April 6, 2020

St. Mary of Egypt in Russian Art

In Western European art, there are practically no images of Mary of Egypt, since most artists directed their energy to the image of Mary Magdalene on the same subjects and often confused the two Saints. The reverse situation took place in Eastern icon painting in that while the image of Mary Magdalene are practically not developed, Mary of Egypt (as a hermit in rags) was widely depicted, both alone, with scenes from her life, and together with other saints.

In Russian icon painting from the middle to the second half of the 17th century patronal icons with the images of Saints Mary of Egypt and Alexis the Man of God — the heavenly patrons of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich and his first wife Maria Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya (1624–1669) — became widespread. Maria Ilyinichna considered Mary of Egypt to be her heavenly patroness, and the veneration of St. Mary became more widespread in Russia during her life. The only Church of Saint Mary of Egypt in Moscow in the 17th century was the church at Sretensky Monastery.

Since 1648, the celebration of April 1 in honor of St. Mary at the Sretensky Monastery took on the character of a state holiday, which the boyars and metropolitans came to, and the patriarch came with a ceremonial exit from the Kremlin. In 1668, Patriarch Joasaph II congratulated the empress at the Sretensky Monastery: “On March 31st, the Most Holy Patriarch went to the Stretensky Monastery, on Ustretenka, for Vespers for the feast of St. Mary of Egypt and for the birthday of the Empress Tsaritsa and Grand Duchess Maria Ilyinichna, and at the monastery and walking the road, 3 rubles were distributed to the poor." In 1651-1652, Alexei Mikhailovich and Maria Ilyinichna placed the icon of Saints Alexis the Man of God and Mary of Egypt in the Sretensky Monastery for the iconostasis of the cathedral. The so-called Mariinsky Bell, made for the Church of Saint Mary of Egypt in 1668, is also associated with Tsarina Maria Ilyinichna. The ceremonial veneration of St. Mary of Egypt in the Sretensky Monastery as the patroness of the royal family of Romanov-Miloslavsky continued even after the death of Maria Ilyinichna (in 1669) until the death of Tsar Ivan Alekseevich on January 29, 1696.

In 1930, the Church of Saint Mary of Egypt, one of the oldest in Moscow, was demolished.