Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Iconostasis
(eye con oh STA sis; plural: iconostases)

In Eastern Christianity, a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church.

The Iconostasis does not sit directly on the edge of the sanctuary, but is usually set a few feet back from the edge of the top step.

Literally, iconostasis means "icon stand."

The iconostasis typically has three openings or sets of doors:
Royal Doors (Royal Gates, Holy Doors, Beautiful Gates) in the center. The Royal Gates represent the entrance from the temporal world to the spiritual between which the priests pass during the service. The church represents heaven on earth. On the royal door there is always the Annunciation and often the four Evangelists.

It is not uncommon to find an icon of the Mystical Supper, which depicts the Last Supper somewhere above the Beautiful Gates.

North and South Doors (Deacons' Doors) on either side. On each of the other doors are St. Michael and St. Gabriel. The North and South Doors are often called Deacons' Doors because the deacons use them frequently.

Necessary icons on  the iconostasis: Our Lord (often Pantokrator) on the right of the Royal door, and that of Our Lady upon the left.

Tiers of icons:
Church Feasts tier: 12 major church festivals:
Nativity of Christ/Christmas,
Baptism of Christ (Theophany or Epiphany)
Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
Annunciation
Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)
Ascension
Pentecost
Transfiguration
Dormition (Falling Asleep of Mary)
Raising of Lazarus
Crucifixion
Resurrection
(If more than 12: Passion cycle, Nativity of Virgin Mary, her Presentation in the Temple, Exultation of the Cross)

Deisis tier: Over the Royal Doors.
Christ enthroned, portrayed as King and Judge (Last Judgment)
Virgin and St. John
Archangels Michael and Gabriel
Apostles Peter and Paul, et.al.

Prophets tier:  Old Testament  prophets who foretold the coming o the Savior through the Virgin Mary.  In the center is Mary with the Infant Jesus which testifies that the prophecies have come to pass.

The Old Testament Trinity shows the first appearance of God to man in the visit of three Angels to Abraham by the oak of Mambre. The Angels are shown sitting at a table under the oak with Abraham and Sarah serving them in the foreground and a servant killing the fatted calf in Their honor.

Patriarchs tier:   This tier was added to the Russian iconostasis in the 16th century.

Local tier:
Royal Gates through which the Eucharist is carried.
Jesus  to the right of the Royal Doors,
Mary to the left of the Royal Doors
Saint or feast day to which the church is dedicated
Local saints 


Examples from Buffalo:
Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement 2010 Chuck LaChiusa
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