Few customs or traditions have endured for longer than a millennium, but the use of icons in Russia is among them.
In this exhibition, the Knights of Columbus Museum is pleased to share more than 225 examples of Russian Orthodox iconography, along with other liturgical and devotional items.
Icons are often called windows into heaven because they are said to give the viewer a glimpse of the eternal realm. Many of the items are more than 100 years old, predating the Bolshevik Revolution (1917).
When Prince Vladimir of Kiev converted to Christianity — along with his country — in 988 A.D., iconography was introduced as a means of fostering religious understanding and devotion among the people of Kievan Rus (present day Ukraine, Belarus and northwest Russia). It followed the strict models and formulas of the Byzantine practice from which it originated but, through time, developed its own distinctions and styles. Today, Russian Orthodox icons are renowned throughout the world.
As a form of sacred art, iconographers historically prayed or fasted before and during the creation of an icon. Traditionally, icons were painted in egg tempera on wood and often accented with gold leaf or covered with ornately gilt metal covers called rizas. Rich in symbolism, they are still used extensively in Orthodox churches and monasteries, and many Russian homes have icons hanging on the wall in a “beautiful” (or prayer) corner.
“Icons have been synonymous with Christian prayer and practice for centuries,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “One of the great traditions of Eastern Christianity, icons are less well known here, and we are pleased that this exhibit will enable residents of the Northeast to grow in their understanding of the history and religious significance of these windows into heaven.”