Our Lady of Kazan, One of the Most Venerated Russian Icons
On 4 November, the Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of one of the most revered Russian miracle-working icons, known as Our Lady of Kazan. In 2023, Patriarch Kirill announced after a festive service that the famous icon, which had been missing for over a hundred years, was found in his residence. We offer to investigate the history of this icon, its copies and their mysterious disappearance.
Our Lady of Kazan: History and Veneration
Our Lady of Kazan is one of the most venerated Russian icons. A detailed account of its miraculous finding is given in a tale completed in 1594 by the first Kazan Metropolitan Ermogen (later Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia), who called himself a witness to the events described. According to this text, the icon was manifested to the ten-year-old girl Matrona on 23 June 1579 after a terrible fire that destroyed many of Kazan’s buildings. Matrona repeatedly had a dream in which the icon itself pointed her to the ashes of one of the houses. The voevods and the archbishop, who did not believe Matrona and her mother, nevertheless joined the search during which the girl found a buried icon wrapped in the sleeve of an odnoryadka coat at a depth of about a meter under the ground. The icon was different from all known iconographic types of the Mother of God at that time. Indeed, Our Lady of Kazan is easily recognizable by two striking features: the pectoral instead of the waisted image of the Mother of God and the frontal image of the Christ Child.
The icon found in Kazan became known as the revealed icon. Almost immediately, its copies began to be made, first of all for Tsar John IV and his sons, who, like all those who saw the icon for the first time, were very impressed “because they had never seen such a type of icon anywhere.” By order of the tsar, money was allocated from the treasury for the foundation of the Kazan Monastery of the Mother of God (Kazan Bogoroditsky Monastery) where Our Lady of Kazan has been kept ever since. It is noteworthy that the temple of that monastery was dedicated to the icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria, and this is also how Metropolitan Ermogen calls the icon in his tale, noting its unusual depiction. Nikodim Kondakov, one of the most important researchers of the iconography of the Mother of God, also called the Kazan icon a special type of the Hodegetria. He was of the opinion, later generally supported by scholars, that the formation of this iconographic type in Russia was influenced by the Italian Renaissance images of the Mother of God with the Standing Child.
On the night of June 29, 1904, Our Lady of Kazan was stolen from the Bogoroditsky Monastery by the 28-year-old Vartholomey Stoyan, an experienced klukvennik, i.e., a thief who specialized in robbing churches and monasteries, and his accomplices. During the trial, it turned out that Stoyan cut up and burned the exposed icon, the proof of which was the remains of the icon found in the furnace of his house, the hinges of its cover, identified by the nuns of the Bogoroditsky Monastery, fragments of velvet, and the jeweled cover of the icon.
Moscow had its own copy of Our Lady of Kazan, revered as a miracle-working icon and kept in the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square. According to the surviving historical evidence, it was brought to Moscow in 1611 by the Kazan militia during the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth intervention. This icon was worshipped as a miracle-working after the Moscow Novodevichy Monastery had been captured by the regiments to which it belonged. In 1611, due to the difficult situation in Moscow, the already famous icon was sent to Yaroslavl where it was taken by the militia of Kozma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, who freed Moscow from intervention and brought the icon back to Moscow. The Moscow copy of the Kazan icon even got its own tale – The tale about the arrival of the miraculous image of the Mother of God of Kazan under the reigning city of Moscow, when it was taken by the Lithuanian people who apostatized and ruined the Orthodox faith – which made known in the edition of the 17th century.
After the victory of the militia, the Moscow copy of Our Lady of Kazan did not lose its glory. For some time, it was kept in the parish church of Prince Pozharsky, where the young Tsar Mikhail Romanov himself came to worship the icon, and finally, in 1636, the Kazan Cathedral was consecrated on Red Square. Here, the icon was kept until 1918 when it was stolen by unknown persons along with the precious decoration. Despite two layers of records, one of which belongs to the tsar’s icon painter Mikhail Milyutin, a student of Simon Ushakov, the Moscow Our Lady of Kazan appeared to have perfectly preserved the painting of the late 16th century as notorious collector and art patron Stepan Ryabushinsky wrote in his 1928 Notes on the Restoration of Icons. This conclusion was made on the basis of a photograph published in 1912 in the volume of Patriarch Ermogen’s works. In this photograph, one can see that the thick white paint in the lower part of the face of the Virgin was removed. Researchers connect such interest in the restoration and study of the Moscow copy with the loss of the Revealed Icon in 1904: some members of the Romanov family and some church officials hoped to find an unharmed icon by the 300th anniversary of the imperial dynasty, whose accession to power was largely due to the miracles of Our Lady of Kazan.
The oldest surviving copies of Our Lady of Kazan are dated to the end of the 16th century. One of these copies, published in the Orthodox Encyclopedia, vol. 29, was presented by the Moscow collector and conservator Sergey Vorobyov to Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow with the request to place the icon in the recently restored Kazan Cathedral on Red Square. According to the available information, this very icon was presented by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow as the one discovered in the Patriarchal Residence in Peredelkino. We dare to assert that Our Lady of Kazan from the ex-collection of Sergey Vorobyov, judging by the pre-Revolution photographs, is neither the Revealed Icon nor its Moscow copy, which does not diminish its historical and artistic significance as a unique monument of the late 16th century.