Our Lady of Vladimir

April 2015


Anonymous, Our Lady of Vladimir, the first third of the twelfth century, tempera on panel, 104x69 cm, Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery


The story of this icon is very fascinating, one of the most famous and worshipped  throughout the Christian East. It was painted in Constantinople and  donated by the Patriarch of Constantinople to the Grand Duke of Kiev who placed it in Mezhyhirya Monastery where it remained until 1155, when the son of the Grand Duke took it into the city of Vladimir. According to the tradition, the horses carrying the icon stopped near the town and refused to go on. The people interpreted the episode as a sign that the Theotokos wanted to stay in Vladimir. To accommodate the image, the great Cathedral of the Dormition was built.


In 1395, during the invasion of Tamerlane, the icon was brought to Moscow. In the place where the people and the prince "met" the Theotokos, the Sretensky Monastery was built. Vasily I of Moscow spent a whole night in the monastery, weeping and praying over the image; the day after the Mongol army retreated. Muscovites refused to return the icon to Vladimir, and set it in the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin. After the communist revolution of 1917, the icon was removed from the tabernacle of the cathedral, restored and later placed in the museum where it is still preserved. In December 1941, against the advance of the German army, Stalin gave orders to put the icon on a plane that flew over the capital several times. After a few days, the German army began to retreat.


A sense of "tenderness" (in Greek "Eleousa") is highlighted by some elements: the two faces of Mary and Jesus, who hold each other with a sweet expression, the arms of the boy, whose right hand grasps his Mother, almost clinging to her and not wanting to leave, and whose left surrounds the neck of the Virgin. The beauty of the gown of Mary, worthy of a Byzantine empress, marks the kingship; the three stars on the mantle (the one we see on the left shoulder and one on the head, it is missing - because covered by little Jesus - the one on the right shoulder) mean the virginity of Mary "before", "during" and "after" the childbirth.

Today, bright and beautiful, the glorious city of Moscow

welcomes as aurora your miraculous icon, o Sovereign.

To it and we leap and supplicants invoke thee so:

"O wonderful Queen, Mother of God, pray Christ, our God who took flesh in you,

to keep this city and all cities and Christian regions free from the snares of the enemy,

and to save, as the Merciful, our souls "

(Invocation of the main troparion from the office of the feast of Our Lady of Vladimir)


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