The Vilnius icon of the Mother of God and its cult in the Greek Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity

  • Rūta Janonienė
Keywords: Vilnius, Greek Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity, icon, Hodegetria of Vilnius


The article discusses the icon of the  Hodegetria Mother of God, formerly placed in Vilnius.
The currently missing piece of art was considered very important in the Vilnius spiritual life in
the 16th – early 20th centuries and was respected by Orthodox, Greek Catholic (Uniate) and
Roman Catholic churches. A significant influence on the cult of icons was inspired by the au-
thorship attributed to St. Lukas (later – only its prototype) and historical links with the family
of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Alexander Jagiellon (the icon was brought as a dowry in 1495
by his wife Elena, the daughter of the Grand Duke of Moscow).
In the 16th century, the icon was stored in the Orthodox Cathedral of the Blessed Mother of
God. At that time it was possibly renewed (two side boards were replaced and the icon was re-
painted with the egg-tempera technique). It is supposed that at that time the partial amendment
was made in the oldest silver casings consisting of separate ornamented plates that were covering
the background of the icon. Most of the knowledge about the existence of the icon exists from
the beginning of the 17th century, when it was transferred into the church of the Vilnius Basilian
monastery of St. Trinity. There it became a major factor of Vilnius Latin and Greek Catholic
religious integration. The altar of The Mother of God in the church of St. Trinity was patronized
by the fraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Holy Mary.
The image of the icons is known from the descriptions, lithographs, photographs and copies
of the 19th century. It should be noted that there are two different iconographic variations of
the copies of the Vilnius Hodegetria (characterized by the different position of the feet of Jesus).
The article raises an assumption that the icon could be repainted in the 17th century. The slight
change of the image or its iconography may have been adjusted with the silver casings made in
1677. Once again the Vilnius icon was possibly renewed after the fire in 1706. In the middle of
the 18th century, the head of Holy Mary was decorated with a new pure gold filigree crown. In
1839, after the repeal of the union and the takeover of the St. Trinity‘s church by the Orthodox,
the altar of Holy Mary was demolished and the icon was added to the new iconostasis. In 1866,
the old artistic silver casings were melted and from the resulting material the new casing was
made in St Petersburg, corresponding to the requirements of the Orthodox. In the same year,
the icon was restored. Its oil paints were cleaned. The image unveiled at that time perhaps was
not the first original image, but the one created after the icon base corrections, most likely in
Vilnius in the 16th century.