THE “SOOTHE MY SORROWS” IMAGE

One Marian icon type very popular in the late 18th through early 20th century was known under two different names.  Sometimes it is titled Утоли Моя Печали — Utoli Moya Pechali — “Soothe My Sorrows”; other times it is named Утоли Болезни — Utoli Bolezni — “Soothe the Ills.”  Nonetheless it is the same type.  As an easy identifier, look for the hand of Mary held against the side of her head.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Speaking of which, if you look closely, you will notice that the hand against the side of the head has its fingers in the traditional blessing sign used by and characteristic of the Old Believers.  But it is not uncommon for copies of the icon painted by or for “State Church” believers to change the position of the fingers, thus removing the Old Believer sign from the image.

The painter of the example shown above was not taking any chances.  He titled his rendering the Utoli Bolezni i Pechali  — “Soothe the Ills and Sorrows,” combining both of the usual titles.  He also reversed the image; usually Mary inclines her head to the right, and her son’s head is on the right, facing left.  But this reversal is not uncommon in such types.  It probably originated in a pattern being turned the wrong way.

It is customary for the scroll held by the Christ Child to bear this inscription (or at least its beginning):

Судъ праведенъ судите милость и щедроты творите кождо искреннему своему а вдовицы сира и пришельца и убога не насильствуйте, и злобы брата своего не вспоминайте.

It comes from Zachariah 7:9-10 (or 8-10 in Septuagint numeration).  It begins with “Judge righteous judgment”:

8  And the word of the Lord came to Zacharias, saying,

9 Thus saith the Lord Almighty;
Judge righteous judgment, and deal mercifully and compassionately every one with his brother:
10 and oppress not the widow, or the fatherless, or the stranger, or the poor; and let not one of you remember in his heart the injury of his brother.

The name of the icon is found in the troparion, tone 5, for the canon to this icon type:

Утоли болезни многовоздыхающия души моея, Утолившая всяку слезу от лица земли, Ты бо человеком болезни отгониши и грешным скорби разрушавши; Тебе бо вси стяжахом надежду и утверждение, Пресвятая Мати Дево.

It means:

Soothe the ills of my much-sighing soul, [you who have] wiped away every tear from the face of the earth: for you drive away the sickness of men and quench the suffering of sinners.  We have obtained hope and support in you, most holy virgin Mother.

I already discussed the origin story of this icon in a previous posting, but will repeat it here:

It is said that this icon was brought from Belarus to Moscow by Cossacks in 1640, and was placed in the Church of St. Nicholas in Pupuishev. A commemoration of the icon was established after a noblewoman was said to have been healed of paralysis of the legs by the icon. According to the origin story, Mary appeared to her in a dream and told her to pray before the icon “Soothe My Sorrows,” which was to be found in the St. Nicholas Church in Moscow. The woman journeyed to Moscow and asked for the icon, but it was not discovered until the priest brought some neglected old icons down out of the bell tower, one of which bore the title “Soothe My Sorrows.”  A prayer service (moleben) was held before the image, and supposedly the woman was able to walk out of the church healed. This was on January 24, 1760. A number of other supposed miracles are also attributed to this icon.

If you have been reading this site, you will notice some striking similarities between the origin story of this icon and that of the “Semistrel’naya” Marian image discussed in a previous posting.  In both cases there is:

1.  An afflicted person who has a dream in which a voice says to pray before an icon to be found at a certain church.

2.  The icon is eventually found in the church bell tower.

One becomes accustomed to seeing the same motifs repeated again and again in the origin stories of Marian icons.  This motif of the revelation in a dream of the location of a miracle-working icon — often one that has been forgotten or neglected — is common in the hagiography of Marian icons.  I like to call it the “It came to me in a dream” motif.

 

 

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