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The question is as simple as the title. I am simply wondering, ‘When is the earliest recorded date of this tradition?’

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I do have to say that the first mention of an icon in the New Testament is in Galatians 3:1 - "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?" However, it is not known how this icon was used. – LoveTheFaith Jun 25 '12 at 3:03
Related question:… – user1054 Jun 25 '12 at 12:58
up vote 6 down vote accepted

According to Gibbons:

the public religion of the Catholics was uniformly simple and spiritual; and the first notice of the use of pictures is in the censure of the council of Illiberis, three hundred years after the Christian aera. Under the successors of Constantine, in the peace and luxury of the triumphant church, the more prudent bishops condescended to indulge a visible superstition, for the benefit of the multitude; and, after the ruin of Paganism, they were no longer restrained by the apprehension of an odious parallel.

It appears that the creeping in of images was long before the schism that brought about the RC and EO traditions -- so though your question apparently concerns post-schism timeline, I hope this answer is relevant.

See also the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Council of Elvira/Elliberis/Illiberis for arguments on dates.

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thanks for the references they are very informative and sort of confirm each other from different camps. – Mike Jun 24 '12 at 15:04

The oldest icon I can imagine would be the one written by St Luke of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus regardless of whether you give any merit to the tradition that it was indeed done by him who was undoubtably the most well aquatinted man in the early Church with the Blessed Virgin Mary, excepting maybe St John the Evangelist, it is certainly an old picture and has been in the keeping of the St Mary Major for a very long time (~1700 years)

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Quite interesting. – LoveTheFaith Jun 26 '12 at 1:02

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