Kazan Icon of the Theotokos

Our Lady of Kazan, also called Theotokos of Kazan (Russian: Казанская Богоматерь), 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. It was considered a palladium of Russia for centuries, until its theft and likely destruction in 1904.

According to tradition, the icon was discovered on 8 July 1579, underground in the city of Kazan by a little girl, Matrona, to whom the location of the image was revealed by the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in a Marian apparition. The original icon was kept in the Theotokos Monastery of Kazan, built to commemorate the spot where it had been discovered. Invocation of the Virgin Mary through the icon was credited by the Russian commanders, Dmitry Pozharsky and Mikhail Kutuzov, with helping the country to repel the Polish invasion of 1612, the Swedish invasion of 1709, and Napoleon’s invasion of 1812.

On the night of 29 June 1904 the icon was stolen from the church in Kazan where it had been kept for centuries (the cathedral 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 Revolution of 1905, Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and the Bolshevik revolution to the desecration of the image.

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