The Protection of the Theotokos Icon from Cheremoshnia
The Protection of the Theotokos Icon from Cheremoshnia

Roksolana Kosiv | Lviv National Academy of Arts, Andrei Sheptytskyi National Museum in Lviv, Ukraine


The icon known as the “Protection of the Theotokos with Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of Pechersk” was purchased for the National Museum in Lviv in 1931 from the Archangel Michael church in Cheremoshnia (now Lviv region, Ukraine). The Theotokos holds a red veil over the people, which is a symbol of her protection. This is the feast (celebrated on the 1 of October) and iconography which was not known in the Byzantine tradition. The scene appeared approximately in the late 12th century in the Kyivan Rus.

The Cheremoshnia icon was painted paired with an icon of the Entry of the Virgin Mary into the Temple and St. John the Theologian and St. Demetrios (both icons are stored in the Andrei Sheptytskyi National Museum in Lviv NML i-1870, i-1871). The icons are painted on linden boards with tempera and oil, which was commonly used by Lviv masters in the early 17th century. Although name of the author of the icons from Cheremoshnia is not known, the manner of the painting and the composition of the icons indicate the impact of leading artists of the so-called Lviv School of the first half of the 17th century – in particular Fedir Senkovych and Mykola Petrakhnovych. The Protection icon is quite large (106 x 144.5 cm), but it is not known where exactly it was located in the church.

The scene of the Protection of the Theotokos is two-tiered. In the center of the upper portion stands the Virgin Mary facing Christ. A prayer written on the scroll she holds is directed toward Christ. The apostles stand to the left of the Virgin Mary, and St. John the Baptist, hierarchs, and a deacon to the right. The figures have no inscriptions but can be identified by their iconography. Angels are depicted above the group in the top tier of the composition. In the lower tier, St. Roman the Melodist is shown with St. Andrew the Fool for Christ and his disciple Epiphany and a group of men to his right. To his left are two archbishops, followed by a group of monks and two rulers before a group of soldiers. The Virgin Mary is depicted against the three-domed church with a coffered vault and arched windows.


The Protection of the Theotokos icon from Cheremoshnia stands out among similar works with details of the central scene and depictions of Sts. Anthony and Theodosios of Pechersk facing the central composition. The Mother of God addresses Christ on the left, and the text in Church Slavonic of the Ruthenian recension of her prayer, written on a white scroll, changes its direction – from right to left. However, unlike early Greek writing or boustrophedon, almost all letters remain facing right. The text is taken from the Life of St. Andrew the Fool for Christ, where the Mother of God prays for the faithful and the city: “цру н[бни] [при]ми всякаго члка славящго тя / и при[зиваю]ща[го] имя твоє стоє и всяко мѣсто / идеже б[…] п[амя] имени моєго ωсти мѣсто то / и прослави […] (“Heavenly King, receive every man who glorifies you and calls upon your holy name, and every city where there is a memory of my name, sanctify this city and glorify it […]” (reconstructed and shortened). The text is similar to what can be found in the 16th century manuscript Prologues and in the 1619 Anthologion of Kyiv-Pechersk press on the feast day of the Protection.

On the Cheremoshnia icon, the large figures of Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of Pechersk become like participants in the Protection scene. In the contemporary environment of Kyiv and the Ukrainian lands in general, St. Anthony – the founder of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra – and St. Theodosios – the abbot and builder of the Dormition church of the Lavra – were particularly celebrated by leading theologians, including Metropolitan Peter Mohyla. Images of both saints often appear in miniatures of the 17th century liturgical books of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra press. In the second half of the 17th century, their images were also popular in icon painting. The Cheremoshnia icon is exemplary in this case because it is one of the oldest preserved icons from the Lviv region with the depiction of these two saints. It connects them with the scene of the Protection of the Theotokos, which at that time became significant for society and patron of the Cossack army – most of the Cossack Sich churches were consecrated to the Protection of the Mother of God.

