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Smolensk Icon Feast: the Fascinating Journey of Christian Relics

Hodegetria: an Icon with a Dramatic History

Hodegetria: an icon with a dramatic history

Nothing happens by chance. Everything has a time and a place: there is a time to be born, to prepare and make decisions, and to make things happen. The following story is only one of many examples of this reality.

A calling from the Mother of God

Our narrative centres around a relic that has traversed many routes and been to many places. It has lately found a new home in the Cathedral of All Belarusian Saints in Zaslavl, about 22 kilometres outside of Minsk. But it was Nun Khionia (Efimova) of Saint Elisabeth Convent who brought it there. "The Mother of God chose it Herself," Nun Khionia remarks, as she recalls how this wonderful image came to be in her cell.

Nun Khionia views the Hodegetria icon

Nun Khionia views the Hodegetria icon at the Cathedral of All Belarusian Saints in Zaslavl

Nun Khionia recounts:

"I had had it there for years. It was given to me as a donation for the Convent by my sister's husband." However, the icon was in such bad condition that displaying it in a church was out of the question. So I decided to keep it in my cell and pray in solitude in front of it. The idea of taking it in for restoration came up from time to time, but there was always a reason not to do so.

e-cookbook

But God has marvellous ways of doing things. It had to be by His Divine intervention that I just took the icon in my hands and carried it to the studio one day. Of course, I had received the Abbess' blessing, and a few days later, someone contacted me, offering to give money to the restoration. The Mother of God must have been helping. She was holding my hand.

Restoration of the Hodegetria icon

Restoration of the Hodegetria icon of the Theotokos in progress

There are several icons in my cell, but none of them have a background like this one. Its voyage has been long and dramatic. I know that a woman evacuee, maybe from Leningrad, had brought it with her on the long train ride to Siberia during the early years of World War II. She stopped at a little town in the Tyumen region of Russia (where I happen to come from) and stayed with my relatives. She offered to trade her icon for a smaller one as she was leaving to save space in her suitcase. My distant relative, the icon's new owner, placed a great value on it. My other family member hid it away in an attic when she died, and a thick layer of dust finally gathered over it. Fortunately, my sister's husband's mother remembered the icon and took it with her. That happened before I entered the Convent. They brought the icon to me later when I was already living here...”

"It was almost as if someone were guiding my hand..."

The icon restoration studio

The icon restoration studio gives the Hodegetria Icon a second lease on life

Sister Irina of Saint Elisabeth Convent's Icon Restoration Studio explains:

"Every icon has the Spirit of God. This icon has a magnetic quality to it, and I was excited to work on it. Fortunately, the outcome has been excellent.

It took around six months to finish the project. The icon drew the attention of several clients who came into the studio, and many stood in front of it for minutes and even hours inspecting the details.

The attitude of a client may make a big impact. Some will bring us an icon and spend the entire time worrying that something will go wrong. The progress slows and becomes difficult. Others, like the owner of this icon, arrive with inspiration and faith in the Lord, and the procedure becomes much simpler. Many such invisible miracles have occurred before my eyes throughout my many years as a restorer.

Sister Irina of Saint Elisabeth Convent's Icon Restoration Studio

Sister Irina of Saint Elisabeth Convent's Icon Restoration Studio at work

The original picture was hidden behind a layer of old paint when Mother Khionia brought the icon to the workshop. When I removed the paint, I saw that considerable portions were missing. We utilised hand-picked solvents and innovative processes to extract the original paint from the canvas and keep the depiction as authentic as possible. I spent a significant amount of effort uncovering the original image.

The restoration of the Hodegetria Icon of the Mother of God
The icon restoration studio
Saint Elisabeth Convent's Icon Restoration Studio
Smolensk Icon
the Hodegetria Icon of the Mother of God

I discovered that the original icon had a marvellous soft-blue background that had been beautifully preserved in spots. I did not want it to look too new, and I kept the original letters wherever feasible. We were successful in restoring the missing part of the Saviour's depiction as well as a major portion of the image of the Mother of God. We reconstructed the Saviour's hand and foot, as well as a section of the Mother of God's gown.

In addition, we repaired the icon's base by removing the old paint layer and treating the wood with a hardening solution. It took us a long time to find the appropriate adhesive. We removed the cracks after curing the wood and completing all of the carpentry work. The pigments were then combined to obtain the same hues as in the original painting. Finally, we made a real cherry bark varnish to complement that one-of-a-kind icon.

It was difficult to determine the specific type of icon because there are over 260 known and revered depictions of the Mother of God, with over 800 various titles. It was most likely a Hodegetria ("Showing the Way") type. Several details aided us in our decision. The hues, for example, might suggest the regional origin of an icon. Ukrainian icon painters often utilised brighter colours, whilst their Northern Russian counterparts favoured darker and deeper hues suggestive of Northern settings. That icon was most likely created in the North. It was done in austere brown and blue colours. It might have originated in Saint Petersburg, as Nun Chionia had suggested when explaining how her family had acquired it. We believe it was painted in the nineteenth century, however, we are unable to identify the artist.”

the Hodegetria Icon of the Mother of God

The restoration of the Hodegetria Icon of the Mother of God is now complete

God's providence at work

Nun Khionia recently visited the church of All Belarusian Saints in Zaslavl to check on the icon. "I was filled with awe and anticipation all along the way," she recalls, "because I had never seen the icon after restoration." I even had to wipe away the occasional tear now and again. This icon means a lot to me."

On the way back, Nun Khionia remembered her baptism in the Church of All Saints in Tyumen. The icon that her family had maintained and she had helped restore has now made its way to the Church of All Belarusian Saints in Belarus, by the providence of God. Isn't that wonderful!

Nun Chionia and her treasured icon
the church of All Belarusian Saints in Zaslavl

Nun Khionia and her treasured icon

Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
If you need assistance restoring an icon, please contact the Icon Restoration Studio of St. Elizabeth Convent at st.elisabeth.shop@gmail.com.
We will be happy to be of help.

P. S. In anticipation of the Feast, we invite you to enjoy this captivating animated film about the revered icon of the Mother of God. It is a moving story about a young boy who got lost but found his way home by the intercession of our Holy Protectress and Guide.

Production: LLC "Baltic Television" (with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation)

August 08, 2023
Views: 2774
Ratings: 5/5
Votes: 8
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