The Chapel of the Iverian Mother of God
Moscow's most popular and miraculous icon, built in 1669; from Russia: 1842 by J.G. Kohl.
(Johann Georg Kohl (1808-1878) was a German scholar who became a tutor, but was obsessed by travel from his childhood. He published his first book in 1833, but it was after he had returned to Germany from St Petersburg in 1838 that he discovered his true vocation as a travel writer. Weni, vidi, scrips? became his motto about a host of countries, including Ireland, Scotland and Hungary, as well as Russia.)
This celebrated nestling-place of the 'Iberian Mother' consists of one undivided area. She herself, however, is in a kind of sanctuary hollowed out at the further end. The immediate space in front is adorned with many pictures of saints, and filled with silver
candlesticks, and other glittering ware. She sits in the half-darked background, in the midst of gold and pearls. Like all Russian saints, she has a dark-brown, almost black complexion. Round her head she has a net made of real pearls. On one shoulder a large
jewel is fastened, shedding brightness around, as if a butterfly had settled there. Such another butterfly rests on her brow, above which glitters a brilliant crown. In one corner of the picture, on a silver plate, is inscribed, q Pqn11) esoll Tdiv Ifispaw. Around the picture are gold brocaded hangings, to which angels' heads, painted on porcelain with silver wings, are sewn: the whole is lighted up by thirteen silver lamps. Beside the picture there are a number of drawers containing wax tapers, and books having reference to her history. Her hand and the foot of the child are covered with dirt from the abundant kissing; it sits like a crust in little raised points, so that long since it has not been hand and foot that have been kissed, but the concrete breath of pious lips. The doors of the chapel stand open the whole day, and all are admitted who are in sorrow, and heavy laden; and this includes here, as everywhere else, a considerable number. I often beheld with astonishment the multitudes that streamed in, testifying the inordinate power which this picture exercises over their minds. None ever pass, however pressing their business, without bowing and crossing themselves. The greater part enter, kneel devoutly down before 'the Mother', and pray with fervent sighs. Here come the peasants early in the morning before going to market: they lay aside their burdens, pray a while, and then go their way. Hither comes the merchant on the eve of a new speculation, to ask the assistance of the angels hovering round 'the Mother'. Hither come the healthy and the sick, the wealthy, and those who would become so; the arriving and the departing traveller, the fortunate and the unfortunate, the noble and the beggar. All pray, thank, supplicate, sigh, laud, and pour out their hearts before 'the Mother'. There is really something touching in seeing the most sumptuously-clad ladies, glittering with jewels, leave their splendid equipages and gallant attendants, and prostrate themselves in the dust with the beggars. On a holiday I once counted two hundred passing pilgrims, kneeling down before 'the Iberian Mother'; and thought with astonishment of the importance of this little spot of ground. Since Alexis, the Czars have never failed to visit it frequently. The present emperor never omits to do so, when he comes to Moscow. It is said that he has come more than once in the middle of the night, and wakened the monks, in order that he might perform his devotions.
The picture is also, if desired, carried to the houses of sick persons. For this purpose, a carriage with four horses is kept constantly ready, in which it is transported with pomp; not the real picture, but a copy that hangs in the fore-chapel; — at least so said the attendants at the chapel; but others contradicted it, and said that the copy remained behind for passing worshippers, and the original was carried to the sick. The visit costs five rubles, and a voluntary present is usually made to the monks.
I had almost forgotten to mention the principal thing; namely, that there is a very little scratch in the right cheek, that distils blood. This wound was inflicted, nobody knows when or how, by Turks or Circassians, and exactly this it is by which the miraculous powers of the picture were proved; for scarcely had the steel pierced the canvass, than the blood trickled from the painted cheek In every copy the painter has represented this wound, with a few delicate drops of blood. As I was speaking of this and other miracles to a monk, he made, to my imprudent question, whether miracles were now daily wrought by it, the really prudent reply, Why, yes, if it be God's pleasure, and when there is faith; for it is written in the Bible, that faith alone blesses.'