Miraculous icon of Kazan Mother of God occupies a special position among all the orthodox relics of Russia.
The sacred image of the Holy Mother appeared in Kazan in 1579.
For Kazan it was the year of terrible disaster: half of the city was destroyed by fire.
Matrena, the 9 year old daughter of a strelets, dreamt about the icon of the Holy Mother. In other dreams she saw the Holy Mother herself, who asked the girl to tell Her will to the arch-bishop and the town administration, - that is to dig out her icon and She said where to look for it. That was the place where the burnt house of Matrena’s parents once stood. There, on July, 8 (21) was found the wonderful icon of the Mother of God. The news spread about the town at once. The arch-bishop and the governors came to show their deference. Among those who gathered there was Grigory, the priest of Nikolo-Gostinodvorsky Church, the future Kazan metropolitan and patriarchy of All-Russia Germogen. The icon was solemnly brought to the St. Nikolay Tulsky Church.
After the service in this temple, the icon was taken to Blagoveschensky Cathedral, and on the way to the cathedral the icon made the first miracle – cured the blind Joseph, who had been blind for 3 years. Another blind man Nikita was also cured by Our Lady after the icon was brought to the cathedral. That was the beginning of a number of miracles made by the icon of Kazan Mother of God.
The next day in the cathedral was served liturgy. The arch-bishop and the town administration made a copy of the sacred image, described the place where it was found and the miracles worked by the icon, and sent all this to the tsar Ioann Vasiljevich the Terrible. The tsar ordered to build a wooden temple and establish a nunnery for 40 nuns on the place where the icon was found. The icon was placed in this temple.
Matrena who found the relic, became the first nun of this nunnery (under the name Martha), and later - the Mother Superior.
The tsar Fedor Ioannovich had a special respect for the miraculous icon of the Holy Mother. By his order the icon was returned to Kazan, and on the place where it was found in about 1591 there was founded Bogoroditsky Nunnery.
In 1595 there was built a church of stone, the number of nuns enlarged. Also Fedor Ioannovich ordered to edge the miraculous icon of the Holy Mother with gold and jewels from the tsar’s treasury. The Empress Catherine II in 1767 visited a mass in the Kazan Nunnery and decorated the icon with precious diamonds.
At the end of the XVI century the icon was known in Russia, but mainly it was worshiped in Kazan and its surroundings; and the celebrations in Kazan took place on the day of its obtaining (July, 8).
St.Ermogen was the author of the legend “About Wonderful Finding of the Icon of Kazan Mother of God and Its Miracles”. In 1595 in the nunnery, which was founded on the place where the icon was found, Germogen consecrated the cathedral.
The miracles began as soon as the icon was found. “Since that time and till the present day from Her sacred image that was found in Kazan, Our Lady generously gives Her help to all the Christians who ask for it with faith and hope”, wrote V.Zhilkin in the journal “Russian House”.
In 1611 the Kazan metropolitan Efrem was asked to fight the Poles by the patriarch Germogen who was imprisoned. So he sent the copy of the icon to the army headed by Minin and prince Pozharsky. Before the attack the Russian army prayed in front of the miraculous icon. Later the victory over the Pole was ascribed to the help of the Holy Mother “for the sake of the Kazan icon of Hers”. To commemorate this event there was established the second date of celebrations in honour of the Kazan icon – October, 22.
The Sunday of the 25th October, 1612 became the day of national celebration. The mass was served on the Red Square. The clergy brought from the freed Kremlin the Vladimir icon towards the Kazan icon.
This meeting was marked by the miracle of the Russian history. The Vladimir icon symbolized the centuries when Russia was headed by the Rurikoviches dynasty. The Kazan icon that was brought towards it, symbolized the beginning of the new epoch – when Russia turned into Orthodox Empire under the Romanovs dynasty. This icon became the sing of the Russian rebirth.
The copy that had been in the army was taken to the specially built on the red Square Kazan Cathedral. Another miraculous copy was in the Kazan Cathedral in St.-Petersburg. Before the Revolution Kazan, Moscow, and St.-Petersburg disputed the right to be considered the only owners of the original miraculous icon.
This is how the famous Russian pastor, protopresbyter Alexander Kisilev described the worship of the Holy Mother icon by Russian people: “I assume, that it’s possible to call Russia the country of the Holy Mother. The love of Russian people towards the icon of Her, Who is the fairest cherub and the most glorious seraph, and the grace of the Holy Mother to our land resulted this way that in Russia there are more than 468 names of Her Holy icons”.
