The Iveron icon of the Mother of God is one of the most venerated sanctities of the Christian East. The veneration of the icon dates back to the period of Byzantine iconoclasm. The story of the appearance and miracles of the Iveron icon is contained in the Tale of the Iveron Icon, known in two versions. The two versions appeared in Rus during the 16th – early 17th centuries, yet the most quoted one is the third version of the Tale that was first published in 1658 in the book entitled Paradise Imagined. According to the Tale, the ancient wonderworking icon reached the Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos by sea. The icon was cast into the sea in the 9th century by one pious woman who did not want the icon to be seized and destroyed by the iconoclasts. After its reception and installation in the church, the icon repeatedly disappeared and was found above the gate of the monastery. Thus the icon has taken the name of "Portaitissa" (Keeper of the gate). During the siege of the monastery by the Saracenes, a soldier shot an arrow to the icon, and immediately blood began to flow from the gashed cheek of the Theotokos. The icon is distinguished by large dimensions (137 x 87 cm). Contemporary researchers date the Iveron icon to the first half of the 11th century or the early 12th century.
The icon belongs to the iconographic type known as Hodegetria. The Mother of God is represented waist-length; her head is slightly inclined towards the Child Christ, her right hand is raised in a blessing gesture at the level of her breast. The Child Christ sits high and upright on the Mother of God’s right arm, His head is slightly turned to the Theotokos and slightly thrown back. The right hand of the Child is stretched forward to the Virgin’s hand with a blessing gesture, in his left he holds a scroll vertically resting on his ankle. An important iconographic detail is a depiction of a blood-streaming wound on the Mother of God’s face.
An exact copy of the Iveron icon, executed by the Greek icon-painter Yamvlich Romanov was brought to Russia in 1648 (now located in the Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow). In his reports to Patriarch Nikon and Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, Archimandrite Pachomy described the creation of the wonderworking copy of the icon in the following words: “Upon return to the monastery, I gathered 365 brothers and we served a great liturgy, from night till morning, and in the morning we sanctified water with the holy relics, and with that water washed the holy and wonderworking icon of the Mother of God; we gathered this holy water into a large vessel and washed with it the new icon that I had made of cypress wood, and then gathered again this holy water. Thus we finished the holy liturgy; when it was over, I handed this holy water and the holy relics to the icon-painter, the holiest of all hieromonks and spiritual fathers, master Yamvlich Romanov, so that he mix up the holy water and the holy relics with colors, paint the holy icon, in a way that the icon’s substance be composed of the holy water and the holy relics. So the icon-painter was painting this holy icon taking food only on Saturdays and Sundays, and with a great rejoice and vigil he finished it. As the icon was being painted, me and other 365 brothers twice a week sang the great liturgy from night till morning and every day served the holy liturgy until the icon has been done.” In 1654, at Patriarch Nikon’s command, a second copy of the icon was made for the Iverion Monastery on Valdai Lake (the icon didn’t survive). The iconographic feature of the icon’s copies is a depiction of angels worshipping the Mother of God and the figures of the twelve apostles on side margins.
The icon came to be broadly venerated in the 17th century. It was the time when a chapel dedicated to the Iveron icon of the Mother of God was built above the Resurrection Gate of the Moscow Kremlin and numerous copies of the icon were made by the Armory masters on commission from the Russian royal family. Three of them have survived to this day.
The icon is commemorated on February 25 (February 12, O.S.) and on Tuesday of the Bright Week on the day of the finding of the icon, on October 26 (October 13, O.S.) on the day of the translation of the wonderworking copy of the icon to Moscow in 1648.
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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