Mother of God of Shui

Region: Russia (Yaroslavl)
Period: Late 17th century
Size: 31 x 27,5 cm


What do you do when your city has been struck by a merciless and deadly epidemic and you are utterly desperate? The townspeople of Shui commissioned a local icon painter to produce a life-size image of the Mother of God and her Child at killing speed, while they would fast and pray collectively for an entire week. The intervention proved effective: from the moment the icon was installed in the cathedral, the epidemic receded. Such was the icon’s fame as a ‘saviour from disaster’ that many people of faith had the image copied to protect family and relatives as a house icon. The icon shown here is an early example of such practice, since the original icon was painted during the plague epidemic of 1654-1655.

A characteristic feature of the Shuiskaya icon is that the Christ child has playfully raised his exposed right leg and is grasping his heel – a subtle reference to Gen 3:15. Legend has it that this particular iconography came about when the painter was trying to reproduce an icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria, but the infant Child kept changing his posture.