Still the worship of the Kazan icon of the Mother of God was unprecedented. Till 1917 in the Russian Empire there were about 10 million of Her icons. This worship was connected not only with Her concern in the fates of the believers (from Her Kazan icon), but also with Her patronizing the Russian Empire. For many Russian believers Kazan associated with the Kazan icon of the Mother of God.
With the Kazan icon of the Mother of God are connected the names of all the monarchs from the Romans dynasty – all the important events in their lives or in the life of the “state entrusted to them by God” they started and ended in front of this relic. While being in Kazan, all the monarchs without fail visited the Nunnery.
Till 1917 the Kazan icon of the Mother of God was almost in every Russian house – from peasant’s house to tsar’s palace. But there were three miraculous icons that were especially worshiped. These are the sacred image in the Bogoroditsky Nunnery in Kazan, the icon of the tsar Ivan the Terrible, that in the times of Peter the Great was brought to St.-Petersburg, and the icon in the Moscow Kazan Cathedral, that was presented by prince Dmitry Pozharsky.
In 1636 prince Dmitry Pozharsky on his own money built on the Red Square the cathedral in Her honour. To this cathedral he brought the icon that earlier was in his parish temple on Lubyanka. In the time of the Soviet Union the Kazan Cathedral, like hundreds of other Moscow churches was destroyed. The sacred image of the Holy Mother was taken to the Bogoyavlensky Patriarch Cathedral. Today the Kazan Cathedral on the Red Square is restored.
As for the icon that was found in Kazan, its history has a lot of “blank spots”.
In 1904 Russia was shocked by the news that on the night of June, 29 the icon was stolen from the Kazan Bogoroditsky Nunnery. The thieves were soon arrested, but the icon was not found. There was a version that the icon was burnt or sold to the Old Believers, but it found no confirmation. The investigation couldn’t answer a single question that occupied the minds of the believers.
Still this theft didn’t stop the stream of pilgrims towards the place of the icon finding. In 1910-1913 in the dungeons of the cathedral, right on the place where the icon was found, there was built an underground temple. Besides, in Kazan was spread the story that in fact there was stolen the copy of the icon, and the icon itself was saved and preserved by the old Mother Superior. Many people say that today this ancient Kazan icon of Mother of God is in the church of Yaroslavl Miracle-Workers.
Kazan Bogoroditsky Nunnery occupied the territory limited by today’s Bolshaya Krasnaya St., Yapeev St., Nagornaya St. and the former lane at the Pyatnitskaya Church. By the XX century the Nunnery consisted of several constructions, built in various periods, most of which, unfortunately, were destroyed in the Soviet times. The main Nunnery Cathedral that was built in 1798-1808 by the famous capital architect Ivan Egorovich Starov was pulled down, as well as the 6-tier bell-tower (55 meters high) of the XVII century. Of all the constructions of the Nunnery there was preserved only the two-storey building of the Krestovozdvizhenskaya Church, built in 1882-1887. For a long time it was occupied by the philological department of the Kazan State Pedagogic University. In the center of the block there were also two-storey Nastoyatelsky and Nikolsky buildings, which formed a semi-circle around the place where there had been the cathedral. They were built in 1810-1843 by the project of the architect Y. M. Shelkovnikov. The seriously reconstructed Nikola Tulsky Church, built in 1810-1816 on the territory of the former parish temple (where the obtained icon firstly was), goes out on Nagornaya St.
According to some data, in the last century the Kazan icon of the Mother of God was sold abroad, where it changed several owners, as they didn’t value spiritual essence of the sacred image and viewed the icon as an eligible investment. As both the icon and its copies are extremely valuable, the experts can’t agree on trace of what exactly image they found.
The icon has been to England, the USA, Portugal, and Vatican. The Orthodox believers and Catholics united their forces and actually saved the Christian relic. Up to recent times the icon was stored in the private estate of the Pope. Thanks to the efforts of the Kazan administration and machinery of the Tatarstan President, the Kazan icon of the Mother of God was returned to Russia.
The historian Dmitry Khafizov, who took part in the events, told about it in details.
Today Kazan is preparing to face the return of the Orthodox relic. There being organized international pilgrim center at the place where the icon was found. The tobacco factory and the Pedagogic University that occupied the building of the former Bogoroditsky Nunnery, are moving to other buildings.