As you know, the most famous icon in Russian history and legend is the Vladimirskaya, which is believed to have come to Russia via Kyiv/Kiev from Byzantium. The date of painting is generally considered to be about 1131-1136.
And also as you know, very little of the early painting remains. Almost nothing is left of the original but the face of Mary and the face of Jesus seen in the detail below. So old and supposedly “miracle-working” icons, in spite of their legendary status, do not hold up very well over centuries of veneration and overpainting.
Similarly, you may recall another legendary supposed “wonderworking” icon: The Znamenie Novgorodskaya — or to put it in plain English, the “Sign” icon type of Novgorod. It was discussed in the earlier posting on palladium icons:
The Znamenie icon is generally dated to the first half of the 1100s, and was painted in the northern trading city of Novgorod. It is in even worse condition than the Vladimirskaya. Of the icon you see below, only fragments of the headcovering of Mary (the maphorion) and bits of her other clothing, as well as parts of the circle in which the image of the child Jesus is set, remain of the original. The rest is later overpainting:
The Znamenie was originally a processional icon atop a long handle, and it is painted with another image on the reverse side. The main figures are male and female saints, and because they have no titles, no one is quite sure who they are, though speculation is that they might be Joachim and Anna (the parents of Mary), or they might be St. Peter and St. Natalya.
In any case, it was the side with the “Sign” image of Mary that became famous.
Now it is not hard to see that the “Sign” icon is a shorter version of the standing type of Mary known as the “Great Panagia,” also known in Greek iconography as “Wider than the Heavens. Here is a 13th century example:
Note that in the “Great Panagia,” the hands of the child Jesus are stretched out to the sides in blessing, unlike the position in the “Sign.”
We find the same thing in this Yaroslavl icon from the 13th century of the type known as Воплощение/Voploshchenie — “The Incarnation.” Notice that there is no circle around the child Jesus.
In the Znamenie type however, Jesus has his right hand raised in blessing, and he holds a rolled scroll (signifying teaching) in his left.
But now to the real subject of today’s posting. In the image of the original Znamenie icon above, you will note four saints at the sides. It is believed they were later added to the image in the 1500s, and there are no name inscriptions remaining with them. There are many copies made of that “Sign” icon, and most of them just ignore the saints on the sides, omitting them and showing only the central image — like the example below:
There are, however, some icons that do include the four saints, though the painters making the copies were often not entirely sure who they were, so sometimes they are named differently.
We see them in this example of the Znamenie Novgorodskaya painted in 1727:
Top left: Great Martyr George:
Top right: Great Martyr Iakov/Jacob/James of Persia:
Lower left: Makariy/Macarius of Alexandria
And at lower right: Onufriy/Onuphrios the Great:
Now as mentioned, there are no remaining name inscriptions on the four border saints in the original Znamenie Novgorodskaya, so the titles given them in various copies are later guesses. And painters sometimes guessed differently, or even deliberately changed one saint to another. For example, instead of Makariy of Egypt, we may find Peter of Athos/Peter the Athonite.
Here is a later example giving the same identification of Georgiy, Iakov/Jacob/James, Makariy and Onuphriy:
Here, however, is an icon in which Georgiy and Iakov have been replaced by the unmercenary saints Kosma/Cosmas and Damian, and Makariy is replaced by Petr/Peter of Athos:
(Belgian Private Collection)
Here is Kozma/Cosmas. As you can see, his garments are much like those of Georgiy:
And here is Damian:
At lower left is Onufriy/Onuphrios the Great:
And at lower right is Petr/Peter of Athos:
In spite of these border variations, such icons are still classified from the main central image as Znamenie Novgorodskaya icons.
As is sometimes the case with icons that became famous for their reputed abilities to work miracles, the Znamenie type has several “spinoffs” — icons of the type that have become noted on their own. In fact there are at least 13 of these, so one must be aware of that when identifying individual icons. Continue reading “BORDER VARIATIONS”→
Quite some time ago we took a look at “Week” icons. Today we will examine a rather elaborate example of that type in detail:
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
You may recall that “Week” icons represent the days of the week with icon types. This is how they appear on this example:
1. The Resurrection, representing Sunday.
2. The Assembly of the Archangels, representing Monday. Here it is shown in the form of the “Assembly of the Archangel Michael”:
