Our Lady of Kazan

Copy of Our Lady of Kazan   

As the legend goes, in 1579 a ten year-old girl by the name of Matryona Onuchina had a vision which led her to a missing religious icon that had become buried in ashes from a fire, near the fortress of Kazan. The find was kept in a Kazan church until stolen in 1904 by vandals. Police, who claimed to have found fragments of the treasure, said that the icon had been destroyed.

A group called the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima purchased a version of the icon in 1970 from a British woman. In 1993 they presented it to Pope John Paul II who kept it in a place of honor in his personal chambers. Many believed this version to be the original and that it was a copy which had been stolen and destroyed in 1904.

Pope John Paul II wanted to deliver the icon in person as part of a long-sought visit to Russia, but the Moscow Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church refused to sanction the visit. The Pope gave up using the icon as a ticket into Russia, appointing a Cardinal to present it to the Patriarch in 2004. The Patriarchate had announced a year earlier that it was amazed that the Pope considered the icon so important after a joint Russian-Vatican commission had determined that it was merely an 18th-century copy. The Vatican stated only that it was openly a copy and not a forgery and that its importance lay in the fact that it would be the oldest copy in Russia. The original existed in the 16th century in Kazan, the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan.

Officials in Kazan say that it does not belong in Moscow. The icon is historically important as it makes Kazan world famous, being called the Mother of God of Kazan. A Tatar patriot group made the issue more complicated when they claimed that its origin was a myth invented by Russian authorities. Instead of being an object of pride, it was a symbol of the colonization of the traditionally Muslim Tatarstan.

The icon had the face of a Russian Virgin, with the Baby Jesus held tightly to her chest. It is covered by an oklad - a silver or gold carapace - inlaid with precious stones. This representation of the Virgin had the reputation of restoring sight to the blind who, out of their gratitude, financed the high-quality emeralds to decorate the frame.

After its legendary recovery from the ashes, it came to be known as the "Liberator of Russia." It was placed on military standards during battles against the Swedes and Napoleon. In 1918, Tsar Nicholas II consecrated his Empire to her as his last political act, a few days before he was arrested and ultimately executed along with his family.

It allegedly disappeared during the Russian Revolution and was thought to have been destroyed when many holy images were purged. A copy turned up for sale in New York by an antique dealer in 1965, without its oklad and significantly damaged. The Russians of the Diaspora managed to purchase this and have it restored. It was sent to Fatima at Domus Pacis because of prophecies that favored Russia. Domus Pacis was an armored, vaulted room in the chapel which had been built specially for the icon. It was then given to Pope John Paul II.

It was originally thought to have come to Russia from Constantinople in the 13th century. After the Tatars besieged Kazan and made it their capital in 1438, the icon disappeared and did not reappear until the 1500s, some years after the liberation of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible in 1552. It was after the fire of 1579 that destroyed Kazan, that the more colorful legends began. It started with apparitions in dreams to 10 year-old Matrona. In her dream, the Virgin revealed the hidden location of the lost icon. The girl then informed the archbishop about the dreams, so that the important artifact could be recovered, but as with most religious leaders in other stories of visions being given to common people, he did not take her seriously. After two more dreams, she and her mother dug the image up personally from under the ashes of a house where it had been hidden years earlier to protect it from invading Tatars. Upon seeing the beautiful icon, the archbishop took it to the Church of St. Nicholas. That same day, a blind man was cured in its presence. The priest of this church, Hermogen, brought the icon to Kazan's Cathedral of the Annunciation and established July 8th as a feast in honor of the Theotokos of Kazan. It is from Hermogen's chronicle, written in 1595, at the request of the Tzar, that the legend arose.

Thereafter, the icon and possibly a number of copies, travelled widely, including at the head of Russian troops as they fought to regain the capital from Polish invaders. Upon the defeat of the Poles on October 22, 1612, the Kazan icon became a focus for Russian nationalism, as it was said the victory was due to intercession by the Mother of God. A small wooden church was built to house the Virgin of Kazan in the Moscow Kremlin. After this church burned down, it was moved into a new brick cathedral in 1638. It remained there for 200 years during which time, it held an honored position as it was carried at the head of religious processions. After the victory over Napoleon in 1812, Peter the Great had the Kazan icon moved to his new Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg. By this time, the icon had considerable popularity, and there were nine or ten miracle-working copies around the country. The precise location of the original was not clear, and many believed that it had long since been lost, leaving only the much venerated and fully miracle-making copies.

Antique copy of Kazan Icon   copy of Kazan Icon


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