600-year-old icon returned to St. Petersburg from a private American collection

The icon dates from 1406 and is the oldest in the temples of St. Petersburg. The image belongs to the Novgorod icon school of the beginning of the 15th century. After the revolution, the icon was seized by the Soviet authorities, placed in Tretyakov Gallery, and then sold abroad to a private American collection. In the early 2000s the image was bought at the auction of Christie’s, and in the 300th anniversary of Saint Petersburg this icon was donated to the Holy Trinity Cathedral by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The icon story follows an episode from the Old Testament, the story of Abraham. The Lord told him: «Go to the land I tell you and from you I will produce a great family». Abraham listened to the Lord and went, but he didn’t have any children, and he couldn’t have them any more because he was about a hundred years old. He was disappointed in the promise of God, but one day he saw three travelers in his garden. As they approached, Abraham invited them to his tent to share a meal with him. In the image of the travelers appeared the Holy Trinity itself: the Father, the Son and the Ghost Holy under the guise of angels. They promised Abraham that he would have a son. Abraham’s wife, Sarra, also in her old age, doubted that they could have children and, having heard such words from travelers, laughed. But the travelers told her: «Your son will be born and you will name him Isaac that is translated from Hebrew as «Sarra’s laughter»». And indeed, Isaac was born - the story went according to the Lord’s plan.

In theology, this story became known as «Eternal Council». Before the creation of the world, the Father, the Son, and the Ghost Holy were sort of on the council, in a conversation about the creation of the world. It is this council that is depicted on the icon - the three Angels, the three faces of the Holy Trinity that are talking about the fate of the world. Below there is the calf which Abraham has ordered travelers to stab for lunch. On the table there are the bowls which are the symbol of the Eucharistic Bowl (A bowl for Holy Communion).

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