Our Lady of Kazan
Feastday: July 24 and November
Our Lady of Kazan, also
called Theotokos of Kazan (Russian: Казанская Богоматерь tr. Kazanskaya
Bogomater'), was a holy icon of the highest stature within the Russian Orthodox
Church, representing the Virgin Mary as the protector and patroness of the city
of Kazan, and a palladium of all of Russia, known as the Holy Protectress of
According to legend, the icon was originally acquired from Constantinople, lost
in 1438, and miraculously recovered in pristine state over 140 years later in
1579. Two major cathedrals, the Kazan Cathedral, Moscow, and the Kazan Cathedral,
St. Petersburg, are consecrated to Our Lady of Kazan, and they display copies of
the icon, as do numerous churches throughout the land. The original icon in
Kazan was stolen, and likely destroyed, in 1904.
The "Fátima image" is a 16th-century copy of the icon, or possibly the
16th-century original, stolen from St. Petersburg in 1917 and purchased by F. A.
Mitchell-Hedges in 1953. It was housed in Fátima, Portugal from 1970 to 1993,
then in the study of Pope St. John Paul II in the Vatican from 1993 to 2004,
when it was returned to Kazan, where it is now kept in the Kazan Monastery of
the Theotokos. Copies of the image are also venerated in the Roman Catholic
Feast days of Our Lady of Kazan are 21 July, and 4 November (which is also the
Russian Day of National Unity).
According to tradition, the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was brought to
Russia from Constantinople in the 13th century. After the establishment of the
Khanate of Kazan (c. 1438) the icon disappeared from the historical record for
more than a century.
Metropolitan Hermogenes' chronicle, written at the request of Tsar Feodor in
1595, describes the recovery of the icon. According to this account, after a
fire destroyed Kazan in 1579, the Virgin appeared to a 10-year-old girl, Matrona,
revealing the location where the icon lay hidden. The girl told the archbishop
about the dream but she was not taken seriously. However, on 8 July 1579, after
two repetitions of the dream, the girl and her mother recovered the icon on
their own, buried under a destroyed house where it had been hidden to save it
from the Tatars.
Other churches were built in honour of the revelation of the Virgin of Kazan,
and copies of the image were displayed at the Kazan Cathedral of Moscow (constructed
in the early 17th century), at Yaroslavl, and at St. Petersburg.
Russian military commanders, Dmitry Pozharsky (17th century) and Mikhail Kutuzov
(19th century) credited invocation of the Virgin Mary through the icon with
helping the country to repel the Polish invasion of 1612, the Swedish invasion
of 1709, and Napoleon's invasion of 1812. The Kazan icon achieved immense
popularity, and there were nine or ten separate miracle-attributed copies of the
icon around Russia.
On the night of June 29, 1904, the icon was stolen from the Kazan Convent of the
Theotokos (ru) in Kazan where it had been kept for centuries (the building was
later blown up by the communist authorities. Thieves
apparently coveted the icon's gold frame, which was ornamented with many
valuable jewels. Several years later, Russian police apprehended the thieves and
recovered the frame. The thieves originally declared that the icon itself had
been cut to pieces and burnt, although one of them eventually confessed that it
was housed in a monastery in the wilds of Siberia. This one, however, was
believed to be a fake; and the Russian police refused to investigate, using the
logic that it would be very unlucky to venerate a fake icon as though it were
authentic.[ The Orthodox Church interpreted the disappearance of the icon as a
sign of tragedies that would plague Russia after the image of the Holy
Protectress of Russia had been lost. Indeed, the Russian peasantry was wont to
credit all the evils of the Revolution of 1905, as well as Russia's defeat in
the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, to the desecration of her image.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was speculation that the original
icon was in fact preserved in St. Petersburg. Reportedly, an icon of Our Lady of
Kazan was used in processions around Leningrad fortifications during the Siege
of Leningrad (1941-1944) during World War II.
Another theory proposed that the Bolsheviks had sold the image abroad, although
the Russian Orthodox Church did not accept such theories. The history of the
stolen icon between 1917 and 1953 is unknown. In 1953 Frederick Mitchell-Hedges
purchased an icon from Arthur Hillman. Although the status of the icon as the
original Kazan icon remained disputed, Cyril G.E. Bunt concluded "that it is the
work of a great icon painter of the 16th century [...] the pigments and the wood
of the panel are perfectly preserved as exhaustive X-ray tests have proved, and
have mellowed with age", suggesting that while it was a copy of the original
icon, it was nevertheless the original icon carried by Pozharski in 1612. It was
exhibited at the World Trade Fair in New York in 1964-1965. On 13 September
1965, members of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fátima spent the night in
adoration of the icon in the pavilion in New York. The Blue Army eventually
bought the icon from Anna Mitchell-Hedges for USD $125,000 in January 1970, and
the icon was enshrined in Fátima, Portugal.
In 1993 the icon from Fátima was given to Pope St. John Paul II, who took it to
the Vatican and had it installed in his study, where he venerated it for eleven
years. In his own words, "it has found a home with me and has accompanied my
daily service to the Church with its motherly gaze". St. John Paul II wished
to visit Moscow or Kazan to personally return the icon to the Russian Orthodox
Church. When the Moscow Patriarchate rejected this plan, the Pope presented the
icon to the Russian Church unconditionally in August 2004. On August 26,
2004, it was exhibited for veneration on the altar of St. Peter's Basilica and
then delivered to Moscow. On the next feast day of the holy icon, July 21, 2005,
Patriarch Alexius II and Mintimer Shaymiev, the President of Tatarstan, placed
it in the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin (ru).
The icon is enshrined in the Cathedral of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, part
of the erstwhile Convent of the Theotokos (re-established as a monastery in
2005), on the site where the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was found, and
plans are underway to make the monastery's other buildings into an international
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