November 2, 2020

Synaxis of the Shuiu-Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God


In the summer of 1654, one of the worst plague epidemics in history spread from Moscow to almost the entire central part of Russia. In this deadly time, a parishioner expressed a proposal before the entire congregation of the Resurrection Church in Shuiu to commission an icon of the Mother of God to deliver them from this deadly plague. Trusting in the mercy of God and the intercession of the Mother of God, the parishioners of the Resurrection Church commissioned a certain pious monk, Gerasim Tikhonovich Ikonnikov, to paint the icon of the Smolensk Mother of God, an icon long attributed with being a rescuer of the Russian people from enemies and misfortune. The icon painter told them: “I promise with joy to fulfill your commission, if only the Most Holy Lady Theotokos would help me.” And without delaying the time, he began to paint the icon.

The parishioners spent the whole week in prayer and fasting while the image was being painted, keeping vigil daily. When the icon was finished, the priest and the people took it to the church from the iconographer's home. After the icon was placed in the church, to the left of the Royal Doors of the iconostasis, a bright glow emanated from it. As much as they could, parishioners brought money to decorate it. For several days whole families came to each service, where they prayed to rid the city of the plague epidemic. From that time the pestilence began to ease, at first in the area of the Resurrection Church, and then also in all the city.

According to the local historian V. A. Borisov, as a result of the epidemic, almost half of the city's population died, including Gerasim with his family. The inscription in the chapel, built in 1655 in memory of the epidemic, indicates that it continued in Shuiu from September 1 to October 12, 1654.

The iconographic feature of the Shuiu icon, which distinguishes it from other icons of the Hodegetria, is the characteristic position of the arms and legs of the Divine Infant: the foot of the right leg is on the knee of the left, and He supports His heel with His left hand. In the right hand of Christ is a rolled-up scroll. With her right hand, the Mother of God supports the left leg of the Child.

According to legend, the unusual iconography is explained as follows: several times, when the icon painter tried to make an image of the Mother of God of Smolensk according to the icon-painting original, the position of the hands and feet of the infant Christ was miraculously changed. Not daring to continue to correct what he saw, he considered it a miracle and a clear manifestation of the Providence of God, and reported the incident to the authorities and the townspeople. The people were amazed and frightened by such a miracle, and glorified God with reverence. The icon painter completed the icon as it was.

Despite the miraculous origin of the new icon, its iconography existed much earlier than 1654. It has been known in Russia since the 15th-16th centuries. The name of the Shuiu-Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, which appeared in the middle of the 17th century, is now transferred to any icons of this version, including those that were created before the painting of the Shuiu icon itself in 1654.

Lithograph of the icon of the Shuiu-Smolensk Mother of God from the book of P.I.Gundobin in 1862. Possibly depicts the original of 1654 from Shuiu.
After these events, the first miracle of the icon took place on Bright Tuesday, April 16, 1666. It happened for the orphan Jacob possessed by an unclean spirit. According to him, he became possessed after he found a handkerchief with a roll of unleavened bread on the road, which he immediately ate. It was as if the boy was damaged by this, and only after praying in front of the Shuiu-Smolensk icon in the temple, he received healing in front of many people. Soon the news of the first miracle spread throughout Shuiu and the surrounding area, and people were drawn to the icon in the Resurrection Church. Miracles were recorded and different lists of descriptions mention 40 to 85 miracles that began in 1666. Miracles were healings from eye diseases, mental disorders, and other ailments. The largest number of healings was recorded on July 28, 1666 (the day of the celebration of the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God) and on the next day.

By decree of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich on July 21, 1667 and the blessing of Patriarch Joasaph, a commission was sent to Shuiu to establish the authenticity of the numerous miracles being reported, which by then numbered 103. Most of the miracles were confirmed as described, and the icon was named "Shuiu-Smolensk". Since that time, the icon has been officially revered as miraculous. Since the 17th century, many copies of the icon have been created, some of which are also famous for miracles.

