THE VASILKOVSKAYA ICON

In a previous posting, I discussed how to distinguish icons of Mary that depict several swords at her breast, and mentioned one single-sword type.

https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2015/07/30/swords-and-softening-hearts-a-confusing-group-of-icons/

Today we will look at another Mary-sword icon, but again this time with only one sword.

The icon is called the Vasilkovskaya (Васильковская).  Here is an example in the manner characteristic of the late 19th-early 20th century:

Let’s look at the title inscription at the base:


It reads:  ВАСИЛЬКОВСКАЯ ИКОНА Б[О]ЖИЙ М[А]Т[Е]РИ
  VASIL’KOVSKAYA IKONA BOZHIY MATERI
[The] VASILKOVSKAYA ICON [of the] MOTHER OF GOD

Note that in English we have to reverse the last two words, which literally are Bozhiy Materi — “God-of Mother.”

Now as we know, most of these Marian icons have origin stories.  Here is that of the Vasilkovskaya:

In the 15th century, there was a town called Vasilkovo (Васильково/Wasilków) a few miles from what is now Bialystok in northeastern Poland.  At that time, a blind fellow named Vasily was wandering abandoned through the thick forests of the vicinity, hungry and worn out.  He fell to the ground and went to sleep on a hill high above a river, and as he slept, he dreamed.

In his dream, Mary came to him and told him to brush aside the leaves on the ground, dig into the sand, and there he would find water that would heal him if he washed his eyes with it.

He did as he was told, found the hidden water, washed his eyes with it, and according to the legend, his sight was restored (compare this with the Catholic tale of Bernadette and Lourdes).  As his sight came back, he saw before him an icon of Mary as he had seen her in his dream vision.  It was on canvas rather than wood.

Vasiliy dug out a well there and put a protective shelter over it, and in it he placed the newly-appeared icon of Mary.

The story continues by relating that in the early 18th century, a different Vasiliy (possibly Vasily Samotyją Lenczewskim) — who was involved with a paper factory — had lost his sight, but was told in a dream that he would be healed by praying before the icon at the spring.  He followed the instructions of his dream vision, and he too was supposedly healed.  He built a wooden chapel over the site in 1719.  The place was called  Svyataya Voda (Святая вода) — “Holy  Water.”  In 1864 the wooden church was replaced with a stone church.  The icon was venerated both by Uniates and by Russian Orthodox.

Now it is rather obvious that this icon is akin to the many Mater Dolorosa (“Sorrowful Mother”) images popular in the Catholic West.  Variants of the image depicting Mary with a single sword in her breast appear under various titles, including Симеоново проречение — Simeonovo Prorechenie — the “Prediction/Prophecy of Simeon” and И Тебе Самой душу пройдет оружие — I tebe Samoy dushu proidet oruzhie — ” A sword shall pierce through your own soul also.”  These titles, as we have seen in an earlier posting, may also be found on icons of Mary with multiple swords.

There is also a more complex icon type featuring Mary with a single sword, standing by the crucifixion of Jesus (who may or may not be on the cross), and accompanied by the various symbols of the Passion.  This type is generally given the title Плач при Кресте — Plach pri Kreste — “Weeping at the Cross.”  It too obviously derives from the “Prophecy of Simeon” in Luke 2:35.

Be aware, however, that similar icons may be found minus the sword, as in this example, titled simply Плачь Пресвятыя Богородицы — Plach Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — “[The] Weeping of the Most Holy Mother of God.”

For the sake of completeness, I should add that there is a little-known icon type called the Strastnaya Lipetskaya (Страстная Липецкая), which depicts Mary much as she is shown in the “Weeping at the Cross” type — often also with the instruments of the Passion.  But in this case the distinguishing features of the type are first, that the single sword is on the cross to the right of and behind Mary, rather than shown against her breast; and second, she holds a white cloth in her hand.

Tradition relates that the “Lipetsk-Passion” icon was kept in the Nativity of Christ Cathedral in the city of Lipetsk, in what was then Tambov Province.  In 1831 the icon is said to have broken a plague of cholera that had spread in the region.