The Muromskaya icon of the Mother of God is a waist-length image of the Theotokos with the Divine Christ in the arms. Christ is shown half-sitting in the arms of the Theotokos, He is touching Her chin with his right hand and holds in his right an unfolded scroll with inscribed words “I am the light of the world.” In some icons the scroll is shown folded.

According to legend, the finding of the miraculous icon is closely associated with the adoption of Christianity in Russia. In the early 12th century, the Holy Prince Konstantin of Murom brought the icon from Kiev to Murom. Konstantin attempted to persuade Murom pagans to accept Christian faith but the pagans were so enraged that that they wanted to kill him. When the prince found out about the conspiracy, he fervently prayed to God and went out to meet people carrying before him the Mother of God icon. The pagans immediately changed their minds and pleaded the prince to baptize them. The icon was first housed at the home church of the prince and was later transferred to an old cathedral in Murom from which it got its name “Muromskaya.”

In the late 13th century at the head of the bishop see in Murom was St. Vasily of Ryazan (Ryazanski). People, blinded with slander on their bishop, suspected him of wicked life and decided to kill him. The bishop asked them to delay his execution until the next morning and prayed all night long. After the liturgy he went to the Annunciation Cathedral, served a moleben before the Mother of God icon that Prince Constantine had brought from Kiev. With the icons in hands he walked to the river Oka. He took off his mantle, spread it on the water and stood upon it holding up the icon until strong wind blew and he sailed against the stream. So floated he until reaching a place named Staraya Ryazan where lived princes Feodor and Konstantin. The princes, the local clergy and people went out to meet the swimmer with a cross procession. They honorably received the bishop and the icon and placed it in the cathedral church in Ryazan. Since then the bishop see has been transferred from Murom to Ryazan. After that the icon was named The Prayer of St. Vasily. Three years later St. Vasily settled in Ryazan as a place well protected from the Tatars and founded there his see in 1291. The Murom icon was transferred there too. The miraculous icon was subsequently placed over St. Vasily’s tomb at Ryazan’s Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ. The original icon did not survive. Numerous copies of the Murom icon are now found in Russian churches and museum collections. One of the most venerated icons is located in the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Murum. After the Bolshevik revolution the cathedral was shut and the icon was gone.

The earliest known icons of the Murom icon of the Mother of God were painted in the 16th – 17th centuries. They are ascribed to Moscow iconographers, which suggests that a miraculous copy of the Murom icon, now lost, was in Moscow. The Murom icon of the Mother of God is an iconographic version of The Leaping of the Child, later named as the Murom icon of the Mother of God. The iconography is believed to have appeared not earlier than in the 16th century. Having no connections with Murom or Ryazan, it is derived from the Italo-Cretan iconography. The Cretan masters borrowed from Italian art a depiction of the half-seated Child, which is very untypical for Byzantine art. The Italian artwork shows the Child touching the face of the Mother of God with one hand, and holding Her by her clothes with the other. On similar Cretan icons, Christ’s right hand is folded in a sign of blessing, his left hand is holding a scroll.

The icon is commemorated on April 25 (April 12, O.S.).

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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