Akathistos hymnos

R.I.19 - Real Biblioteca del Monasterio (San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain)

Alternate Titles:

Greek Hymn honouring the Virgin Mary, Poesías en loor de la Virgen

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Alternate Titles

Greek Hymn honouring the Virgin Mary
Poesías en loor de la Virgen

Extent / Format

60 pages / 24.5 x 18.5 cm

16th century

King Philip II


23 picture-like miniatures which take half of the page and 15 ornaments with vegetal motifs

Short description

This unique manuscript presents the Greek text of the famous Akathistos Hymnos, one of the early Christian prayers to the Virgin Mary from Constantinople. Originating from Constantinople in the late 14th or early 15th centuries, here the text is illustrated in a typical picture cycle, which only survives today in two specimens. The manuscript came into the possession of Philip II by mysterious means and is stored today in El Escorial, “one of the most precious works of art in Spain.”

Facsimile editions available


Akathistos Hymnos

The Akathistos Hymnos is considered to be one of the main components of the Orthodox liturgy. According to legend, the doxology of the Virgin Mary was first sung in Constantinople in the year 626, calling for the protection of the Mother of God against an attack by the Avars. Consequently, the Akathistos Hymnos, which is still sung today, is one of the oldest and most beautiful pieces of Marian poetry in Christendom. The important liturgical Hymnos been celebrated primarily in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but has nevertheless had a large influence on the Christian church as a whole as a devout expression of Marian devotion.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

The Greek hymn “to the holiest Theotokos and eternal Virgin Mary” originates from an unknown Greek poet and consists of 24 strophes. These follow an interesting principle: their initial letters yield all of the letters of the Greek alphabet in order. In terms of content, both of the first two sections deal with salutations of praise to the Mother of God following the incarnation of Christ from Mary.

A Late Manuscript from Constantinople

The significance of the Akathistos Hymnos is also demonstrated by this wonderful manuscript from the late 14th or early 15th century. The 60 pages of this treasure of illumination do not just contain the text of the Marian prayers. The wonderful picture cycle of the Akathistos Hymnos is considered to be a special feature. This has been handed down in only two Greek manuscripts, a manuscript in Moscow in addition to this one from El Escorial. The visual adornment consists of 23 miniatures in Byzantine style on a golden background and additionally comprises 15 pages with elegantly ornamented initials consisting of animal and plant motifs. Clearly discernable Italian influences on the painting have led to speculation that the manuscript originated from Venice or Crete. Nevertheless, the body of research still considers Constantinople as the point of origin of the Akathistos Hymnos from El Escorial.

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