3. The Beheading of John the Forerunner, representing Tuesday (or John Baptizing, in some examples).
4. The Annunciation, representing Wednesday:
5. The Washing of the Feet [of the disciples of Jesus], for Thursday:
6. The Crucifixion, representing Friday:
Finally, the large lower image is
7. All Saints, representing Saturday. It consists of the large central image depicting heaven, with Lord Sabaoth. Above him is an angel holding two disks, each with the abbreviation Svyat — “Holy” and an angel below holding disks with the IC XC abbreviation for “Jesus Christ.” And below that Jesus is enthroned in the Deisis manner, with Mary approaching at left and John the Forerunner at right. At the sides are ranks of angels:
With the “heaven” image is the gathering of the various ranks of saints below, and those together form the “All Saints” type.
It is rather difficult to see, but just below heaven is a tree with a serpent in it, part of a scene with Adam and Eve and God the Father in the Garden of Eden at left of the tree, and at right Adam and Eve being forced out of the garden by an angel with a fiery sword:
This example adds to those seven “day” types the six days of Creation, each showing Lord Sabaoth:
They begin at upper left. Each is given a letter number, followed by the word den’ — “Day.” in the two at lower right we see the creation of animals and birds, followed by the creation of Adam and Eve.
At top center is the “Lamb of God” type — The altar with a vessel containing the child Jesus, and two angels with ripida — ceremonial fans — at the sides.
To the left are saints Nicholas the Wonderworker and Vasiliy/Basil the Great:
At right are Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom:
Down the left side we see:
John the Theologian (the Evangelist), Petr and Alexiy, Metropolitans of Moscow, and Isaiah and Jacob of Rostov:
Below them are Antoniy and Feodosiy Pecherskiy and the Evangelist Mark:
At top right we see the Evangelist Matthew, and below him the Metropolitans of Moscow Iona/Jonah and Filipp/Philip; and below them Leontiy and Ignatiy of Rostov:
In the central area at bottom we find at left Blessed Vasiliy/Basil and Blessed Maxim, Fools for Christ’s sake.
At right are the Fools for Christ’s sake Blessed Isidor and Blessed John:
The final and center image at the base is one we do not often see — the Убиение/Killing of Tsarevich Dmitriy of Moscow, Wonderworker. That, of course is a political image, but then religion and politics often mix in Russian icons:
Today we will look at the supposedly “wonderworking” icon of Mary just added to the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church this year (2021).
Here it is in its elaborate metal cover:
As a reputed “wonderworking” icon, it has been given its own name: the Ташлинская/Tashlinskaya icon of Mary. Its full form is Избавительница от бед Ташлинская/Izbavitelnitsa ot Bed Tashlinskaya — the “Deliverer from Suffering Tashlinskaya.” In English is is sometimes called simply the “Tashla” icon. It may also be called the Tashla “Deliverer from Troubles.”
It takes its specific name from the village of Tashla in the Samara region of southwestern Russia. Do not confuse it with the Samarra in the Somerset Maugham version of an old tale:
“A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Soon afterwards, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace, he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, who made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant’s horse, he flees at great speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles (125 km), where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture to his servant. She replies, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
That Samarra is in Iraq, not in Russia.
The Tashla icon is a name variant of this type that is so common in icons of the 19th century:
It is the Ot Bed Strazhdushchikh image. The title means “Of the Suffering from Distress,” but this type is sometimes given the fuller title Избавление От Бед Страждущих — Izbavlenie Ot Bed Strazhdushchikh — “Deliverance of the Suffering From Distress” — which makes a bit more sense. In the Canon to the Mother of God are the words Богородица Владычица, поспеши и от бед избавь нас/Bogoroditsa Vladuichitsa, pospeshi i ot bed izabav’ nas — “Mother of God, Mistress, hasten and from distress deliver us.” Little is known of its origin, but it was a popular image among the Old Believers.
