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On the left the Mother of God, holding a stick, is perched in a blossoming tree with numerous branches. The Sexton Yurish, in the bottom-centre of the panel, kneels in adoration of the vision of the Virgin. On the right St Nicholas, in the clothing of a bishop, stands in reverence of the Mother and holds a Gospel in his left hand. Behind him is the church of the Sexton Yurish.
The iconography developed in Northern Russia during the 16th century. It is based on an event that occurred near the renowned Tikhvin monastery on June 26 1383: the Virgin appeared in a 'halo of light' indicating the site of the construction of a new church built in her honour - different to the location where building had already begun. Later, the Virgin and St Nicholas both appeared in a vision to the Sexton Yurish in a forest: the Virgin, displeased with an iron cross that adorned the roof of church, asked the sexton that a new wooden one be placed there instead, because Christ was crucified on a wooden cross. According to Yuri Bobrov, the tree in which the Virgin sits is highly symbolic: 'The dominance of an icon’s space by a multi-branched tree is a symbolic reference to the Tree of Life, also known as the Tree of Jesse.' And thus it also represents the tree that made the original Cross on which Jesus was crucified. On some icons we find the following inscription: 'My Son and God was crucified on a Cross made of wood, not of iron.'
A chapel was also built at the site of the second vision and dedicated to St Nicholas with a wooden cross carved from the tree where the Virgin had sat in the appearance. The feast is celebrated on August 14th.
An icon of the same subject with some similarities to our version was in the collection Mikhail de Buar (fig. a), while another important version of this rare subject is in the British Museum, London (fig. b).