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The iconography of the Virgin of Kazan was not known in Byzantium, although it derives from the Hodegetria type. The subject - a half-length of the Virgin with Christ on her left - is from Russia. Unlike other icons on a similar theme - such as the Virgin of Vladimir - Christ is standing vertically, staring directly at us in the gesture of blessing, as the Virgin gazes at him with a look of compassion. Tradition relates a story of the miraculous appearance of the image in Kazan in 1579, which was formerly the capital of the Tartars, though it had been taken over by the Russians recently before the icon appeared. The date corresponds to Ivan the IV’s capture of Kazan, the ancient capital of the Tatar Mongols.
According to tradition the location of the image was revealed to Matrona (a young girl) in Kazan by the Mother of God, who had previously appeared to her several times before. The Virgin commanded Matrona to show the 'ecclesiastical and secular powers' the spot where the icon was hidden. The authorities, however, didn't believe the young girl's message. Nevertheless, Matrona and her mother revealed the icon and it subsequently became associated with numerous miracles, and hence is known as a 'wonder-working' icon that ‘appeared’. According to Lossky and Ouspensky, when 'one speaks of the "apparition" of an icon, this term, current in Old Russian chronicles and hagiographies, means a miraculous event by which an icon, hitherto unknown, becomes notable as a new source for the manifestations of grace.'[See footnote 1]
The original icon was kept in the Theotokos Monastery of Kazan built to commemorate the spot where it had been discovered. It disappeared in 1904 and despite many rumours has never been recovered. The icon’s feast is celebrated on July 8th (the date of its 'appearance') and October 22nd.
The two saints on the borders are St John the Baptist (proper right), and St Anna (left). These may have been requests of the donor commemorating family members, or relate to the church that it was created for.