The Tashlinskaya variant, however, became noted more recently. It’s origin story relates that a young woman in the village of Tashla had a dream on October 8, 1917. In it, Mary appeared to her and told her of a buried icon. Now we have heard that motif of dream about a buried icon before, for example in the tale of the origin of the “Kazan” icon. In any case, Mary supposedly told the young woman exactly where the icon was to be found. So the young woman went with two of her female friends to the ravine that had been indicated, and on the way they had another vision of white-robed angels carrying the icon. There in the ravine they dug, and of course as these stories go, found the buried icon. The tale further relates that when the icon was dug out, a spring of healing water miraculously sprang forth there as well. You may recall the Roman Catholic story of St. Bernadette and the miraculous spring that is said to have appeared on the site of her visitation by Mary at Lourdes. The notion of the appearance of a miraculous spring is also an old motif in this stories of the appearance of certain “wonderworking” Marian icons.
The icon was taken by a priest to the Holy Trinity Church, and on the way a woman was said to have touched it and to have had her vitality renewed. But again as these tales often go, the icon mysteriously disappeared from the church.
In December of 1917 the icon appeared again at the spring where it was originally found, but it could not be retrieved until the priest knelt and confessed his sins; then the icon allowed one of the three women who had found it originally to remove it from the spring and return it to the village. The icon became very famous in that region, and religious processions were held with it.
During the 1920s the Communist regime tried to discourage the veneration of the icon. They closed the church where it was kept and attempted to obscure the spring by placing a stockyard and a garbage dump at the site, but the spring eventually appeared again nearby. Meanwhile, the villagers kept the icon safe and secretly hidden by passing it from house to house, and later during the II World War the church was reopened, and the icon was once more placed in it.
The icon is still apparently kept in the church at Tashla, and the waters of the reputedly healing spring that appeared when it was found are still visited by those with various ailments.
Yesterday I mentioned that two supposedly “wonderworking” icons were added to the Russian Orthodox Church calendar this year. As previously mentioned, one is Marian and one is of Jesus.
Here is the latter:
Now as you can easily tell from its rather archaic style, this is an early icon. It has been undergoing restoration for the past two years at the State Institute of Restoration in Moscow, and now the original image is again visible.
The image is the “Savior Not Made by Hands” type, but more specifically, as we can see from the curved and pointed beard, it is of the subtype called Spas Mokraya Boroda/Brada (Спас Мокрая Борода/Брада — “The Wet-bearded Savior.” It is also sometimes called “The Savior with Wet Hair” (Спас Омоченные Власы/Spas Omochennuie Vlasui). Why a wet beard and hair? Well, you may recall the origin story (the Abgar legend) of the “Not Made by Hands” type, which says that Jesus once pressed a cloth/towel to his wet face, and his image was miraculously imprinted on it — thus becoming the “first icon.” Of course as I have mentioned in a previous posting, that is just a story that developed and changed over time. But in Eastern Orthodoxy it was considered historical fact, like many of the fictional stories that became regarded as truth concerning the saints.
The “miracle-working” claim for this icon dates back to 1612, during the period known as the “Time of Troubles,” when Russia was in chaos and the Poles had invaded. A butcher merchant from Nizhny Novgorod named Kuzma Minin was chosen to handle the funds needed to form a volunteer militia. This militia, led by Prince Dmitriy Pozharskiy, drove the Poles out of the Kremlin, and for his service Minin was made a boyar — one of the class of aristocrats just below the rank of prince.
It happened that in 1612 an epidemic of cholera broke out among the people and militia in the city of Yaroslavl. In those pre-scientific days, people had no idea what caused epidemics, so their solution was to pray before this icon of the Wet-bearded Savior. And when the epidemic receded, as epidemics eventually do, the icon got the credit. Now this story of one “miracle-working” icon or another causing a plague or epidemic to recede is very common in the tales of Russian “wonderworking” icons, and you will find it repeated again and again, set at various times and in various places in Russia. Cholera epidemics frequently broke out.
The icon was formerly kept in the Yaroslavl Art Museum, but since its restoration it has been transferred to the Kirillo-Afanasievskiy Monastery.
Regarding Minin and the militia, there is a rather amazing and very large painting by Konstantin Makovskiy (1839-1915) depicting Kuzma Minin’s appeal to the public in Nizhny Novgorod for funds to form his army. It shows an immense crowd of people flocking to him with chests and bags of money and gold and silver objects and jewelry to donate to the cause. It is said that the painting took six years to complete, and was carefully researched for accurate detail. It is noted as the largest easel painting in Russia.
