Our Lady of Iverskaya – Guardian and Gate of Heaven

An icon that has aroused so much hatred can only have a beautiful meaning and bear a great mission. What does it have to say to the Catholics of today?

Nicaea, in the 9th century. The persecution of the truth has become violent. In the hands of a widow lies the fate of a precious icon.

There are only two options: either allow the sacred painting to fall into enemy possession and be desecrated, or throw it into the sea. Either choice seems absurd! Trusting, however, that it is better to fall into God’s hands than into those of men, the poor woman chooses the latter alternative…

Victim of iconoclasm

At the time of this pious widow, the second wave of the iconoclastic heresy had taken hold in the Byzantine Empire and was unleashing a furious persecution against those who kept the Faith. The heretics promoted, above all, the violent destruction of all icons, images and sculptures venerated by Christians.

Among the icons existing at that time in the city of Nicaea, there was one venerated by tradition as having been the work of the Evangelist St. Luke. It belonged to a class of paintings called Hodegetria – which in Greek means She who shows the way – which represent Mary pointing to the Child Jesus with her right hand, while holding Him in her left arm.

These icons of high theological tenor reveal profound truths of Faith in their details: the Mother of the Saviour is generally clothed in purple, a sign of her royalty, and the Divine Infant wears a white tunic, which represents both the glory of purity and the luminosity of the Transfiguration, and is wrapped in an orange cloak, symbol of truth and of the fire of the Holy Spirit.

This beautiful symbology meant nothing, however, to the hard hearts that had willingly given themselves over to error. One imperial soldier dared to stab the sacred icon in the face of the Blessed Virgin! Tradition has it that blood gushed profusely from the open wound…

It was for this reason that the fervent widow, not even the name of whom has come down to us by tradition, had secretly taken the icon and decided to cast it into the sea.

Years later, her son entered the Iviron Monastery, located on Mount Athos in Greece, and narrated to his confreres the miracle that occurred with the image during the time of persecution, and the end that it met while tossed among the waves of the sea.

Mother of God and “Portaitissa”

The designs of God are unfathomable for men, and almost always mysterious.

The lady who saved the icon could not possibly have imagined that one day it would be miraculously found by one of the monks of Mount Athos! The fortunate man’s name was Gabriel. As soon as he discovered the delicate treasure, he took it to the monastery chapel so that it could be venerated and protected from future attacks.

Great was the joy of the community when they heard the news, and great, too, was their consternation when, the next day, they found that the icon had disappeared… They anxiously searched for it, to no avail, and were already beginning to think that it was a clear sign of the rejection of the Mother of God when shouts of joy indicated its whereabouts: the Virgin had moved to the gates of the monastery!

Surprised and relieved, they carried her back to the chapel. However, after the event repeated itself, the monk Gabriel received a vision in which the Blessed Virgin revealed to him her desire: She wished not merely to be guarded by the monks religious; rather, She wished to become their guardian! For this reason She was called Portaitissa, which in Greek means guardian and gatekeeper. Later, She also became known by the name of the monastery: Our Lady of Iviron, or Iverskaya, which in Russian means Guardian of Iviron.

As it is the responsibility of a gatekeeper to be ever ready to attend to visitors, be on the watch against danger and be generous to the needy, there was an influx of numerous miracles and supernatural favours at Mount Athos through the intercession of the Lady of Iverskaya.

There, many faithful recognized that the Blessed Virgin had been established by her Divine Son as the sole Gate of Salvation and Guardian of the Kingdom of Heaven, and they understood that the beautiful words of the Psalmist apply to Mary: “This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it” (Ps 118:20).

However, not content with protecting only the good sheep that the Most High had entrusted to Her in Greece, this sublime Gatekeeper would set out for more distant lands, in search of new devotees…

“Monastery of Iviron”, byKarl Girardet

From Greece to the Kremlin: the continuity of a mission

Much has been written and debated about the appearance of this icon in Russia in the mid-17th century. It is said that the monks of Mount Athos had undertaken to make a copy of the sacred painting, to be sent to Russia, but it is not known for certain for what reason or at whose request this was done.

Some say that the first copy was commissioned by Archimandrite Nikon, who was very fond of the Greek people and monks, and had heard about the miraculous story of the icon. According to tradition, in order to make the replica, the religious of Iviron bathed the original with holy water, which they then used to prepare the paints for their work. The purpose of this method was to impart to the reproduction something of the blessing that the original picture possessed.

Later, a second copy of the image was sent to Russia. The monks who transported it braved the difficulties of the journey until, lacking the financial resources to cross the Danube, they realized they would have to turn around make their way back to the monastery…

That same night, however, while they slept, they beheld a vision of the Blessed Virgin, who promised to send them what they needed to make the crossing. When they awoke, they went to the banks of the river to await the promised help. It came through a certain wealthy merchant who generously gave them what they required.

Over time, devotion to the icon of the Portaitissa of Iviron spread throughout Russia. The Iberian Gate and Chapel, situated next to the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow, were built in 1669 to guard the icon. As it was the main entrance to Red Square, everyone from the Tsar to the humblest peasant traditionally stopped there to venerate the Blessed Virgin before going through. Many monasteries, palaces and residences took Her as their protector and began to display her image on their thresholds.

