March 8, 2021

When Socialist Revolutionaries Tried to Blow Up the Wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God of “the Sign” in 1898

On March 8, 1898, three young men who were atheist Socialist revolutionaries, forerunners of Bolshevism, led by the future inventor and scientist Anatoly Georgievich Ufimtsev (1880-1936), hoped to shake the people’s faith in the Kursk-Root Icon’s wonderworking power, so they decided to destroy it. In the Cathedral of the Sign in the city of Kursk, during a vigil in honor of the Honorable Cross, as the Cross was being processed around the church, they placed a time bomb that was made in Finland next to the Icon as an "offering", but the bomb did not explode at the intended time during the service, instead a devastating explosion at 2 o’clock in the morning shook the Monastery's walls while the church was empty.

Newspaper reports of the time recorded the horrible devastation. The force of the blast shattered the gilded canopy above the Icon. The heavy marble base, with several massive steps, had been jolted out of position and had split into several pieces. A huge metal candlestick which had stood in front of the Icon was blown to the opposite side of the cathedral. A cast iron door near the Icon of the Mother of God was torn from its hinges and was thrown outward where it smashed against a wall and made a deep crack. All the windows in the cathedral, including those in the dome overhead, were shattered. Amid the general devastation, the holy Icon remained in one piece and even the glass within the frame was said by some to be intact. Instead of destroying the Kursk-Root Icon, the anarchists had, on the contrary, become the cause of its greater glorification.

Anatoly Ufimtsev


The explosion did not cause human casualties (as it seemed it was intended), and the material damage turned out to be great, but did not achieve the goal. Two years later, while in prison for another revolutionary incident, Ufimtsev boasted of his "heroism" to the prisoners regarding the Kursk-Root Icon incident. One of his cellmates turned out to be a believer. Outraged, he informed his superiors. During an additional investigation, the culprit admitted that it was he who caused the explosion on behalf of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. But he did not betray his comrades who had committed the act of terrorism with him.

Only in the fall of 1901, students of the Kursk Real School Anatoly Ufimtsev (20 years old) and Leonid Kishkin (21 years old), freelance scribe Vasily Kamenev (22 years old), and a student of the Institute of Railway Engineers, Anatoly Lagutin (21 years old), were arrested for being involved in the explosion in the Cathedral of the Sign. From the testimony of the detainees, it followed that the explosion was carried out at the suggestion of Ufimtsev in order to shake the faith in the revered shrine and draw everyone's attention to this incident. Ufimtsev included three of his comrades for this criminal plot: Kishkin helped him make a bomb, and Kamenev bought a watch for the timer. After making the bomb, Ufimtsev, Kishkin and Lagutin on March 7, during the vigil service, undertook the plot.

In view of the sincere remorse and the frank testimony given by the terrorists, as well as the minor age of Ufimtsev and the youth of the others at the time of the crime, it was decided not to bring the case to court. On December 26, 1901, Tsar Nicholas II ordered to expel the accused to remote regions of the Russian Empire under police supervision: Ufimtsev was sent for five years to the city of Akmolinsk in Northern Kazakhstan, and Kishkin, Kamenev and Lagutin for two years to Eastern Siberia.

The disclosure of this crime and the arrest of the organizers and perpetrators of the destruction attempt on the Icon helped to stop the spread of rumors spread by unbelieving Kurds that the explosion was staged by the monks themselves to attract pilgrims to the Monastery.

After serving his sentence, Ufimtsev returned to Kursk and opened a locksmith's workshop. There he became somewhat of a celebrity whom people visited who openly had the reputation of a revolutionary. After the October Revolution, Ufimtsev immediately joined the Bolsheviks, left for Moscow and enjoyed the patronage of the prominent revolutionary Maxim Gorky. He went on to become a famous inventor with many patents.

The famous writer Leonid Andreyev used "a spectacular explosion plot" for the blasphemous play "Savva". In it, under the name of the revolutionary Savva, he depicted Ufimtsev. Savva persuades a drunkard monk from a monastery to put a "hellish machine" under the Icon for money. He agrees, but at the last minute he gets scared and reports everything to the abbot. The abbot decides to use this circumstance "for the glory of God" and to increase the monastic income. He orders the monk to put the hellish machine at the entrance, and he himself takes out the Miraculous Icon. After the explosion, the abbot secretly places the Icon on it and demonstrates a "miracle".

