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.
Here is Minin at the center of it all: