The Tolgsk icon of the Mother of God is known from three copies of the late 13th – early 14th centuries, one of which is referred to as wonderworking for its miraculous appearance in 1314 to Rostov Hierarch Prochorous. The Tale of the wonderworking icon provided the basis for the border scenes’ iconography.

According to legend, the bishop of Rostov and Yaroslavl, going back from Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery to Yaroslavl, stopped at dusk on the banks of the Volga river, seven miles from Yaroslavk, where the river Tolga flows into the Volga. At night Prochorous saw a fiery column of light on the other bank of the river, to which there stretched a bridge. Taking up his staff, Prochorous went across to the other bank. “Having walked across to the other bank, the bishop saw an icon of the Holy Mother of God holding the Child, Our Lord Jesus Christ; the icon did not stand on a tree but was suspended in the air, so that it couldn’t be reached by hands from the ground. The bishop prayed for a long a long time and when he went back, he found that he had forgotten to take his staff.” (St. Dimitri of Rostov, the Life of the Saints on August 8). These events are featured in the icon border scenes – the awakening of the bishop, the appearance of a bridge across the Volga and the bishop’s return to the camp.

The next morning the bishop’s servants could not find his staff, and Prochorous told him about his night vision, featured in a separate border scene. He ordered them to go across to the other bank of the river and take his staff back. The servants crossed the river and found the staff and the icon of the Mother of God where the bishop had told them. Prochorous crossed over with his retinue and ordered his servants to clear the site to build a wooden church which was erected overnight with the help of the citizens who arrived there after hearing the news of the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God icon. Prochorous consecrated the church in honor of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God into the Temple and founded Tolgsky Vvedensky Monastery. The border scenes illustrate the building and consecration of the church as well as the foundation of the monastery.

The Tolgsk icon is ascribed the miracles represented in its border scenes: September 16, 1392 – the icon is myrrh-streaming during a Matin; the resurrection of a dead child brought to the monastery for burial through the prayer of his parents to the icon; the late 14th – early 15th centuries – the miraculous survival of the icon during a fire in the monastery; 1553 – Ivan the Terrible’s feet are cured through the prayer to the icon. In gratitude for the miraculous healing, the Russian Tsar ordered that a stone church be built in the monastery; 1766 – Yaroslavl is saved from the draught.

The Tolgsk icon of the Mother of God is commemorated on the day of its discovery on August 21 (August 8, 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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