The Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God belongs to the iconographic type known as Hodegetria. The Mother of God is depicted at waist-length, with the Divina Child sitting upon her left arm. The figures of the Mother of God and Christ are slightly turned to each other, His leg is under the left, with His feet turned towards the praying people; with his right hand he gives a blessing, and with his left holds a scroll.
A history of the icon is known from the handwritten Tale of the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God, the earliest examples of which are dating back to the late 15th – early 16th centuries. Some of the first border panels show the appearances of the icon in different places. “Streaming light and walking in the air,” moving from one village to another and “carried by unseen angels”, the icon appeared to local residents until it reached the banks of the Tikhvinka river. According to the Tale, the icon appeared to people seven times: first on Ladoga Lake, then on the Smolkovo churchyard on the river Oyati and Vymochenitsy, next on “Kozhel on the mount of Kukov”, on a mount above the Tikhvinka river, and finally, on the other bank of the river.
The sacred image was subsequently housed at a wooden Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, built on the site of the last appearance of the icon. The church burnt three times but the icon remained intact. During 1507 – 1515, by the order of and with the donation of the Grand Prince Vasily Ioannovich a stone-made Dormition Cathedral in the name of the Tikvin icon of the Mother of God was erected. In the 16th century Tikhvin became a famous pilgrimage site which was attended by the members of the Russian imperial family. The icon became famous for numerous wonders, one of which was the liberation of the Tikhvin Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos from the Swedish conquest in 1613.
In 1910, G.O.Chirikov, at the initiative of the Russian Committee for the Patronage of Russian Iconography, restored the original painting concealed under the layers of repaint. After the closure of the Dormition Monastery by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s, the icon was moved to a local city museum where it remained until 1941. After WWII the icon found itself in the U.S. occupation zone in Germany and was later transported to the United States. In 1950, the wonderworking icon was transferred to Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago, Ill. The Archbishop of Riga father John (Garklavs), the dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral, and later his adopted son Archpriest Sergei Garklavs, dedicated their lives to the preservation of the holy icon. According to Archbishop John’s will, the main condition of returning the icon to Russia was the re-opening of the Tikhvin Monastery. In 1995, the monastery was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Dormition Cathedral was restored and consecrated. The icon was solemnly returned to Tikhvin’s Dormition Monastery in 2004.
The icon is commemorated on July 9 (June 26, O.S.).
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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