The story and iconography of the Petrovskaya icon of the Mother of God

The name of the Petrovskaya icon of the Mother of God derives from her creator and icon painter – Saint Petr, Metropolitan of Moscow. He painted the icon in approximately 1306 when he was still the Father Superior in the city of Volyn. The icon was presented to Metropolitan Maxim, who in turn brought the icon to the city of Vladimir, adorned it with precious stones and gold, and piously kept the icon in his quarters, praying for his flock.

Upon the death of Metropolitan Maxim, a certain Father Superior by the name of Geronty, wishing to be elevated to the dignity of Metropolitan, took hierarchal vestments and the icon and went to Constantinople to get the position. There were however, quite a few Russians, including Prince Yuri of Galicia, who objected to having Geronty as a metropolitan. Prince Yuri persuaded Father Superior Petr to go to Constantinople to be elevated to the high rank. Petr obeyed the Prince’s wish and having arrived in Constantinople ahead of Geronty. Patriarch Afanasy received him well and consecrated him to the rank of metropolitan of all of Rus.

In the meantime, Geronty’s journey did not fare well. Powerful storms, heavy winds, large waves all kept Geronty’s ship from arriving to Constantinople. During the night of the storm, the Mother of God appeared to him, with her appearance being the same as on the icon painted by St. Petr and told him that he was wasting his time traveling such long distances. She told him that it was not meant for him to be the metropolitan of Rus. She says that the one who painted her image, Petr, the loyal servant of Christ would take up that position. Having awoken from the dream, Geronty, hurried in fear to tell the rest of his crew about the vision and that their attempts were futile and that he would not be granted the rank he desired.

The ship by which Geronty was traveling finally arrived to Constantinople with great difficulty. Geronty was forced to tell Patriarch Afanasy his dream. The patriarch then proceeded to confiscate the hierarchal robes and the icon of the Mother of God and gave it back to its rightful owner, Metropolitan Petr. He then told him: “Take this sacred and holy image of Theotokos, which was painted by your own hands, because of this the Mother of God gave you such a gift, foretelling about you.”

In 1325, the diocese of the metropolitan was moved from the city of Vladimir to Moscow. At the same time Metropolitan Petr transferred the icon to the altar of the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow, where the icon remained until the Russian revolution. The only time the icon would be removed from its place is during large processions when it would be brought our along the another sacred and holy icon – the Icon of the Mother of God of Vladimir.

Petrovskaya icon of the Mother of God was always highly venerated among the faithful Orthodox Christians in Russia and was considered to be a miracle working icon from ancient times. Grand Duke Ivan III(Ivan the Great) prayed in front of the icon. At the end of the 16th Century Patriarch Iov took the icon with him in order to persuade Boris Godunov to be crowned czar. Finally in 1613, the icon was taken to Kostroma to call upon Mikhail Feodorovich Romanov to accede to the Russian throne.

Sometime between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the icon disappears from the cathedral. A small icon remains in the Cathedral which is also dated around 14-15 century, and some assume that it is the true Petrovskaya icon. The feast day of the icon is on September 6th (August 24) and is celebrated on the same day as the translation of the relics of St. Petr, when his relics were transferred to a newly build Dormition Church in 1479.

The Iconography

The icon of the Mother of God “Petrovskaya” is similar to the most popular icon among the Russian people – The Tenderness Icon of the Mother of God. The iconography of the icon is similar to the Mother of God of Vladimir.The Mother of God and Infant Christ are depicted on this icon in a unique way. They are both painted from the chest up.

There are certain peculiarities in the gestures of the Mother of God and the Savior. The depiction of the Mother of God embracing the Son is quite rare for the iconography of the Holy Theotokos. The “Petrovskaya” shows that the Mother of God is embracing Christ with her left hand and pointing at Him with the right one, as He is “the True Way and Life”. At the same time, Her right hand lies on the Christ’s chest, which symbolizes parental caressing. This 14-century icon from the Novgorod style of icon painting, on red background  underlines this gesture in an even more specific way – the Mother of God embraces Christ’s neck with Her arm.

In return the hands of the Savior are responding – the Son is nestling with His face to the Mother’s face, just like on the Mother of God of Vladimir. There is a scroll in His left hand, and with the right hand the Infant can be seen with a blessing sign which is quite rare for such ancient icons. At the same time Christ’s right hand is lying on the Mother’s chest. The unique icon from the city of Kirillov shows the warmth of love between the Mother of God and Christ: where the Son is touching the Mother’s face with His blessing arm.

Copies of the icon

In the city of Kaluga there is a copy of the Mother of God “Petrovskaya”, which is well known to be a miracle working icon.

The 16th century copy is now kept in the museum in the city of Kirillov.