The Savior of Smolensk is the iconographic type of Jesus Christ in which he is represented as the Pantocrator – in a frontal position, with his right hand raised in a blessing gesture and his right hand holding a Gospel book. To either side of Him, kneeling in prayer at His feet, are St. Sergius of Radonezh and the Venerable Barlaam of Khutyn. In the upper part of the icon, to the right and left of Christ, are angels with the instruments of passion.

This image is believed to have appeared during the 1512-1522 Russo-Lithuanian war. In 1514 the Russian troops captured Smolensk. According to the Voskresenskaya Chronicle «Августа 1, на Происхождение честнаго креста, князь велики Василей Ивановичь всея Русии с своею братьею, и зъ бояры, и съ всеми въеводы и розными чины поиде съ великою славою въ градъ Смоленскъ» (“On August 1, on the day of The Procession of the Venerable Wood of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord, the Grand Prince of all Russia Vasily Ivanovich with his army, boyars, commanders and other officers captured, with a great triumph, the city of Smolensk”). But the Polish king Sigizmund did not want to accept the loss of Smolensk and sign a peace agreement.

In 1521, Mahmet-Girey, inspired by the Polish envoys, consolidated the hordes of Crimea and Kazan and turned up unexpectedly under the walls of Moscow. According to chronicles, when the Tartar army crossed Oka and began to loot Moscow villages and monasteries, Vasily III headed for Volokolamsk expecting military assistance from Veliky Novgorod. Simultaneously, a blind female monk in the Ascension Monastery in Moscow’s Kremlin had a vision that the Synaxis of Muscovite saints and wonderworkers, under command of the Lord Almighty and the Most Pure Theotokos, as a visitation of God for Muscovites’ sins, left the city through the Frolovsky Gate with an icon of Our Lady of Vladimir. It was only after the intercession from the Venerable Sergius of Radonezh and Barlaam of Khutyn and a collective prayer to the icon of the Theotokos that the saints and wonderworkers went back to the city. Later on the same day, the news came that Mahmet-Girey retreated from Moscow, leaving the city totally devastated and taking 800 thousand prisoners, according to some chronicles. Though exaggerated, this figure demonstrates the extent to which the Tartar hordes devastated Moscow.

Years later a fresco appeared in the wall niche of the Frolovsky (Spassky) tower of the Moscow Kremlin depicting the Venerable Serigus of Radonezh and Barlaam of Khutyn kneeling in prayer flanked by angels with the instruments of passion. This icon would be later known as the Savior of Smolensk (Spas Smolensky). When exactly this icon appeared in the tower niche is not known. The earliest evidence dates back to the mid-17th century. The most ancient icons of this type appeared during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.

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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