Later, the devotion was transmitted to other countries. On more than one occasion, the image emitted myrrh, perhaps as a symbol of the fortitude communicated by Our Lady to her children so that they would accept sufferings well.

The Iberian Gate of the early 19th century – Moscow

Iverskaya and Fatima

Meanwhile, the history of the sacred icon holds yet another striking and prophetic detail.

It was the year 1917. While the First World War was shaking the European territories with its horrors, Russia was the scene of a profound political and social revolution. The violent convulsions that raged in the capital of the then-Romanov Empire reached a climax of chaos and destruction, and on May 13 armed demonstrators completely destroyed the Iberian Chapel enshrining the icon of Our Lady of Iverskaya, which was impiously shot.

Again persecuted and once more profaned, the Virgin of Iverskaya shed copious tears… Meanwhile, on that same day, Our Lady appeared at Fatima to three little shepherds, bringing to sinful humanity a severe warning and, to pious souls, a promise of victory!

Profaned in Russia out of hatred for religion, and venerated by the crowds at Fatima, Our Lady is the same Guardian and Gatekeeper of the faithful flock, the voice that reveals the mysterious designs of God. She is always prompt to teach the truth and to rebuke error; She shows herself as a merciful Mother to those who repent, and as an implacable Judge to obdurate wickedness.

And through which gate shall we enter?

Today, speaking to our hearts, Our Lady also makes a maternal appeal for conversion. The alternative is clear; there is no third option: either we commit ourselves to participate in the triumph of her Immaculate Heart, entering by the gate of mercy, or we will inexorably pass through the great chastisements prophesied at Fatima, the gate of justice.

As true sheep of the Lord, let us be attentive to His voice and let us seek to enter, through our Portaitissa, on the paths of virtue, giving no ear to “the voice of strangers” (Jn 10:5). Let us love our Divine Guardian with all our heart, lest, when the Judge is at the gates of the kingdom, we hear from Him the terrible sentence due to those who on this earth have rejected Her: “I do not know you” (Mt 25:12). 


Sign of Hope for the Reign of Mary

One of the most important collections of icons – religious paintings typical of the East – existing in Europe, and perhaps in the world, is found in the small town of Torrejón de Ardoz, not far from Madrid. There, in the old farm of the Jesuit College of San Isidro, the noble Sergio Otzoup established his Museum of Icons. […]

Russian replica of the image of Iverskaya – Torrejón de Ardoz (Spain)

If we tour the premises of La Casa Grande, and enter the Museum of Icons, a certain painting of the Mother of God draws particular attention: the Iverskaya Virgin or Iberian Virgin.

It represents the Mother of God holding the Child Jesus, who is carried in her left arm with the majesty of one seated on His natural throne; Jesus finds His delight in Mary. While holding the Child Jesus with all care and protection, the Virgin, with her right arm, points out to the faithful that He is the model of all perfections, and the supreme Judge of all causes. As Universal Mediatrix of all graces, her tender gaze turns to each devotee who comes to her feet, invoking her intercession and trusting in her protection.

The harmony and charm of the painting – very colourful, although muted and nuanced, with a predominance of red and gold – are violently contrasted when we see on it some holes caused by rifle bullets. The marks caused by shooting are very clearly visible both in the face of the Mother and the Son!

This strange fact finds its explanation in the recent past. The date? May 13, 1917!

Yes, while at Fatima Our Lady appeared for the first time, beginning a series of manifestations in which she prophesied the spread of Russia’s errors throughout the world as a scourge for the sins of mankind, and promised the eventual triumph of her Immaculate Heart, this profanation was committed in Moscow during the disturbances that preceded the Bolshevik revolution.

Unfortunately, as we know, with the schism of the East, only a small number of the faithful in the empire of the Tsars continued to maintain their fidelity to the throne of St. Peter. […] Everything leads one to believe that this cult of the Blessed Virgin predates the break between that nation and Rome. It may even have an auspicious meaning for the conversion of Russia, announced in the message of Fatima.

Within the schism, the Blessed Virgin continued to be venerated – albeit outside the true Church of Christ – in many shrines and through various icons scattered throughout that vast territory. Among these was the icon of the Iberian Virgin, Patroness of Moscow, whose name originated in Iberia, a region in southern Russia, in the Caucasus. This painting of Mary was displayed in a small chapel at the entrance to the Kremlin. […]

When the Tsar was deposed during the short-lived regency of Prince Lvov under the government of Kerensky, the chapel was destroyed on May 13 of the year of the communist revolution to such an extent that not a stone was left upon a stone. The icon of the Iverskaya Virgin was shot, and it is said that She wept at this profanation! Considered to have been lost during those months leading up to the Bolshevik revolution, the painting of the Mother of God was preserved along with many other icons, thanks to Sergio Otzoup, who managed to get them out of Russia in December 1918.

Today, on display in the Museum of Icons at La Casa Grande, the Iverskaya Virgin – desecrated out of hatred for Religion – remains as a sign of hope, especially for Russia but also for the world, of the new era promised by Our Lady at Fatima. The extraordinary French missionary of the 17th century, St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, prophesied that this would be the Reign of Mary! 

Virgem Iverskaya, esperança de conversão da Rússia
[Iverskaya Virgin: Hope for the Conversion of Russia].
In: Catolicismo. Campos dos Goytacazes.
Year XXXVI.N.425 (May, 1986); p.20






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