In 2007, exhibits from the Kunstkamera were brought to Kursk, among which was the heart of one of the Icon's attempted destroyers. Vasily Kamenev was killed by prison guards. Like everyone else, Vasily was detained, and while trying to escape he was shot. The bullet struck his heart, and went right through. “Even the bullet did not want to stay in this sinner,” said the rumors. Kamenev lived for another three hours: as they said at the exhibition, he prayed and asked God for forgiveness.

In the last century, during the years of persecution against the Orthodox Church, the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God of the "Sign" was taken abroad. Archbishop Seraphim (Ivanov) in his book "Odegitria of the Russian Diaspora" recalls the following: "In 1949, when the head of the Synodal Chancellery, Protopresbyter Georgy Grabe, was in Frankfurt with the miraculous icon of the Mother of God, an old man approached him and, calling him aside, said : 'I was an accomplice in the attempted explosion of the icon. I was a boy, I didn't believe in God. So I wanted to check: if God exists, then He will not allow the destruction of such a great shrine. After the explosion, I fervently believed in God and still bitterly repent of my terrible deed.' After that, the old man bowed before the miraculous icon with tears and left the church."

Cathedral of the Sign in Kursk, photo taken on April 18, 1898. This postcard of the 20th century shows scaffolding erected near the apse to eliminate consequences after the explosion a little more than a month prior. Workers are also visible.

Testimonies of Eye-Witnesses

Here is the testimony of one witness, a monk of the Monastery, taken from the magazine "Russian Pilgrim" No. 12, dated March 21, 1898:

“The cell in which I slept is located next to the abbot's quarters ... We had been sleeping for a long time, when suddenly, at about one in the morning, there was a terrible explosion, from which the glass on the windows burst and things fell from the tables. Of course, everyone woke up. I jumped out of bed too, but no one saw anything ... Everything was calm and immersed in the darkness of the night ... Some kind of ominous silence. Throwing a robe over myself, I ran out into the courtyard, where the night watchmen were already sounding the alarm. From them I learned that the explosion took place in the temple. They ran for the key, took out the lanterns.

We entered the temple ... and a terrible picture of destruction presented itself to our eyes. The windows on the north side and massive iron doors were broken open, as if armed robbers had burst into them ... Later it turned out that these were the consequences of an explosion. When the interior of the temple was properly illuminated, a complete picture of the destruction was presented. The canopy, under which the Miraculous Icon of the Mother of God was placed, the platform in front of the Icon, all this turned into a heap of ruins. A gilded cast iron canopy, a massive candlestick for 150 candles - everything flew into pieces ...

All the brethren hurried to the cathedral. The Right Reverend Juvenaly also arrived ... What was our consolation and joy when we saw that not only the Shrine, but also the icon-case itself, which was in the entrance, were unharmed! So unharmed that not a single scratch anywhere. There were ruins, heaps of debris, a picture of complete destruction, and the Holy Icon, like a miracle of miracles, is unharmed. With tears of affection, everyone fell on their faces before such an obvious new miracle of our great Shrine, and with tender tears they performed the first prayer service after the destruction."

And here is the testimony of another old monk, quoted in the same journal:

“At the close of the first hour, all the brethren went to bed. During a deep sleep I heard a terrible hellish rumble, from which my bed seemed to sway in the air. At the first moment, my head seemed to be clouded - the awakening was too scary. A second was heard, then another - and running along the corridor. It was only then that I realized that something terrible had happened. Running out into the corridor, I met the monks and, together with them, hurried to the monastery courtyard. They met the night watchmen, who indicated that something terrible had happened in the big church ... They ran to report to the bishop and the archimandrite, but they themselves got up and hurried to the church...

As soon as we crossed the church threshold, there was a terrifying thick stench in our face. They brought in the lanterns, began to light candles, but they were extinguished from the mass of thick and acrid smoke. Then they opened all the doors and made a draft in order to somehow purify the air. When the church was lit up, screams of horror escaped from the chest of everyone present. The magnificent canopy, where the Miraculous Image was located, was literally all destroyed. Dozens of precious gold and silver lamps were broken and thrown back 6-7 sazhens with incredible force. The walls of the canopy and its columns were displaced, crushed, damaged and badly burned. The canopy had been moved from its place, the steps located under the canopy, thrown far away with incredible force and lay a few fathoms from their place. The moldings were crumbling and peeling. The entire vast cathedral was covered with mixed debris. Scattered everywhere: plaster, pieces of wood, nails, pieces of moldings, candles, scraps of matter ... His Grace Juvenaly and his brethren, with difficulty making their way through the pile of rubble, with emotional trepidation, removed from the icon case the completely intact miraculous Icon of the Sign of the Mother of God, while only the glass inside was broken ...

