Old Russian Icons
The Theotokos of Vladimir



Before entering the world of Russian iconography, we need to consider one icon that stands as a symbolic link between the Byzantine and Russian cultures. This icon is the Theotokos of Vladimir, perhaps the most venerated icon in Russia. The Greek word "Theotokos" can be translated into English as "Mother of God" or "God-bearer." This title of the Mother of Jesus was adopted by the Christian Church at the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431.

The icon was presented to Russian Grand Prince Yuri Dolgoruky by the Patriarch of Constantinople about 1132. In 1156 Yuri's son, Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky, brought the icon from Kiev to Bogolyubovo, his estate near the town of Vladimir. In 1167 it was installed in the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir. Ever since the icon has been called "Vladimirskaya Bogomater", which is the Russian for "the Theotokos of Vladimir."

The icon was brought to Moscow in 1395 to protect the city from the advancing hordes of the Turkic conqueror Khan Tamerlane. The Muscovites prayed to the Mother of God and were delivered from the threat. Tamerlane's army pillaged parts of the Ryzan principality, south of Moscow, and then suddenly left Russian lands.

Muscovite chronicles also report that in 1480 the icon turned away the army of the Mongol Khan Akhmet during his bloodless confrontation with the army of Ivan III on the Ugra river, thus putting an end to the Mongol Yoke in Russia.

In 1591 the army of Crimean Khan Kazy Girei approached Moscow but unexpectedly turned back without engaging into a major battle. This deliverance was also attributed to the patronage of the Theotokos.

For several centuries the icon was kept in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. During the Soviet era, it was on display at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Russia. In 1999 the icon was installed in the Church of St. Nicholas in Tolmachy, adjacent to the Tretyakov Gallery.