Another icon of the Protection of the Theotokos, painted around the same time in the 1640s, has a similar iconography. This icon is also associated with the Lviv School (NML i-1014; provenance unknown). As evidenced by the painting manner, this icon was created by one of the artists of the iconostasis of the Sts. Paraskevi church in Lviv. The mentioned iconostasis is the prominent example of the Lviv School and the only preserved in original version in situ. It has the same text on the scroll of the Theotokos, where she prays for the city – apparently for Lviv – written from left to right. This text appears on the icons of the Protection only in these two examples, which may indicate a connected provenance. Both icons attest to the spread of a common iconographic model of the Protection of the Theotokos among Lviv artists, which can be traced back to an earlier prototype, where the Mother of God is interceding to Christ. Today, icons of the Protection of the Theotokos painted by Lviv masters before the 17th century are unknown, although icons with this iconography have survived since the end of the 13th century (they all differ in the details of the composition). On the second-mentioned icon, there are also two hierarchs depicted, one young in a mitre without a halo, and the other older with a halo above which the inscription “Patriarch Tarasii” is found. This is the depiction of St. Tarasios, Patriarch of Constantinople (784–806), although he was not a contemporary of either Andrew the Fool or Roman the Melodist.

The image of the young hierarch in both icons resembles a portrait of Peter Mohyla (1596–1647), who came from a Moldavian family, studied at the Brotherhood school at the Dormition Church in Lviv, and, in April 1633, was consecrated as the Metropolitan of Kyiv, Halych, and All Rus in the same church at the age of 37. His depiction next to the Constantinople Patriarch Tarasios may emphasize that the contemporary Kyiv Metropolitans were exarchs of the Constantinople Patriarch. It is also worth noting the importance of the Dormition Church in Lviv and its Stavropegial brotherhood, which was the center of Ukrainian life in the city and region. It is likely that the newly built Dormition Church in Lviv (1591–1629), with its Renaissance features, including a coffered vault, is depicted on the icon of the Protection of the Theotokos from Cheremoshnia. This would indicate that the icon was painted with the thought of this site, while its iconography conveyed the protection of the Theotokos and the guidance of the early founders – Sts. Anthony and Theodosius – of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.

Further Reading

Aleksandrovych, Volodymyr. Покров Богородиці. Українська середньовічна іконографія. Львів: Національна академія наук України, 2010. [Protection of the Mother of God. Ukrainian medieval iconography] Lviv: National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, 2010.

The monograph is dedicated to the medieval Ukrainian iconography of the Protection of the Theotokos. It also features a fragment of the icon from Cheremoshnia. The focus is on the image of the Virgin Mary in prayer to Christ which is described here as the Theotokos Intercessor.

Gęmbarowicz, Mieczysław. Mater misericordiae – Pokrow – Pokrowa. Wrocław: PAN, 1986. [Mater misericordiae – The Protection of the Theotokos – Pokrowa]. Wrocław: PAN, 1986.

The book is the first monographic research on the topic of the Protection of the Theotokos, which takes into account Ukrainian icons. The author also examines the Western European iconography of the Virgin Mary with a mantle of protection (Mater misericordiae).

Aleksandrovych, Volodymyr. “Малярі Золочева та Золочівщини у XVII столітті”. Шашкевичіана. Збірник наукових праць [“Painters of Zolochiv and the Zolochiv region in the 17th century”. Shashkevychiana. Collection of scientific papers] 5-6 (2004): 203–221.

Pavlychko, Yaroslava. “Ікона Покров Богородиці I пол. XVII ст. із церкви Різдва Івана Предтечі у с. Черемошня у контексті вивчених пам’яток”. Волинська ікона: дослідження та реставрація. Матеріали ХІІІ міжнародної наукової конференції м. Луцьк, 2-3 листопада 2006 року. 13 (2006): 56–59. [“Icon of the Protection of the Mother of God from the first half of the 17th century from the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist in the village of Cheremoshnia in the context of the studied monuments.” Volyn icon: research and restoration. Materials of the 13th international scientific conference in Lutsk, 2-3 November, 2006] 13 (2006): 56–59.

These articles first published and attributed the Protection of the Theotokos icon from Cheremoshnia to the Lviv masters. Pavlychko’s publication suggests that the icon may have belonged to the iconostasis of the Sts. Paraskevi Church in Lviv. However, the iconography of both icons indicates that they rather belonged to an unknown church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

This contribution was sponsored through the Research Fellowship on the Cultural Heritage of Ukraine, 2023.

Roksolana Kosiv, "The Protection of the Theotokos Icon from Cheremoshnia," Mapping Eastern Europe, eds. M. A. Rossi and A. I. Sullivan, accessed June 3, 2023,