It is difficult to describe that joy and that thanksgiving to God and the Most Holy Theotokos, which engulfed all who were present, when we saw that a new miracle of God's grace was performed over the Miraculous Icon. As soon as the news of the miraculous event spread, all the inhabitants of the city, from noble and eminent people to the last poor man, hurried to the monastery. At nine o'clock in the morning, the bell rang out, and the doors of the temple were thrown open. The crowd of many thousands, like one person, bared their heads and made the sign of the cross. The people rushed to the church, where, in the presence of the leaders and officials of the city, His Grace Bishop Juvenaly of Kursk performed a solemn thanksgiving service before the Miraculous Icon. The temple could not accommodate all those who came to see with their own eyes the wondrous miracle of God's mercy,and more and more crowds of pilgrims formed around the cathedral. This first prayer, after the miracle that had just happened, was distinguished by an extraordinary solemnity. It is difficult to describe the minute when, after the end of the Akathist to the Queen of Heaven, His Eminence Juvenaly raised the Miraculous Icon and overshadowed the worshipers on four sides, who had fallen on their faces before the deeply revered shrine."

In addition to the above two testimonies, we will also give a description of this wonderful event in the local Kursk newspapers:

“On March 8 at 1:50 am, all the brethren of the Kursk Sign Monastery were suddenly awakened by some terrible blow, and windows were trembling in all the cells, and the cell attendant of Bishop Juvenaly, Bishop of Kursk, was even thrown out of bed. In great fright, the monks ran out into the courtyard. Bishop Juvenaly and the brethren turned to the cathedral, from where a stifling smell was coming. It turned out when they tried to enter the cathedral that it was all filled with acrid smoke and fumes, from which the breath was taken away and the candles were extinguished. Immediately they sent for the police and the prosecutor, and the terrible news of the catastrophe instantly spread throughout the city.

Before the eyes of all representatives of the local authorities who quickly gathered in the cathedral: the governor, the gendarme general, the prosecutor, the chief of police and others, a stunning picture appeared. Planks and broken glass were scattered all over the floor, which, as it turned out, had fallen out even from the upper windows of the dome from a height of fifteen feet. The massive northern door of the cathedral was literally all smashed and pushed even outward. Wall paintings and alabaster are damaged. But, most of all, that northern niche was damaged, where the highly revered Shrine was constantly located - the Miraculous Kursk, or Root, Icon of the Sign of the Mother of God.

This niche, in the form of a large kivot, adorned with ornaments and sacred medallions, was literally all broken: the inner gilded walls and its columns were burnt and pushed out, all moldings and lamps were thrown far to the sides, even beyond the apchirean pulpit; the iron grate in front of the canopy was torn off, and a massive candlestick for 150 candles was disfigured and thrown several fathoms against the opposite wall; the sills scattered in all directions leading to the canopy damaged the wall painting ...

Despite all this damage, which could only have occurred from the explosion of some very strong substance, the precious Icon itself, a six-hundred-year-old Russian national shrine, the Miraculous Icon of the Sign of the Mother of God, this time showed us a great miracle and remained intact on the burnt-out, broken walls of the canopy and unharmed. She only slightly shifted to the left in the kivot, but the crown was smoked with smoke at the robe. It didn't even have glass broken [according to the previous testimony of the monk, the glass was broken, which is more plausible, otherwise how could the rim be smoked?]. The infernal machine was also found, which was an oblong white metal box, as you might guess from its remains, with a time-clock. The size of this foreign-branded box could hold more than a pound of dynamite, which was quite enough, according to the MN-BSHYU, the pyrotechnician of the artillery control G.P. Ivanov. The investigating authorities took a record of all the injuries and took several photographs."


All of the above testimonies note the terrible power of the explosion and the clearly miraculous preservation of the Icon, only slightly moved from its place, as if the Queen of Heaven turned Her Face away from a terrible atrocity. And not only did the Icon survive, but not a single soul perished.

The news of this wondrous sign spread all over Russia and even penetrated abroad. On the following Sunday, March 15, in all Russian churches, thanksgiving services were served to the Mother of God, on the occasion of the miraculous salvation of Her Icon. Pilgrims began to flood Kursk, and over 60,000 pilgrims flocked to take out the Icon on the ninth Friday after Easter.

There were photographs of the explosion in many houses in Kursk to commemorate the miracle. The miracle is commemorated annually on March 8th.

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