August 31, 2017

The Byzantine Girdle of the Virgin Mary in Loches, France

In the Church of Saint Ours in Loches, France (Église Saint-Ours de Loches) there is preserved what was once considered to be the original Girdle (Zoni) of the Virgin Mary, at least until the 19th century. The Byzantine Girdle is 2 meters and 10 centimeters long by 3 centimeters wide. According to local tradition, it came from Constantinople in the 10th century. It is made of linen and silk. At both edges it has wool-embossed inscriptions in Greek letters. Unfortunately, the inscriptions are not visible in the photos found of the relic, but according to the author of an old study of the fabric of the relic (see below), at the edges of the Byzantine Girdle there are the following Greek letters:

Μ, -----------, ΟΝΧΝΙΟΙ (on one edge)
Ν, -----------, ΙΜ, ------------ΟΝΧΝΙΟΙ (on the other edge).

Today it is believed to be not the actual Girdle of the Virgin Mary, but a Byzantine "measuring tape" of the original Girdle of the Virgin Mary which was kept in Constantinople. In order to protect the original Girdle of the Virgin Mary, duplicates of the original were made in Byzantium, with the same dimensions, that they may be given as gifts to important persons. This probably accounts for the several "Girdles" found in Western Europe following the Fall of Constantinople, though some portions may be authentic. The original Girdle of the Virgin Mary is believed by Orthodox Christians to be at Vatopaidi Monastery of Mount Athos, at least its largest portion since portions can be found in several places. Despite the fact that these "Girdles" may not be part of the original, their value as Byzantine relics is still very great.