Altar of Virgin Mary

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Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Miraculous Icon of Mother of God-Odigitria in the Mother of God Church, 1912.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was a Russian photographer whose claim to fame was his work with color sensitization and three-color photography that led to him photographing Leo Tolstoy in 1908. His vision for his work was to document the Russian Empire systematically and educate schoolchildren of the diverse history, culture, and modernization of the empire from 1909-1915. His work was able to become such a success because of the support of Tsar Nicholas II.

This picture, which was taken in The Cathedral of the Dormition in Smolensk in 1912, shows the Orthodox Church where the altar and the area from the congregation are separate. It is believed that this is so because the Icon of the Mother of God is one of the most revered sacred images in the Russian Orthodox Church and she should not be tampered with. The icon is often associated with the repulse of Russia’s enemies from the west another reason why it is so sacred.

The church itself was created when in 1867, the Russian army passed through the village in Smolensk with a copy of the icon of the Mother of God. Because the oxen were unable to move in the morning, the soldiers left the icon to stand in place. They then believed this was a sign from God and decided to build the temple in honor of the Mother of God (Vetliva).

What drew me to this picture were the colors that were featured. I love how religious centers use color to and decorations to honor their Gods and celebrate them. I am very interested in visiting churches, mosques, and synagogues and seeing the history that is left there. History begins with religion and to understand religion is to understand history.



Dennis, Nadia. Tsvyeta ooshyedshyego mira. (in Russian)
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Miraculous Icon of Mother of God-Odigitria in the Mother of God Church, 1912. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03952 (43)
“The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Village of Mizhevichi.” Vetliva,

6 thoughts on “Altar of Virgin Mary

  1. I liked your final sentence: “History begins with religion and to understand religion is to understand history.” It’s true that almost every civilization has had a central religion from which many of their values were derived from. However, there are many aspects of history that are secular in nature and, in some cases even anti-religious. The assumption that understanding religion allows one to understand all of history is a overstatement. Though religion may open the door to history, it remains a vast hodgepodge of cultural, political, economic, and imperialistic aspects of which many have been incompletely analyzed.


  2. This is such a beautiful photograph! It’s interesting that the photographer’s motive for his photography was educating school children, I’m glad you found that information to share with us. In times where Russia is usually viewed as not much more than cold, bad, or backward, it’s great to see the beauty and history of the empire at the time of these photographs. Photography is such a great way to capture history, especially with regard to religious pieces because as you said, religion is such a big part of history!


  3. Claire, I really liked your post and your focus on the religious aspects of the empire. You point out how ingrained Orthodoxy was in the Russian empire, which is interesting when compared with the anti-religion policies of the Soviet Union. This relates to your point that understanding religion is understanding history, which I think is especially relevant in this context.


  4. Claire, I thought your post on the Alter of the Virgin Mary was very informative. I liked on how you touched on the religious aspect of the Russian Empire in the pre-Marxist era and its sacred role in Russian lore in regards to “repelling enemies from the west”. It is interesting how a religious figure was also idolized into a relationship with war and conflict as well. It is interesting to see how Russia’s religious history in these times contrast with its later history in the 20th and 21st centuries as a rather non-religious state


  5. Thanks for focusing on an altar with such an amazing (miraculous!) story. Check back on spelling of altar (title of post). And that source you found in Russian — sounds cool — but takes me to a site selling shoes??


  6. Claire, I was really intrigued by your post since you were able to find so much history on this altar, so cool! I also really liked your statement about history starting with religion and will be interested to see if you examine more of Soviet history through this lens during the semester. Your post made me want to research more about religion during the period, how ingrained in the lifestyle it was, and if most Russians practiced religion. Thanks!


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