Abstract: The preeminent monastery of Mount Athos, the Great Lavra, holds a very unusual Annunciation. Not a Christian saint or martyr but a pagan Goddess, Artemis- Diana attends the fateful encounter between the archangel Gabriel and the Annunciate. The Greek-Roman divinity is tranquilly spinning and, after a dialogue with Virgin Mary, is leaving the stage. Her name, an invocation to her and her giant right ear are positioned to oversee the scene of the Christian Incarnation. The fresco was painted in 1535 by the famous Athonite monk Theophanes the Cretan, one of the most acclaimed Post-Byzantine masters, at the peak of his career.
After having documented how Theophanes creatively developed the rare and apocryphal iconographic motif of the attendance of a chief witness to the Annunciation (in general a Virgin Mary’s servant or companion) into the character of Artemis-Diana and established the relevant archaeological presence of the Greek-Roman Goddess at the site of the Great Lavra, the author concludes that the painting puts on play three characters to illustrate and combine two myths. The first myth is the mystery of the Annunciation- Incarnation and the transforming presence of the divine Conception between transcendence and immanence. The second myth is the most important foundation tradition of Mount Athos, in which the protagonist is the Mother of God on a missionary journey to the peninsula and her dramatic but not violent replacing Artemis-Diana as the ruler and protector of it and its consecrated inhabitants. The fiercest enemy of the “true religion” is recruited as the stronger testimonial of its undisputed credibility, after her bending to acknowledge it. Consistently, the fresco recognizes the Virgin Mary as the Abbess of the Athonite brotherhood.