Ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II found in Mogilev, now a holy icon

PHOTO: Ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II. Artist and year unknown.

This year marks 30 years since the revival of the St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev. This Orthodox monastery is one of the oldest – the first mentions of the monastery appears in the annals of 1522 – and most famous spiritual centers in eastern Belarus, its history is closely connected with Emperor Nicholas II.

The pearl of the monastery is a unique wooden carved iconostasis, made in a special technique of Belarusian carving of the 17th century. Only three such iconostases have survived in the world: in the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow, in the Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk and in the St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev. The first abbess of the revived monastery, Abbess Evgenia Voloshchuk and her sisters worked hard during the restoration of the St. Nicholas Monastery.

Difficult fate

St. Nicholas Convent operated from 1637 to 1719, and then was transformed into a male monastery, which existed until 1754. Later, the St. Nicholas Cathedral became the parish church.

Like all Orthodox places of worship, the monastery shared a similar fate – during the years of persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church during the Soviet years, the church’s icons and other contents were confiscated, the iconostasis was destroyed. In 1934, with the death of the priest Mikhail Pleshchinsky, St. Nicholas Cathedral was closed. In 1937, the Mogilev diocese ceased to exist.

In 1937, St. Nicholas Cathedral was used as a transit prison (closed in 1941). In 1991, during the restoration of the monastery, numerous human remains were discovered – most likely victims of Stalinist repressions.

It was not until 1989, that the Mogilev Diocese was restored. It was at this time, that the reigning archbishop of Mogilev and Mstislavsky Maxim (Krokha) began the revival of the St. Nicholas Monastery.

On 28th March 1991, the St. Onufrievsky Church was consecrated. On 18th June of the same year, the monastery was visited by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II (1929-2008) of Moscow and All Russia.

PHOTO: St. Nicholas Cathedral, St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev

Monastery and the Romanov family

The history of the monastery is closely connected with the last Tsar and his family. Between 1915-1917, the headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces was located in Mogilev. During that time, Nicholas II and his family often attended Divine Liturgies held in St. Nicholas Cathedral.

During the canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia of the 20th century in the summer of 2000, a ceremonial portrait of the emperor was miraculously found in the niche of an old wall of one of the houses in Mogilev. Local Orthodox Christians, believing the discovery as a blessed meaning in coincidence and turned the portrait into an icon, transferring it to the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

The icon hangs today, on the left side-altar of the church consecrated in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs. A five-ruble gold coin is also attached to the icon, which was once presented to the boy Simeon Khalipov by Emperor Nicholas II during a visit to the monastery.

© Paul Gilbert. 28 March 2021

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