A COMBINATION OF OLD MOTIFS

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:

Tashlinskaya

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:

(Courtesy of Maryhill Museum)

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. 

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