The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/44 – Our Lady of Smolensk





‘Our Lady of Smolensk,’ later referred to as a ‘Hodigitria’ or ‘Patron of the wayfarers,’ was also said to have been painted by Saint Luke and according to tradition, blessed by Our Lady who said: “My blessing will remain always with this Icon.” The Icon was initially at Antioch, then transferred to Jerusalem. During the fifth century the wife of Emperor Arcadius, Empress Eudoxia, donated the Icon as a gift to Pulcheria her sister-in-law, who carried it to Constantinople. Whilst in Constantine’s city, the Icon was placed in a church in the district of Blachernae, possibly the Church of the Holy Reliquary. In 1101, Vladimir Monomach, removed it to the Cathedral of Smolensk where it acquired the name ‘Hodigitria of Smolensk.’

In 1238, the Christian Saint Mercurius, stirred by the voice of Hodigitria of Smolensk, led his troops against a mighty Mongolian army which was under the command of the ruthless Batu. Albeit the fact that Mercurius was martyred the Mongolians were defeated. He was proclaimed a hero and a military saint; the Orthodox Christians commemorate his feast on November 24. In 1398, the Icon was removed to Moscow by Sophia, the daughter of Prince Vitovtus and wife to Grand Prince Dimitry of Moscow and was placed in the Annunciation Cathedral in the Kremlin. In 1456, the original Icon was returned to Smolensk while three copies were left in Moscow, one at the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the other at the Convent of Novodevichy. Another copy was placed in the tower of the Smolensk Fortress, over the Dnieprovsky Gates. In 1802, a church was constructed in the vicinity of the fortress. The Feast of Hodigitria of Smolensk is celebrated on July 28, 1525. In 1439, the Council of Florence reunited the Western and Eastern Christian Churches, however, Russia ignored the union and in 1448 declared that the Eastern Orthodox Christians were the one true church. The Battle of Orsha occurred on September 8, 1514, pitting the Russian forces against a smaller force of Lithuanians and Poles. The result was the complete victory for the Catholic Polish and Lithuanian forces over the Russians. King Sigismund I of Poland attributed this victory to the Blessed Virgin’s intercession. From the Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, less than 30,000 troops formed the Polish-Lithuanian offensive under the command of Hetman Konstanty Ostrogski. Konyushy Ivan Chelyadnin and Prince Mikhail Golitsa commanded the Russian army consisting of 40,000 men. The Russians planned to reunite Russia with all the old Ruthenian lands and in 1512 invaded part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, today’s Ukraine and Belarus. In July 1514, a Russian force consisting of 80,000 men captured Smolensk, which was the eastern-most outpost of the Lithuanian Duchy, the Russians secured their conquest by capturing other towns in the vicinity. The Polish King Sigismund marshaled a 30,000 strong army and challenged the invaders, he freed town after town of the oppressed land. On September 7 the Polish-Lithuanian Army crossed the Dnieper River and reached their enemy at their camp between the towns of Orsha and Dubrowna on the River Krapiuna.

On September 8, 1514, the Russians attacked, directing their forces against the flanks of the Polish-Lithuanian Army. The first Russian attempt failed and the forces withdrew to base. As they withdrew the Russian coordination was weak, sensing this disorganization the Lithuanian cavalry took advantage of the weakly coordinated retreat and attacked the over stretched center. The Russian cavalry charged and chased the Lithuanians and were led right into a trap. They were surrounded by Polish artillery that emerged from their hiding places in the forests. The panicked Russians retreated in disarray, the Lithuanian cavalry followed, cutting down the enemy wherever they could. According to the chronicles of the day, 30,000 Russians were killed and 3,000 captured. Nine commanders were captured, together with three hundred Russian cannon. King Sigismund attributed the Polish-Lithuanian victory to the intercession of the Blessed Mother who intervened on the universal solemnity dedicated to her Nativity. Despite this victory and Russian arrest, the town of Smolensk was not retaken until the year 1611.




In the late eighteen-century, Austria, Russia and Germany partitioned Polish territory between themselves. Due to the fact that Napoleon lessened Russian control over Poland, the arrival of Napoleon was deemed as favorable to the Polish cause. Despite the high casualties at the Battle of Borodino, the Russians were successful at halting Napoleon’s advance. The Russian casualties numbered in the thousands, while French casualties were much less, nonetheless, Napoleon was on the loosing side, for the Russians invoked ‘Hodigitria of Smolensk’ to come to their aid. On the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, on August 5, 1812, the Russian forces left Smolensk and with them carried a copy of the Icon. Before the battle, the Icon was taken around the camp to bless and strengthen the moral of the troops. The original Hodigitria, together with the Iveron and Vladimir Icons, were carried in procession through the streets of Moscow and to the sick and wounded in the Lefortovsky Court. General Kutusov toured the Russian Army preceded by the Black Virgin of Smolensk. While the General read a proclamation, Orthodox priests prayed, sung and sprinkled the ranks with holy water and swung their censors and blessed and incensed the troops.

The battle commenced at dawn, the French and the Russians shot their first projectiles. The French discovered that one hundred and two guns were out of range and missed their targets. French and Russian troops battled across the Kolocha Bridge, completely destroying it in the process. While Napoleon directed and viewed the proceedings and outcome, atop the Borodino Hills, the engagements spread everywhere especially at the Borodino area. The battalions and regiments fought on, attacking and counter-attacking, around 11:30 AM the French were successful at capturing the fleches and the Village of Borodino. Nonetheless, this initial French success did not last long, for the Russians intending to avenge their fresh defeat, organized a direct assault. General Yermolov took a few crosses of the Order of Saint George and threw them around the redoubt, this encouraged and inspired the charging soldiers who conquered the stronghold. Another fierce engagement occurred for the conquest of the Village of Semenovskaya. The Russians defended fiercely, however, the French gained the eventual control over this area. In a position behind Semenovskaya the Russians bravely withstood five hours of heavy French artillery. Under Napoleon’s command the Poles fought bravely against the Russians, however, on September 8 Napoleon was severely depressed and disappointed, for although the Russian casualties were high, they were still capable of replacing the fallen and still offered resistance. On the other hand Napoleon was at the end of his supplies and gained very little from all the blood shed. 40,000 Russians perished, the French suffered 30,000 dead. The Battle of Borodino left no side victorious, however the Russians successfully impeded Napoleon from destroying the Czarist Army. Albeit Napoleon’s capture of Moscow, he had to evacuate the city thirty-five days later, leaving Moscow and Russia unconquered.


Our Lady was accredited for having protected the Russian Army and Nation.



1 Comment »

  1. […] We also know that the battle at Smolensk was particular :- […]

    Pingback by Smolensk, Kazan and Tikhvin « The Catholic Southern Front Dispatch — June 3, 2009 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

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