When students of icons first begin their studies, they find something confusing among icons of Mary — images that look very much the same but have different titles.

The reason for this is that when an icon becomes famous as a supposed “wonderworking” (chudotvornaya) image, many copies are made of it in an attempt to psychologically share the power of the image. For the most part, these copies are not considered wonderworking in themselves. But occasionally one of these copies will suddenly be said to show miracle-working properties too, and if this is taken seriously and the icon gets a reputation for being miraculous, it will be given its own name. In some cases this is the title of the original icon plus the name of the new icon (usually taken from its place of its “appearance” or circumstances surrounding its “appearance)”.

You will recall that in speaking of Marian icons, the “appearance” (yavlenie) of an icon is the time when it first manifests itself as (supposedly) wonderworking. The icon may have been known earlier or stored in a church for a long time, but it is only when it first begins to show itself as miracle-working that it is considered to have made its “appearance.”

So, in the case of “twin” icons — that is, the original miracle-working icon and its later miracle-working duplicate, each will have a different date of “appearance,” and each will have a slightly different name.

To see how this works, let’s look at the very well-known Marian icon type called the “Smolensk” (Smolenskaya/Smolenskia) image:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen : http://www.russianicons.net)
(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen : http://www.russianicons.net)

The original Smolensk image is said to have been brought from Byzantium to Chernigov at the time when the Greek Princess Anna married Vsevolod of Chernigov in the year 1046. It was given to the Smolensk Cathedral in 1101. Because it is one of a number of icons that were attributed (falsely) to St. Luke, it was considered wonderworking very early. It was a “palladium” icon invoked for victory at the Battle of Borodino in 1812, during the Napoleonic invasion. It ranks among the highest of Russian “wonderworking” icons, so countless copies of it have been made over the years and are still being made.

In this particular copy, you will notice that the background is not painted, but is ivory-white. There are two main reasons for icons having such a background: first, in genuinely quite old icons, one finds such an “ivory” background because it was originally gold-leafed. Due to countless dustings and wipings over the decades, the soft gold was gradually worn away by the wiping cloth, revealing the bare gesso beneath. The other reason an icon may have an ivory background is that in the 18th and 19th century, a very big market developed for old icons painted before the Church Reforms of the Patriarch Nikon in the 17th century. This market catered to the Old Believers, who after the resulting schism, considered icons of the State Orthodox Church heretical. There are always humans ready to make a fast ruble, so the practice of faking old, pre-Nikonian icons to sell to the Old Believers began. To make some of these icons look old, the fakers would imitate the aged ivory backgrounds of the authentic icons by leaving the backgrounds bare and artificially aging them (this is one good reason to buy from reliable and informed dealers, if authenticity is a concern).

But back to the subject of “twin” icons. Let’s look at this Smolensk-type “twin.”

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: http://www.russianicons.net/)
(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: http://www.russianicons.net/)

It is a copy of a “Smolensk” copy that was kept in the Church of St. Georgiy (George) in the town of Vuidropusk ( Выдропуск) in the 15th century. Its origin story relates that the church caught fire and burned down. But in the ashes and rubble of the fire, the “Smolensk” copy was found lying face down, and when it was turned over it was seen to be still in good condition, with only some scorching on the reverse side. This was considered a miraculous event (people seldom looked for rational explanations in those days), and so the icon “appeared” as a result of the fire.

In the 15th century the people of Novgorod, the great trading city in the north of Russia, were very involved in business with western Europe. Partly as a result of this, they wanted to become more politically and economically connected with the “Latins,” that is, with the Roman Catholics of the West. This was not at all to the liking of the Russian Great Prince Ivan III, who to prevent it, invaded Novgorod in 1471. Now the village of Vuidropusk, where the “Smolensk” copy was kept, was in the Novgorod region. Among the invaders was a boyar from a Murom family, and he came to the Church of St. George in Vuidropusk and, finding the icon, took it back with him to Murom, where it was placed in the Cathedral of Nicholas the Wonderworker.

Some time later, the boyar rudely insisted that the priest hold a prayer service before the icon. There was a reading of these words from the Gospel of Luke, 1:56:

And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

Then as the singers began to sing Слава Тебе, Господи, слава Тебе (“Glory to you, O Lord, Glory to you”), there came suddenly a great whirlwind; thunder growled, the church shook, and its roof opened up. The icon of Mary rose up and vanished from the church. At that same time of day, a peasant named Flor was out sowing flax in the fields near the village of Vuidropusk. It was a clear and sunny weather, but suddenly he was surprised to see a powerful whirlwind passing through the fields and going in the direction of the village church. When he finished his work at the end of the day, he told the villagers about it.

The Church of St. George, because of the invasion, was in a poor state, with only the sexton going there each evening to burn incense before the icons. When he went to the church that evening, he found the “Smolensk” image copy that had been stolen by the boyar lying face down on the altar. Of course, as these stories go, the boyar was very sorry for having taken the icon, and he resigned from the military and went on a pilgrimage to Vuidropusk in shabby clothing, in penance for his evil deed. And of course the point of the story is that, as in the quote from the Gospel, Mary in her icon “returned to her own house,” the Church of St. George in Vuidropusk. It all sounds very medieval, but remember that Russia in these days was largely illiterate, and it was easy for fantastic stories to spread (as they still do, even in a more literate Russia).

There is more to the story of this image, but that will give you a good picture of the fanciful origin stories of such icons.

Now, as to the difference in titles for such images, here is how it works:

The original Smolensk image, because it depicts Mary holding the Christ Child on one arm while gesturing toward him with the other hand, is classified under the generic title “Hodigitria.” This is a Greek word meaning “Way-Shower,” so Mary is gesturing toward Jesus, “The Way.”

There are, however, many icons of the Hodigitria form, so an individual “miracle-working” icon is given its own name, as in the case of the “Smolensk” image of Mary. A copy of such a secondary image that then manages to become known as also “miracle-working,” is then given its own title, often combined with the title of the “miracle-working” original. For example, the Vuidropusk copy of the “Smolensk” image is then called the Smolenskaya-Vuidropusskaya, including both names. A painter may leave out the “Smolensk” part and title the icon only by its individual name, “Vuidropusskaya,” as on the icon pictured here (actually it is written Vuidropusskiya, using the Church Slavic ending; -skaya is the Russian ending). In full, the title on this icon is Obraz Vuidropuskiya Bogoroditsui — “Image of the Vuidropusk Birthgiver of God”

vuidropusk title

So, in listings of presumed “wonderworking” Marian icons, one often finds copies or versions of the Hodigitria type, such as the “Smolensk” image, listed thus:

Hodigitria Smolenskaya
Hodigitria Smolenskaya Vuidropusskaya.

Again, in such cases, the actual written name on the icon may be either “Smolenskaya Vuidropusskaya,” or as in today’s example, simply “Vuidropusskaya.”

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