The icon of the Mother of God “The Three Joys” is one of the rare examples in Russian art when a Western European icon became a Russian wonderworking sanctity. The icon was brought to Moscow from Italy in the 18th century as a copy of the Holy Family painting by Rafael. The prototype, authored by Rafael or some of his disciples, represents the Holy Virgin surrounded by the Infant Christ and the little John the Baptist. The icon, subsequently named “The Three Joys,” lacks the image of Joseph the Betrothed that later appeared on Russian icons. After the veneration of the icon of the Mother of God “The Three Joys” many copies of the icon were reproduced in the medieval Russian iconographic style. Unlike the Italian prototype, Russian icons depicted the Infant Christ sitting on the Theotokos’s arms mirrorwise, i.e. at left, while John the Baptist and St. Joseph were depicted on either side of the Mother of God with the Child.

According to legend, a painter left the icon with his relative, a priest of the Trinity Church on Gryazekh. After the painter’s death, the priest donated the icon to the church and placed it over the entrance. The icon got its name from the miracle that happened 40 years later. A certain noblewoman suffered three heavy losses: her husband was slandered for something and exiled, her estates were impounded by the Treasury, and her only son was captured by the enemy during the war. One day, praying to the Holy Mother of God, she heard a voice commanding her to find an icon of the Holy Family and pray before it. For a long time the woman sought this icon among the churches of Moscow, until she finally found it at the entrance into the Trinity Church on Pokrovka. After earnestly praying before this icon, she soon received three pieces of joyful news: her husband was vindicated and returned from exile, her son was liberated from captivity, and her estates were returned to her by the Treasury. For this reason the icon was named “The Three Joys”. Soon thereafter copies were made of the miraculous icon, executed in the Russian iconographic tradition.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral on Gryazekh was re-built many times until it was turned into a stone church. St. Philareth, the Metropolitan of Moscow, consecrated the main throne in honor of the icon of the Mother of God “The Three Joys,” or the Synaxis of the Mother of God, which is not the only throne in honor of the holy icon. The icon of the Mother of God “The Three Joys” was lost with the closure of the church in 1929.

The icon of the Mother of God “The Three Joys” was deeply venerated by the Russian Imperial family. One of its copies was a home icon of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Alexander II. Anna Aksakova (born Tyutcheva), the Empress’s maid-of-honor, presented this icon to the Tsarina as a promise she had given to the shrine of Holy Sergius of Radonezh. Anna Aksakova was the first tutor of the Grand Prince Sergei Aleksandrovich. After the death of Maria Aleksandrovna, the icon was given back to Anna Aksakova but she didn’t keep it long. After a while she presented it to the Grand Prince Sergei Aleksandrovich for his bride Princess Elizaveta Fedorovna. In a letter to her former foster-son she wrote: “I would like your bride to take this icon as a blessing from Your mother and from the saint who is the patron of Russia and Your patron at the same time.”

The feast of the icon of the Mother of God “The Three Joys” is celebrated on January 8 (December 26, O.S.) on the day of the Synaxis of the Mother of God on the next day of Christmas.

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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