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Published: June 15th 2011
ICON OF THE HOLY MOTHER OF MERCY
After stowing our things in the hotel we struck out to see the sights and sites of Vilnius. We knew the general direction of the old part of the city and headed that way. After walking four or five blocks we saw an arch through a high wall. Nancy couldn't bear to stay on the same side of the street where we were and ignoring this interesting looking arch. So, she asked if we could 'Please just go over and look through that arch'. It turned out to be the entrance to Ausros Vartai Street. Later I read this is called the Gate of Dawn. It looked to be an interesting way to walk so we passed through. Walking on, down a slight downgrade, we turned to see the inner side of the gate and, low and behold, there above us directly over the gate was one of the most famous and visited places in Vilnius, the icon of the Holy Mother of Mercy.
This famous icon is also called the;
• Holy Mother Mary, Mother of Compassion,
• Madonna of the Gates
• Vilnius Madonna
and is located in a room over the Gate of Dawn. This is an ancient gate, once part of the fortified wall that surrounded old town Vilnius. The icon can only be seen from Ausros Vartai Street or by walking up a set of stairs to the chapel where it is located. The icon is located in a room with a very large window making it clearly visible from the street for all to see and adore. When people walk through the gate into the old quarter of the city almost every one walks down the street ten or fifteen yards, turns around to face the icon and crosses themselves. Happily this icon is venerated both by Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers and is a point where the two groups find common ground.
Completed in the first half of the 17th century the painting of Mary is on an oak log. In 1671 gold was added in front of the painting changing it into an icon. The same year a chapel was completed to house the icon.
Throughout the centuries many miracles have been attributed to the icon. Are they true?
You will have to make your own decision about the miracles.
We were interested to see if we could get inside the church that seemed to be attached to the chapel where the icon was located. We could hear the sounds of a worship service and walked in the door facing the street to see if this was the way to the church itself. We walked to our left down a hallway toward the sound. We entered and stayed five or ten minutes before leaving to see what was in the opposite direction. At the end of a hallway we climbed a set of stairs. As it turned out this was the stairway directly to the chapel. We entered the chapel where a number of people were praying while others simply looked on. I was not sure if photographing the icon was permitted. There was no sign indicating photography being banned and I saw a woman taking a picture. No one said anything to her and I took this as a good indicator that it was permissible to take pictures.
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