You remember (don’t you?) the word mokraya — as in the popular name for a certain Russian icon type of Jesus — the Spas Mokraya Boroda/Brada — The “Wet-bearded Savior,” discussed in a previous posting here.
And perhaps you also remember from a previous posting Илья Мокрый/Il’ya Mokruiy — “Wet Elijah,” the aspect of the Prophet Elijah as a weather god to whom prayers were made for rain.
Today we will look at another “wet” icon — this time an icon of Nikola/Nikola as Никола Мокрый/Nikola Mokruiy — “Wet Nicholas.”
The distinctive element in this otherwise very common form of St. Nicholas is the child he holds with his left hand. That child comes from a story you already know from a past posting here about one of the miracles of Nicholas from tradition: it is his saving of the child in the Dniepr/Dnieper River.
Supposedly, the child was out in a boat with his parents on the Dniepr, not far from Kyiv. The parents were going from Kyiv to Vyshhorod, just north of Kyiv, to venerate the relics of Saints Borys/Boris and Hlib/Gleb. This supposedly happened sometime between 1087 and 1091. On the river trip, the mother fell asleep as she held the child, and when she did so, the child fell overboard and disappeared beneath the water. The waking mother was beside herself with anguish, and the distraught father prayed to St. Nicholas. The next morning the sacristan at the Church of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv heard a child crying in the choir loft, and on searching, the child that had been lost and drowned in the Dnieper was found lying soaked with river water and crying beneath an icon of St. Nicholas. So because of the “soggy child” saved by Nicholas, this icon type was created, depicting him holding the child. And so it is known as “Wet Nicholas.”
The original icon of “Wet Nicholas” — considered to be “miracle-working” — was lost during the Mongol raids, but a copy was made. One could legitimately ask if the original icon was “miracle-working,” how it could be lost — but that is the way these things go, and it is often the case that to paraphrase the New Testament, “they saved others but cannot save themselves.” But of course these tales of miracle-working icons are largely fiction, created to enhance the prestige of certain icons.
Here is a modern painting of the traditional finding of the “soggy child” beneath an icon of St. Nicholas.