Images of the Dormition date from the 10th century though earlier representations may have existed that are now lost. The present icon follows the tradition laid down a thousand years ago when the iconography, based on apocryphal texts going back to James the Brother of the Lord, was established. According to the legend, the twelve apostles were present at the death bed of the Virgin, together with four early christian writers (recognisable in the icon by their bishop’s robes decorated with crosses) James, Dionysios the Areopagite, Hierotheos and Timotheos of Ephesus. In the buildings in the background are mourning women. Sometimes the apostles are shown twice: grouped around the bier, and transported to the scene on clouds accompanied by angels. Archangels are present in the foreground in the lower left and right corners while, in the centre foreground, the Archangel Michael threatens the non believer Jephonias who dared to touch the holy bier. (The story goes that his hands were cut off and later miraculously restored when he converted).
Behind the bier stands Christ surrounded by the aureole signifying heavenly glory. The cherubim (in blue), the seraphim (red) and golden stars refer to the hierarchy of cosmic powers, described by Dionysios the Areopagite, who serve the Lord. Christ receives the soul of the Mother of God. (Here, the imagery reverses the traditional picture of mother and son).