As readers here already know, in Eastern Orthodoxy there is the concept of the so-called “wonderworking icon” — an icon that is believed to be able to work miracles, usually of healing or curing disease or removing human problems or suffering in some way. Such icons may be looked to for anything from victory in a battle to the healing of physical ailments to release from alcoholism and mental problems. A modern attitude among some more liberal Eastern Orthodox theologians is that such icons work “miracles” because of the faith of the believer — not because of the icon itself. The Tibetan Buddhists have a relevant saying: that “even a dog’s tooth when venerated will emit light.” So the significant factor here is considered to be belief, and as science has shown, belief can have very impressive and sometimes amazing effects on psychosomatic illness. The traditional attitude, however, is that certain icons are of themselves “power objects” that cause miracles to occur around them. And as we have seen in past postings, such icons were considered to behave like persons, having a will of their own, deciding where they wanted to be, and even being able to move about and fly through the air, or even to bleed when cut.
Theoretically, any icon might become “wonderworking,” but in reality only certain icons have gained that reputation, usually because of reports of visions and healings associated with an image.
The most famous and numerous “wonderworking” icons are those of Mary. That is not surprising, given Mary’s reputation in Eastern Orthodox belief as the chief intercessor with God on behalf of humans. Second in the hierarchy of the pantheon of saints is Nicholas, who was considered so important in Russia that peasants believed when God died, Nicholas would take over as ruler of the universe. Third and just below Nicholas is the grouchy and temperamental Old Testament prophet Elijah.
The Russian Orthodox calendar is filled with commemorations of supposed “wonderworking” icons of Mary, given that there are hundreds of them, and those in the calendar are only those having “official” approval. There are other lesser-known icons that may be venerated only regionally or locally as “wonderworking.”
There is, however, a scattering of other and non-Marian icons considered to be wonderworking. And this belief in miraculous icons is not at all a thing of the past in Russia. Just this year (2021) the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate added two new supposedly “wonderworking” icons to the Church calendar — one of Mary, a copy of the type known as “Deliverance of the Suffering from Distress” (Ot Byed Strazhdushchikh), and an old one of the “Not Made by Hands” type Jesus that “appeared” in Yaroslavl in 1612, and is now kept in the Savior-Athanasiev Monastery.
But let’s return to the second in the hierarchy — the very widely-venerated St. Nicholas of Myra. Here is an example painted around the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century. It has a very ornate gilded and enameled cover (riza or oklad):
I will not go into the explanation of the image and its inscriptions, because you will find all that in great detail in the archives (just use “Nicholas” as your search term). What I want to talk about today is a “spinoff” icon of this image that has become famous on its own as a “wonderworking” icon of Nicholas. It is called the НИКОЛО-ТЕРЕБЕНСКАЯ/NIKOLO-TEREBINSKAYA icon after the monastery where it is found — the Nikolo-Terebinskiy Monastery, originally built at the village of Terebeni (later Truzhenik) in Tver Oblast, generally referred to as the Nikolo-Terebinskaya Pustuin’ (пустынь). A pustuin’ is literally a desert, but the word is applied in Russian Orthodoxy to monastic establishments because originally Christian monasticism developed in the 4th century in the Thebaid Desert of Egypt.
It happens that the Nikolo-Terebinskiy Monastery claims three “wonderworking” icons. The better known is the type of Marian icon known as the Terebinskaya, which I discussed in this earlier posting:
And the second is of course today’s icon: The Nikolo-Terebinskaya icon of Nicholas. The third and least known is an icon of the Unmercenary Physician Panteleimon.
Even though the Nikolo-Terebinskaya icon of Nicholas is a copy of the very common type shown above, copies of the secondary type are nonetheless easy to distinguish because they have six scenes at the sides; three at left and three at right. They illustrate supposed “miracles” for which icon is responsible.
Here is a typical example of the type:
The inscription at the base identifies it as “Copy of the wonderworking icon of Bishop and Wonderworker Nicholas kept at the Nikolo-Terebinsk Pustuin’ : Appeared in the Year 1492”
Here is an engraving of the type:
Though the explanatory inscriptions accompanying the six side depictions vary slightly from example to example, the meaning is essentially the same. They show:
The wonderworking image of Holy Nicholas appears amid five birches at the water well; 1492.
The city of Bezhetsk is freed from a terrible plague by the bringing of the wonderworking image; 1654.
Hieromonk Gerasim, praying before the wonderworking image, receives his sight. 1731.
