Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Kazan
Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Kazan, Russia, built in 1887, is located in the city center on Bolshaya Krasnaya Street. It forms part of the 16th-century Bogoroditsky Monastery complex and is famous for housing a patron saint of Russia which is one of the most revered icons in the Orthodox world, the Miraculous Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, more commonly known as Our Lady of Kazan.
According to legend, the icon was found in July 1579 by a ten-year-old girl named Matryona after Mary the Mother of God appeared to her and directed her to the burnt rubble of her father’s house. The child's claims raised doubts, but an excavation of the ashes revealed the icon wrapped in cloth. It was transferred to the cathedral by two blind people who, having touched the image, purportedly received their sight. Rumor of the miraculous icon quickly spread through the neighborhood, and the relic began to be called the Miraculous Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. At the behest of Ivan the Terrible, a women's convent was built in Kazan. Upon its completion, the first nun appointed to serve there was Matryona herself, who received the name of Mavra after her hair was shaved in an act of religious devotion.
The icon brought prestige to the convent, and even Catherine the Great paid it a visit in order to donate a crown covered with diamonds and other precious stones to Our Lady of Kazan.
The convent was to face numerous tragedies, however. During the capture of Kazan by the revolutionary Yemelyan Pugachev, it was barbarously pillaged and burned. With the help of Emperors Paul I and Alexander I, it was rebuilt shortly thereafter. Although the abbey underwent numerous renovations in the following years, the revered icon always remained intact until 1904, when Our Lady of Kazan was stolen. Some claim the theft was committed by a man named Chaikin, who took the icon's precious robe before chopping up the image and burning it in an effort to destroy the evidence. Others believe that the relic was sold and exported abroad. While the truth of its disappearance may never be known, copies of the icon have survived which, according to Orthodox canon, hold the same miraculous powers as the original.
The fate of the monastery was no less tragic than the fate of its beloved relic. During Soviet times, Bogoroditsky Monastery was turned into a tobacco factory, and one of its churches used to house the philological faculty of Kazan Pedagogical Institute.
Only in 1994 was Bogoroditsky Monastery returned to its religious function. Although restoration work continues, today the complex houses a men’s monastery, with services regularly held in both Sofia Church and Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
More than a century after the disappearance of the original Our Lady of Kazan Icon, Kazan became the guardian of the Vatican’s replica of the original relic, which Pope John Paul II gifted to Russia. The icon was received in Moscow by Patriarch Alexey II in 2004, and during Kazan’s millennial celebration on July 21, 2005, the new Our Lady of Kazan Vatican Icon was relocated to the city. Today it once again adorns Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Kazan.