The legendary image of the miracle-working Byzantine icon, for the first time reproduced in the Christian world, was presented to Cardinal Liubomyr Huzar, Archbishop Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
The Icon of the Mother of God of Nicopeia (Victorious) ranks with the most scared images of the Christian world and its history is equally exciting. Created in Byzantium, in the tenth century, it represents a rare subject: the Virgin Mary holds the Child before Her, as though He were a shield. The Nicopeia was revered as a miracle-working image protecting the people and the state system, and was traditionally kept by Byzantine emperors. John II Comnenus even decorated his triumphant chariot with the icon. In 1204, after the Fourth Crusade, the Nicopeia was captured by the doge of Venice and brought to the proud republic. There the icon became one of the relics of the Saint Mark’s Cathedral, installed in a separate side chapel left of the urn with the remains of the Evangelist. And then the icon vanished from the Eastern European Christian horizon, concealed for centuries, placed in a special case, so the worshippers could not see it.
In the early twentieth century, the real image of the Nicopeia remained totally unknown. Researchers of religious art had to make do with rough descriptions of the icon and copies that would turn out a far cry from the actual image. Prof. Kondakov of St. Petersburg wrote in his celebrated Christian academic work, Iconography of the Mother of God (1911): “The famous Madonna Nicopeia... is known to be hidden behind a special curtain, beginning from the head of the Child, so no details are known about Her in terms of composition.”
The Nicopeia reappeared in the 1970s, after the Second Vatican Council, which introduced numerous reforms in Catholic canons, including cultural monuments. Updated ideological approaches and technological progress in storing and restoring relics of antique art allowed to reveal the Icon of the Mother of God of Nicopeia to worshippers and critics. Nevertheless, tourist access is restricted, as only believers are allowed entry to the Saint Mark’s Chapel, where it rests on a separate altar, to offer up a prayer. Natalia Smirnova, a reputed Kyiv art critic, took advantage of attending the inauguration of the 49th Biennial in Venice and paid homage to Saint Mark’s. She returned home and presented her husband Yury Nikitin with a sizable collection of illustrations and technical data concerning the unique icon. He is a leading Eastern European icon- painter and has dedicated twenty years to the art. His icons and frescoes embellish churches in Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia, private collections in France, Poland, Lithuania, and Croatia. In 1990, when the term biennial was little known in Ukraine, the artist represented his country at the fourth sacral art biennial in Goszyw (Poland). So he began to work on the Nicopeia image with special inspiration.
Actually, he started the next day after the solemn Byzantine liturgy celebrated by Cardinal Liubomyr Huzar at the Chaika Stadium in Kyiv in the presence of John Paul II. The artist had attended the service and felt inspired. Working to revive the glorious and mysterious image of the Mother of God, he decided to present it to the Greek Catholic Church.
His initiative was supported by the Praktik Public Relations Agency specializing in nonprofit elite cultural projects. With the kind assistance of the Rev. Oleksa Petriv, secretary of His Grace Liubomyr, the latter granted the artist and agency leadership an audience during which the copy of the icon was solemnly presented to the cardinal and blessed by him.