Nov 042016


Today is the celebration of Our Lady of Kazan, also called Theotokos of Kazan (Казанская Богоматерь),  a holy icon of the highest stature within the Russian Orthodox Church, representing the Virgin Mary as the protector and patroness of the city of Kazan, and a palladium (protector) of all of Russia. According to legend, the icon was originally acquired from Constantinople, lost in 1438 and miraculously recovered in pristine state in 1579. Two major cathedrals, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, are consecrated to Our Lady of Kazan, and display copies of the icon, as do numerous churches throughout the Orthodox community. The original icon in Kazan was stolen, and likely destroyed, in 1904.


The “Fátima image” is a 16th-century copy of the icon, or possibly the 16th-century original, stolen from St. Petersburg in 1917 and purchased by F. A. Mitchell-Hedges in 1953. It was housed in Fátima in Portugal from 1970 to 1993, in the study of Pope St. John Paul II in the Vatican from 1993 to 2004, when it was returned to Kazan, where it is now kept in the Monastery of the Theotokos. Copies of the image are also venerated in the Roman Catholic Church.


According to tradition, the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was brought to Russia from Constantinople in the 13th century. After the Tatar conquest of Kazan (1438), the icon disappeared and is not mentioned for more than a century. Its recovery is described in Hermogen’s chronicle, written 1595. According to this account, after a fire destroyed Kazan in 1579, the Virgin appeared to a little girl, Matrona, revealing the location where the icon was hidden. The girl told the archbishop about the dream but was not taken seriously. However, on 8 July 1579, after repetitions of the dream, the girl and her mother recovered the icon on their own, buried under a destroyed house.

Other churches were built in honor of the revelation of the Virgin of Kazan and copies of the image displayed at the Kazan Cathedral of Moscow, at Yaroslavl, and at St. Petersburg. Invocation of the Virgin Mary through the icon was credited by the Russian commanders, Dmitry Pozharsky and Mikhail Kutuzov, with helping the country to repel the Polish invasion of 1612, the Swedish invasion of 1709, and Napoleon’s invasion of 1812.


On the night of June 29, 1904, the icon was stolen from the church in Kazan where it had been kept for centuries (the cathedral was later blown up by the communist authorities). Thieves apparently wanted the icon’s gold frame, which was ornamented with jewels. Several years later, Russian police apprehended the thieves and recovered the frame. The thieves originally declared that the icon itself had been cut to pieces and burnt, although one of them eventually confessed that it was housed in a monastery in the wilds of Siberia. This one, however, was believed to be a fake; and the Russian police refused to investigate, using the logic that it would be very unlucky to venerate a fake icon as though it were authentic. The Orthodox Church interpreted the disappearance of the icon as a sign of tragedies that would plague Russia after the image of the Holy Protectress of Russia had been lost. In fact, some of the Russian peasantry credited all the evils of the Revolution of 1905, as well as Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, to the desecration of the image. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, there was speculation that the original icon was in fact preserved in St. Petersburg. Reportedly, an icon of Our Lady of Kazan was used in processions around Leningrad fortifications during the Siege of Leningrad.


There was a conflicting theory that the image had been sold by the Bolsheviks abroad, although such theories were not accepted by the Russian Orthodox Church. The history of the stolen icon between 1917 and 1953 is unknown. In 1953, F. A. Mitchell-Hedges purchased the icon from Arthur Hillman. Although the status of the icon as the original Kazan icon remained disputed, Cyril G.E. Bunt concluded “that it is the work of a great icon painter of the 16th century […] the pigments and the wood of the panel are perfectly preserved as exhaustive X-ray tests have proved, and have mellowed with age”, suggesting that while it was a copy of the original icon, it was nevertheless the original icon carried by Pozharski in 1612. It was exhibited at the World Trade Fair in New York in 1964/5. On 13 September 1965, members of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fátima spent the night in adoration of the icon in the pavillion in New York. The Blue Army eventually bought the icon from Anna Mitchell-Hedges for $125,000 in January 1970, and the icon was enshrined in Fátima, Portugal.

In 1993, the icon from Fátima was given to Pope St. John Paul II, who took it to the Vatican and had it installed in his study, where he venerated it for eleven years. In his own words, “it has found a home with me and has accompanied my daily service to the Church with its motherly gaze.” John Paul expressed a desire to visit Moscow or Kazan to return the icon to the Russian Orthodox Church personally. When these efforts were blocked by the Moscow Patriarchate, the icon was presented to the Russian Church unconditionally in August 2004. On August 26, 2004, it was exhibited for veneration on the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica and then delivered to Moscow. On the next feast day of the holy icon, July 21, 2005, Patriarch Alexius II and Mintimer Shaymiev, the President of Tatarstan, placed it in the Annunciation Cathedral of the Kazan Kremlin.


The icon is enshrined in the Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, part of the former Monastery of the Theotokos, on the site where the original icon of Our Lady of Kazan was found and plans are underway to make the monastery’s other buildings into an international pilgrimage centre.

Burnt milk pudding is a famous Turkish dish, probably of Tatar origin, in Kazan. If you happen to be in Kazan you can easily find it in stores and restaurants. It’s also easy to make at home. It is best made a day or two ahead of time. You will need a flameproof 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan. It must be made entirely of metal without an enamel coating. Glass or pyrex could shatter. Mastic may be a little hard to come by. Extra vanilla is all right as a substitute, although mastic is more authentic.


Burnt Milk Pudding


1 pea-sized piece of mastic
1 ½ cups/300 g plus 1 tsp granulated sugar
½ cup/60 g cornstarch
½ cup/55 g all-purpose flour
3 cups/475 ml whole milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract


Grind the mastic with 1 teaspoon sugar in a mortar and pestle.

Dissolve the cornstarch and flour in 1 ½ cups cold water in a mixing bowl.

Heat the milk and remaining sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the cornstarch and flour mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Boil for 30 seconds, then remove from heat.

Put a 9-by-13-inch flameproof metal baking pan over a medium-high burner and ladle in about 1 cup of the milk mixture, or enough to just cover the bottom of the pan. This is the tricky part. You want to caramelize the milk heavily, so you need to watch carefully as it boils. To get an evenly burned milky bottom, occasionally shift the pan back and forth over the burner using oven mitts. The milk will turn brown and then get darker and darker. The darker the gets, the more flavorful the finished dish will be. Look for a deep chocolate brown color, almost but not completely black. Set the baking pan aside.

Add the vanilla and the mastic mixture to the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan. Bring the mixture back to a boil, then pour it over the burned pudding in the baking pan. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Cut into small squares and transfer with a spatula to individual serving bowls, burned bottoms up.