flight Into Egypt.

Many more scenes unfold in this marvelous icon: midwives carry water for the wash basin (bottom left); two rams butt heads (middle right); and a shepherd plays his pipes, seemingly oblivious of the miracle unfolding nearby. Or, in another interpretation, adding the voice of humanity to that of the angels.

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