Return of relics

[b]Grodno is not known as a museum city for nothing. Its ancient palaces, unique castles and magnificent churches, which possess rare treasures, have been preserved. Sophisticated foreign tourists flock to see this wonderful city, admiring its collections of artefacts, gathered through the centuries. Unfortunately, many disappeared or were scattered during the troubled war years. However, Grodno residents haven’t lost heart; they continue searching for lost items. In the past, it was primarily enthusiasts who were involved in these searches; now, local authorities have joined the mission [/b]One of the city’s greatest losses was the miraculous icon of Kolozha Mother of God. According to legend, it was donated to the monastery by a dying beggar in the 17th century. The copper plate, depicting the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, was a copy of the famous Vilnia Mother of God Hodegetria. In 1914, Tsar Nikolay II prayed before the icon with his family. The relic inspired incidences of miraculous healing but went missing in 1915; as German troops were approaching Grodno during WWI, treasures were evacuated. At that time, many Belarusian relics were brought to Russia, including two of the most important icons in Belarus: Zhirovichi and Kolozha. The Zhirovichi icon was found in the 1920s and was secretly returned; the fate of the Kolozha icon remains unknown.
Grodno is not known as a museum city for nothing. Its ancient palaces, unique castles and magnificent churches, which possess rare treasures, have been preserved. Sophisticated foreign tourists flock to see this wonderful city, admiring its collections of artefacts, gathered through the centuries. Unfortunately, many disappeared or were scattered during the troubled war years. However, Grodno residents haven’t lost heart; they continue searching for lost items. In the past, it was primarily enthusiasts who were involved in these searches; now, local authorities have joined the mission

Kolozha churchOne of the city’s greatest losses was the miraculous icon of Kolozha Mother of God. According to legend, it was donated to the monastery by a dying beggar in the 17th century. The copper plate, depicting the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, was a copy of the famous Vilnia Mother of God Hodegetria. In 1914, Tsar Nikolay II prayed before the icon with his family. The relic inspired incidences of miraculous healing but went missing in 1915; as German troops were approaching Grodno during WWI, treasures were evacuated. At that time, many Belarusian relics were brought to Russia, including two of the most important icons in Belarus: Zhirovichi and Kolozha. The Zhirovichi icon was found in the 1920s and was secretly returned; the fate of the Kolozha icon remains unknown.
The Chairman of the Commission for Culture, Education and Youth at the Grodno City Council of Deputies, Alexander Losminsky, shows us a thick folder of ‘icon’ correspondence and explains, “Letters were sent to Russia, yet we failed to receive answers; the situation lasted for years. However, hosting a delegation from Moscow and Khimki (located near Moscow), we established strong ties and were able to tell our new friends about our problem…”
The administration of Khimki District regrets that the Kolozha Mother of God icon hasn’t been found on its territory. The head of the administration, Vladimir Strelchenko, asked Russia’s best icon painters to create a new image, which now sits solemnly in Kolozha’s Church.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Grodno City Executive Committee, Boris Kozelkov, wrote to Moscow’s North-Western Administrative District. Victor Kozlov, the Governor of the Moscow District and a member of the Moscow Government, immediately wrote to various addresses around the Russian capital, seeking the missing icon. However, the Historical and Russian museums, as well as the Tretyakov Gallery and Moscow Kremlin State Museum-Reserve of History and Culture, stress that the icon is not in their possession. The search narrows, easing our task. Enquiries have now been sent to Kolomensky Monastery and to the St. Petersburg Museum of the History of Religion.
Many Belarusian treasures found their way to St. Petersburg. Historian Yevstafy Orlovsky’s Grodnenskaya Starina (Grodno Antiquity) book (published in 1910 by a provincial printing house) tells of a northern trip by the Rzezh Pospolita’s last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski. The description of his luggage, transported from Grodno to St. Petersburg, occupies several pages. We can only guess at what the carts contained, since the king was considered to be a great admirer of sculpture and paintings; he had a large collection. Today, the city over the River Neva is home to the libraries of the Radziwill Palace and of the Dominican Monastery while the Hermitage boasts a bust of Stanisław August Poniatowski, from the gymnasium, and a huge collection of semi-precious stones once owned by Grodno Duke Valitsky. Moreover, it also keeps the most famous precious stone of the 18th century — called
‘Valitsky’s Sapphire’.
Architectural historian Igor Trusov believes Dresden may hold the answer. Saxony’s archives contain thousands of historical documents from Grodno, in addition to a city plan from the 18th century, showing the Crystal Palace (little is currently known about it), situated near contemporary Parizhskoy Kommuny Street. The other plan from the same century, which is kept in Warsaw, has Radziwill Castle situated near the River Nieman, although we know that the Radziwill Palace stood in the centre. There are interesting archives relating to Grodno even in Sweden, in Stockholm’s Military and Historical Archives. Moreover, Kiev State University possesses a true depository of treasures from the Grodno region. In the early 20th century, the richest library of the Khreptovichi family was brought there from the Shchorsy estate in the Novogrudok district. Two thousand unique books were to be returned as soon as the first university opened in Belarus, according to Khreptovich’s will, but the Ukrainian capital denies knowledge.
“Of course, it’s naive to suppose that treasures taken from Grodno will immediately come back,” muses Mr. Losminsky. “Any thing that we do restore will become available to Grodno residents and guests, as envisaged by the Spadchyna (heritage) city programme. A fire-fighting and technical museum has already appeared in Grodno’s historical centre and a numismatic museum is next in line. Temporary exhibitions have been organised, allowing lost relics to appear in Grodno — at least for a short time. It would be wonderful to display ‘Valitsky’s Sapphire’ in our mineralogical museum…”

By Iosif Popko
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