Our Lady of Kazan, also called Theotokos of Kazan, was a holy icon of the highest stature within the Russian Orthodox Church, representing the Virgin Mary as the protector and patroness of the city of Kazan.
It was considered a palladium of Russia for centuries, until its theft and likely destruction in 1904. Two major Kazan Cathedrals, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, are consecrated to Our Lady of Kazan, as are numerous churches throughout the land. Her feast days are July 21 and November 4 (which is also the Day of National Unity).
Ancient and venerated copies have been displayed at the Kazan Cathedral of Moscow, at Yaroslavl, and at St. Petersburg. Copies of the image are also venerated in the Catholic Church.
According to tradition, the icon was discovered on July 8, 1579, underground in the city of Kazan by a little girl, Matrona, to whom the location of the image was revealed by the Theotokos, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in a Marian apparition. The original icon was kept in the Theotokos Monastery of Kazan, built to commemorate the spot where it had been discovered.
On the night of June 29, 1904 the icon was stolen from the church in Kazan where it had been kept for centuries (the cathedral was later blown up by the communist authorities). Thieves apparently coveted the icon’s gold frame, which was ornamented with many valuable jewels. Several years later, Russian police apprehended the thieves and recovered the frame. The thieves originally declared that the icon itself had been cut to pieces and burnt, although one of them eventually confessed that it was housed in a monastery in the wilds of Siberia. This one, however, was believed to be a fake; and the Russian police refused to investigate, using the logic that it would be very unlucky to venerate a fake icon as though it were authentic. The Orthodox Church interpreted the disappearance of the icon as a sign of tragedies that would plague Russia after the image of the Holy Protectress of Russia had been lost. Indeed, the Russian peasantry was wont to credit all the evils of Revolution of 1905, as well as Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, to the desecration of the image.