The bringing of the wonderworking icon into a house heals an illness.
A mayor is punished for preventing people praying to the miraculous image. 1706
A priest is punished for disrespecting the miraculous image. 1709
The punishments mentioned are of course considered supernatural retribution for misbehavior.
Here is the standard story of the origin of the icon:
In 1492 a landowner in the region named Mikhail Obudkov/Obutkov wanted to build a church dedicated to St. Nicholas in the village of Terebeni, which he owned. He had already laid the foundations and brought his icon of St. Nicholas there. However something strange happened. The icon kept disappearing, and re-appearing in a different place, amid five birch trees at a water well. So because the icon had clearly made its will known, Obudkov moved the building site to the well and had a wooden church constructed there, and placed the icon of Nicholas in it.
Later the church was destroyed by the Poles. For a while, a monk named Onuphriy took up residence there, but eventually left. But in 1611 two more monks named Avraamiy and Artemiy came and settled on the site. When they began clearing a way debris to build a new church on the ruins of the old, they uncovered the icon of St. Nicholas that Obudkov had placed there so many years before. And as these tales go, the icon was unharmed from all its years of burial in the ruins. Of course that story of a “miraculous” icon soon spread around the region, and pilgrims with their donations began to arrive to see the icon and pray before it, and the monastery the two monks founded soon became very wealthy through the story of their “wonderworking” icon of Nicholas. So as you see, aside from other factors there is a reason why there are so many “wonderworking” icons. They are cash cows for the place where they are kept. It is the same with the history of the famous relics in the Roman Catholic regions of western Europe, only there it is usually relics of saints instead of icons.
Now if you recall my previous posting on the Ilya Repin painting of the procession of the Kursk Root icon found here —
— you will remember the term крестный ход/krestnuiy khod — literally “Cross Procession” — used for a religious procession of people bearing one or more icons. The Nikolo-Terebinskaya icon was part of one such noted Krestnuiy khod.
In one of the side panels of the icon is a scene depicting the bringing of the icon from the Terebinsk Monastery to the town of Bezhetsk. The reason was that as has happened so often in Russian history, there was a terrible plague that struck the towns and villages in the Bezhetsk region in the summer of 1654. In those pre-scientific days, plagues and epidemics were attributed to the “sins of the people,” so the obvious thing to counteract that, it was thought, was a supposedly miracle-working icon. So the icon of Nicholas was brought from the Terebinsk Monastery to Bezhetsk, and when the plague began to abate the credit was of course given to the icon. Because of that, the custom began of having an annual krestnuiy khod from the monastery to Bezhetsk.
In Tsarist times it was a very grand procession with crowds of people. It began with the bringing of the icon not by land, but on a large boat on the Mogila River. Stops would be made at settlements here and there. When the boat reached Bezhetsk, the banks of the river were crowded with huge numbers of devotees, with many wading or swimming into the water. The bells in the city all rang wildly, and a procession came from the church with singing and banners to meet the icon. The icon remained in the city for several days, during which it made “visits” to the houses of rich and poor, and of course religious servces were performed in the cathedral. After eight days in Bezhetsk, the icon was returned to the boat and additional stops were made at settlements on the trip back to the monastery. The whole process of the procession to the city and back to the monastery lasted from July 2nd to July 25th.
There was an interval of some half a century when the procession was not performed during the communist period, but in 1995 it was begun again, first by land, and in later years once more by water. The annual procession is referred to as Большой Бежецкий Крестный ход/Bol’shoy Bezhetskiy Krestnuiy Khod — “The Great Bezhetsk Religious Procession.”
Of course the procession is now not so grand as it was in Tsarist times, but if you would like to take a look at the modern version, here is a video link. You will see both the Terebinskaya icon type of Mary carried in the procession, as well as the Nikolo-Terebinskaya icon of Nicholas. Note the proportionately very large numbers of women compared to the few men, which is typical of religious events in Russian Orthodoxy.
There are several religious superstitions associated with the Nikolo-Terebinsk Monastery — rumors of frescos that miraculously appeared in recent years on the ceiling of the church (due of course to natural causes — they were already there but just became more obvious), and a stone nearby with what some identify as the footprint of Jesus or of Mary — and supposedly if you touch it, it will cause bad weather. Russian Orthodoxy has a centuries long history of deep and varied superstitions.