On the site of the wooden Church of the Resurrection, a stone church was built in 1667, which became a cathedral (according to some sources, at the same time; according to others, in 1690), and the icon became the main shrine of the cathedral and the city.

Healings from the icon continued to occur in the 18th century, albeit in smaller quantities. The Resurrection Cathedral was burned several times, but the icon remained intact. During the plague epidemic in 1771 in the village of Pavlov, a copy of the Shuiu icon was created. After the procession with it around the village, as the legend says, the plague retreated from Pavlov. By 1798-1799, a new stone Resurrection Cathedral was completed and consecrated. The icon was in the main chapel consecrated in her honor. The icon's intercession is credited with delivering Shuiu from cholera epidemics in 1831 and 1848. It is known that in 1837 the future Emperor Alexander II visited Shuiu and venerated the icon.

Resurrection Cathedral of 1798/99 in Shuiu. Photo from 1905.
In early 1922, the Soviet government initiated a campaign to confiscate church valuables. According to the testimony of the chairman of the county commission for the confiscation of church valuables, A.N. Vitsin, on March 6, the commission found the rector of the cathedral, Archpriest Pavel Svetozarov, at work on removing a simple silver covering from the icon and replacing it with a pearl covering set with diamonds. When asked by the commission about the reason for such actions, the priest “was embarrassed and gave a confused answer”. Apparently, Svetozarov wanted to show that the solemn covering and the icon are an integral piece of art and thus protect it from being removed. The commission's next visit to the cathedral was scheduled for March 15. On this day, the special forces used weapons against the protesting believers who had gathered near the cathedral, as a result of which several civilians were killed and wounded, and the authorities were also wounded. These events became known as the Shuiu affair and attracted the attention of the top leadership of the RSFSR. On March 17, Svetozarov was arrested, and on March 23, the property of the cathedral was seized. On May 10, Svetozarov, the Palekh priest John Rozhdestvensky, and the layman (former Bolshevik) PI Yazykov, who participated in the Shuiu unrest, were shot, and several people were sent to prison. After these events, the icon continued to remain in the cathedral, but the precious covering was removed from it.

In 1922, the artistic significance of two icons of the Shuiu-Smolensk Mother of God of the 17th and 18th centuries from the Resurrection Cathedral was noted by IE Grabar. In 1924, the Shuiu priest Nikolai Milovsky composed a separate service for the icon.

In 1935, the inspector for museums in the Ivanovo industrial region, whose name was not preserved in the documents, after visiting Shuiu, invited the Committee for the Protection of Monuments to pay attention to Shuiu's monuments of art. The Committee, having received the approval of the Tretyakov Gallery Directorate, took under protection, among other things, the Shuiu-Smolensk Icon and its 1745 copy. In 1936, the cathedral was given to the renovationists, and on October 2, 1937, by the decision of the regional executive committee, it was officially closed, although in fact the services were held even after the "closure". According to ES Stavrovsky, a local historian from Shuiu, in reality the cathedral was closed only in September 1939. According to some reports, the building was turned into a warehouse. One way or another, further traces of the icon are lost. There is no information about its transfer to any museum. Some believe it was taken abroad; others that it is still kept by one of the locals.

After many years of desolation, in 1990 the divine services in the Resurrection Cathedral were resumed. Now it contains an icon of the 19th century, donated to the temple by Patriarch Alexy II in 1993, and an image by the Palekh deacon Alexander Baranov. On the days of the celebration of the icon, an old copy of it is brought to the cathedral from the Nikolo-Shartom Monastery.

The icon is celebrated on July 28 to commemorate the end of the cholera epidemic in 1831, on November 2 to commemorate the painting of the icon and the beginning of the cessation of the plague epidemic of 1654, and Bright Tuesday in memory the first recorded miracle that occurred from the icon. A procession also takes place on the first Sunday of the Apostle's Fast as well, for unknown reasons.