According to experts, this icon of the Madonna and Child dates back to the 13th century. Icons are sorted by categories according to their theme, and this one is a hodigitria, where Mary points to Jesus who is the path.
It was probably painted in Constantinople (although some attribute it Saint Luke, the Evangelist) and taken to a monastery in Kazan, then lost in 1209, during the Tartar invasion. When Ivan the Terrible conquered this region, a fire destroyed the city of Kazan, which he rebuilt on the burned ruins of the former castle of Kazan Khans (1552).
On July 8, 1579
In the aftermath of this disaster, the Blessed Virgin appeared three times to a nine-year old girl, revealed to her where to search for the icon that had beeen hidden under ashes by the faithful during the historic Tartar invasion. Nobody believed the child, who began digging in the ashes, alone with her mother. She located the icon, wrapped in a red cloth. The icon was intact and the Virgin's face glowed.
The archbishop was informed and held a solemn procession to St Nicholas Church. Along the way, two blind men, Joseph and Nikita, were cured. Later, a magnificent cathedral was built to enshrine the icon.
The icon miraculously found in Kazan in 1579 became well known for numerous miracles and cures. July 8th became the feast day of Our Lady of Kazan.
In 1612, when Moscow was under siege, the soldiers took the icon with them, hailed as the "Liberator of Russia," and liberated the city on November 27th. The icon was then placed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Kazan in Moscow at the Red Square. In 1709, Peter the Great claimed that the Virgin of Kazan had given him victory in his battle against Charles XII of Sweden. In 1812, Our Lady of Kazan was also awarded victory against Napoleon's armies since they began retreating from Russia on October 12, 1812, one of the annual feasts of the icon.
Thereafter, a beautiful copy of this icon was brought to St Petersburg (Petrograd) where a cathedral was built from 1801 to 1811, and dedicated to Our Lady of Kazan.
At the time of the Communist Revolution
In 1917, when the Communists took power, they concentrated their attention on the Icon of Kazan, seen as an expression of "the soul of Russian people."
Sadly, the great cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in Petrograd, now Leningrad, was transformed into an atheist museum, the new official center of militant atheism in the world. The Communists wanted to prove that God did not exist by destroying the Church of the Liberator and Protectress of Holy Mother Russia.
The return of the icon to its place of origin
On October 13, 1917, which, coincidentally, is also the day of the extraordinary Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, the Bolsheviks destroyed the Basilica of Our Lady of Kazan at the Red Square but the icon was saved and immediately taken out of the country.
That same icon or a replica of it was enshrined in a Marian shrine of Fatima, Portugal in the 1970s, and later given to Pope John Paul II, who decided to return the precious icon to the Russian people on the day of the Assumption (in the Julian calendar). The Icon of Kazan was finally returned to its place of origin, after long wanderings, on July 21, 2005, to be enshrined in the Annunciation Cathedral of Kazan Kremlin.