E W S
noblewoman gives a fragment of Our Lady’s robe, and relics of
six other saints,
Russian Orthodox Church in Kazan, Tartarstan, in the heart of
Dr. Robert Moynihan
KAZAN, Russia, May 13 - Are relations warming between the Roman
Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches after years of grave
Possibly, if the simple but extraordinary events which took
place today in this city on the Volga River in the heart of
Russia are any indication.
An aging Italian Roman Catholic noblewoman, her grey hair
covered with a white veil, in a church packed with nearly 1,000
Russian Orthodox, today, in a simple but moving ceremony, handed
over to the Russian Orthodox bishop of the city seven precious
relics of saints -- including a tiny fragment of the robe of
Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Some women in attendance wept openly.
"I bring these relics as my gift to you, and to the people of
Russia, as a sign of my respect and love for Russia and all her
people," the Marquise Immacolata Solaro del Borgo, 77, a member
of Rome's historically powerful Colonna family, said to Bishop
Anastasi as she handed over the gift to him at 10 a.m. today in
a packed church. "I hope the relics can enrich the new Marian
sanctuary you are building around the icon of Our Lady of
appreciate these gifts very much," Bishop Anastasi later told "Inside
the Vatican." "We are grateful to Immacolata that she made this
long and tiring journey to bring us these gifts personally. The
city of Kazan will appreciate them forever."
Showing the seriousness with which today's gift of the relics
was treated in Russia, the ceremony was broadcast live
throughout the country on the main national television channel,
The ceremony took place in Kazan's Cathedral of Sts. Peter and
In the ceremony, the Marquise Immacolata (a "marquise" ranks
above a countess and below a duchess) gave Bishop Anastasi a
fragment of the robe of Mary and relics of six other saints: St.
Basil the Great, St. Blaise, St. Nicholas, St. Daria, St.
Natalia and St. Pancratius.
The relics were contained in a single reliquary made by a
Neapolitan jeweler in 17th century, a small silver box in the
center of which was the fragment of Our Lady’s robe surrounded
by the six saints’ relics, with their names inscribed there in
The reliquary came to Marquise Immacolata from Princess Giovanna
Barberini, the widow of Prince Augusto Barberini, whose
relatives included many cardinals and Pope Urban VIII
The head of the internal affairs and tourism committee of the
Kazan City Council, Vladimir Leonov, said that Marquisde
Immacolata is an old friend of the Russian Orthodox Church.
She was prominent in Italy in the 1980s in arranging for medical
treatment for the children from Chernobyl, Ukraine, and in the
past has given a relic of St. Nicholas to Patriarch Alexy II of
Moscow and All Russia, and a relic of St. George to the Nikolo-Ugreshsky
Monastery near Moscow.
Bishop Anastasi invited Marquise Immacolata to a lunch at his
residence after the ceremony. She will remain in Kazan for two
more days, visiting the holy sites of Russian Orthodoxy in
There is one 300-member Roman Catholic parish in Kazan, a city
of about 1.5 million on the Volga River which is about half
Muslim and half Russian Orthodox -- and where Christians and
Muslims both venerate the Virgin Mary in the icon of Kazan.
The head of the Catholic parish is Father Diogenes Urquiza, an
Argentine priest who, assisted by three nuns, ministers to his
small Kazan flock. Father Diogenes was present at this morning's
ceremony. As a line of Russian Orthodox priests passed by him
during the 2-hour thanksgiving liturgy which followed the
handing over of the gift, many of the priests nodded to him in
relations between the Catholics and the Orthodox in Kazan are
cordial," Father Diogense told "Inside the Vatican." "We have
respect for one another as Christians, and we have plans to work
closely together on a number of social problems, like drug
addiction and family problems, in years to come."
The city of Kazan has decided it will soon build a new
pilgrimage center for the Kazan icon, which was given back to
Russia in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.
The saints' relics handed over today will join the icon in the
Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the center of the planned sanctuary.
The Kazan icon is considered one of the most precious of all the
icons of Russia, because prayers in the presence of the icon in
past centuries preceded important military victories. It is thus
sometimes referred to here as "the protection of Russia."
The Kazan icon depicts a serene Madonna and Child. It was found
under mysterious circumstances in Kazan in 1579, then lost to
Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918.
It was re-discovered in the West in the 1940s, purchased by the
Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima (a group interested in the
message of Our Lady of Fatima, given to three shepherd children
in Portugal in 1917 starting of May 13, 90 years ago today).
The icon was then held in Portugal for two decades, before being
transferred to Pope John Paul's private apartment in 1993,
shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.
St. Peter's and Paul's is a massive and beautiful baroque
cathedral. Built to commemorate Peter the Great's visit to
Kazan, construction was finished in 1726. Inside it is equally
sumptuous, featuring a towering iconostasis.
Moynihan, INSIDE THE VATICAN