Sunday (September 11) is the commemoration of the Beheading of John the Forerunner in the churches which follow the old calendar. The icon above is late 19th century of Russian origin, carrying the inscription: Усекновение главы святого Иоанна Предтечи.
In the top-left corner St John is shown imprisoned, whilst in the centre John is shown bowed over ready for the executioner’s sword, standing above his already decapitated body; above them an angel flies in to gift a crown of martyrdom to St John. To the right the executioner is shown giving St John’s head to Herodias’ daughter, Salome. The combination of chronological events all shown “at once” is a common feature of icons.
Above them all is the Ancient of Days, God, identifiable by the inscription, white hair, and eight-pointed star within His halo.
The buildings depicted are contemporary to the painting of the icon, rather than the time of St John’s execution. This icon is not alone among Russian images in showing St John imprisoned behind a wooden palisade, common to prison-camps of Russia, but much more unlikely in the 1st century Holy Lands. Compare the image with a photo of St Nicholas the Holy-Royal Martyr and his son in a Siberian prison camp in the early part of the 20th century.
The glorious beheading of the Forerunner was a certain divine dispensation, that the coming of the Savior might also be preached to those in Hades. Let Herodias lament, then, that she demanded a wicked murder; for she loved not the Law of God, nor eternal life, but one false and fleeting.