The Icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir.
It is arguably the most famous, the most venerated, and the most beloved icon of all time. Like many icons, it was said to simply appear to the people, miraculously. There is a legend that says this very icon was painted by St.Luke, on a board taken from the table used for the Last Supper.
Careful examination by experts show that it was likely painted by an anonymous Greek Byzantine master in the early 12th century. It has inspired other iconographers through the centuries, but no one has succeeded in capturing the mystery and beauty of this image.
It quickly became known as a miracle-working icon, inspiring widespread devotion. It was moved from place to place, and became important to all of Russia.
It was given to the Russians by the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1155, and placed in a convent near Kiev. Prince Andrew Bugoliebsky (Andrew the God-Lover) carried the icon into battle with him, achieving many victories. In 1160, he built the Cathedral of the Assumption in Vladimir to house the image, giving it its name. Twenty five years later, the entire cathedral burnt down, but the icon survived intact. Invading Tatar hordes stole jewels and coverings from churches, but left this icon untouched. Two hundred years later the armies of Genghis Khan moved towards Moscow, where the image had been taken for safekeeping. The people gathered around the icon, praying to the Mother of God, venerating the icon. The army inexplicably halted its advance. Similar events occurred three separate times in the 15th century.
“In fact, there is no single great event in the history of Russia from the 12th to 17th century in which the icon of The Mother of God of Vladimir did not play its vital part.” (ewtn.com/library)
In 1917, the Bolsheviks stole the pure gold covering and jewels, but did not harm the icon itself, and placed it in the Tretyakov Museum. Today it is in a small wing by itself, set up to resemble a chapel, and the Russian people again come to venerate the image and give honor to the Mother of God and her Son. In 1919, it was restored, but there was no need to repaint the faces. They are the only parts of the icon that are the original Byzantine master’s work, as beautiful and grace-filled today as they were then.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.