At the Bulgarian Churche of St. Stephen of the Bulgars. It was erected in 1871 and is entirely constructed of cast iron. Fabricated in Vienna it was shipped down the Danube in sections. It is a curious experience to knock against what looks like a marble column and hear the sound of iron.
The big icons, painted on the (secondary) door in the right half of the Econostasis (= Iconscreen), represent the archangel Gabriel, Saint John the Baptist (to the left) and Saint Paul the Apostle (to the right). They are painted in a 19th century style, that is influenced by Italian renaissance and classicism.
The two small icons in front of them, have the design that continues the traditional stylization: “St. John, Angel of the Desert” (left) and the “Embrace of SS. Paul and Peter” (right).
This second icon has several possible meanings. It could refer tot the Council of Jerusalem (about 50 AD), the first meeting in early Christianity, where the debate was settled about non-Jewish Christians having or having not to follow Mosaic law, including the requirement for circumcision of males. A debate that had become a real quarrel and needed both an agreement and a reconcilation. Which happened on this First Council, by the issue of the socalled ‘Apostolic Decree’.
According to another tradition, the two saints embraced before being executed in Rome (around the mid-60s for Paul, and in 64 for Peter). But there is no evidence, nor tradition, that they died together, nor that their executions were somehow linked. This possible meaning of the icon has therefore less historical grounds than the first one.
Correspondent: J.M.Criel, Antwerpen.
Source: (among others) Website of ‘Orthodox Arts Journal’.