Lost Icons
Found in Kremlin Towers

Icons that were thought to have been irretrievably lost have been discovered in the walls of the Kremlin

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In May, two icons were discovered by restorers working on the Saviour and Nikolskaya towers in the Kremlin.

They depict the face of Jesus Christ and Saint Nicholas and it is believed they were bricked over during the Soviet era.

The icons were painted in the 16th century. The first was above the main gates of the Kremlin, on the walls of the Saviour Tower, and the second was found over the Nikolskaya tower gates.

According to legend, both icons have a colourful past.

During the siege of Moscow by Mehmed Giray's army in the 16th century, a nun had a vision that the only way to save the city would be a procession of the cross through the Frolovsky gates. The people saw this as a good omen and the procession took place. Giray had at a significant military advantage and was on the point of victory, yet he retreated from Moscow.

An icon to the Saviour was soon painted in commemoration of this and the gates were then renamed "Spasskie" (Saviour) and have since been revered as holy. Anyone who walked through them bared their head out of respect to the icon, and those on horseback dismounted.

Troops went to war from the holy gates, and it was also here that foreign diplomats met. On November 1, 1612, it was through these gates that the victorious Volunteer Army (having beaten off Polish and Lithuanian invaders), led by Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, processed into the Kremlin.

The second icon is linked with the Napoleonic war. In 1812, as the French retreated from Moscow, the Nikolskaya tower, and the rest of the Kremlin, was set on fire by Napoleon's Marshal Mortier. Despite this, the fresco remained intact. For the next few years Mortier was beset by bad luck, and, in the end he was killed in an assassination attempt on French King Louis-Phillipe.

The icon also remained unharmed by the October Revolution. In the chaos the icon of the prelate Nikolai Mozhaisky above the gate of the Nikolskaya tower was riddled with bullets and splinters, but the face itself remained unharmed. Religious Russians see this as a miracle.

Under Soviet power the church lost its significance for most people. Most probably the icons were bricked over to mark 20 years of Soviet power in 1937.

"We hope, that we haven't just discovered traces of the paint layer, but also that the icons have been preserved in a way which will enable us to restore them" said the general director of the Kremlin's museums, Elena Gagarin.

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta
14 June, 2010