Rublev's “Trinity” Icon Returns to Its Place of Origin

July 21, 2022

The Moscow Art Museum has authorized the Russian Orthodox Church to temporarily move the famous icon to its original Lavra. This is the first time since 1918. Until now, all requests had been rejected.

The Tretyakov Gallery has authorized the transfer of Andrei Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity, arguably the most important work of art in Russian history. It will be exhibited during the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the translation of the relics of Sergius of Radonezh, in the Lavra dedicated to the Trinity, 70 km from Moscow.

The icon was painted in the first half of the 15th century by Rublev, a monk and disciple of Sergius, for the large monastery, where it hung above the entrance. It represents the scene of the three pilgrims visiting Abraham at the Oak of Mamré, the only biblical subject that the Eastern Church admits as a representation of the Trinitarian communion.

On the importance of this image, the Russian Orthodox Church has had great debates for centuries, and at the Council of the Hundred Chapters, in 1552, it consecrated the icon as the most precious symbol of the Orthodox faith.

Serge refounded Christian Russia after two centuries of Tatar invasion, inspiring the victory of Prince Dmitri of Moscow against the Mongols on the banks of the Don. His remains rest in the Lavra, and are the main destination of Russian pilgrimages in the affirmation of faith and national identity.

This holiday therefore takes on a particular symbolic meaning in the context of the war in Ukraine, where Russia intends to reaffirm the founding principles of its history.

The Patriarchate of Moscow tried several times to obtain the icon from the Gallery, but always met with a total refusal, due to the delicacy of the transport and the exhibition of such an artistic object that is both old and fragile.

Art critics and restorers have spoken out against the transfer decision, which could cause irreparable damage to the icon. Transporting and displaying the icon in a church does not allow the maintenance of the correct temperature and humidity regime, which is essential for its preservation.

The icon, on the other hand, remained in the Lavra until 1918, and was saved from destruction thanks to men like the priest Pavel Florensky, who chose to remain in Soviet Russia, obtaining the post of Superintendent of Fine Arts in order to save Lavra and her treasures, and who later died imprisoned in the Solovki concentration camp.

Authorization for the transfer was given by the Ministry of Culture, under the direct influence of President Putin, to gather around the sacred image the people engaged in the great war, in order to reestablish all the dimensions of their identity in as a people and as a Church.

This year, the request had been made in June for the liturgical feast of the Holy Trinity, and it had again been rejected. However, after new calls for mobilization, the icon was enlisted, and art and science yielded to higher needs.