By Justyna Galant
The image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn was hanging right on the organ in the church of St. Nicholas in the Ukrainian capital when the fire started in September 2021.
The blaze consumed the instrument — while the icon remained intact.
The artwork‘s restorer is convinced the sacred work of art‘s survival cannot be rationally explained.
On the day of the commemoration of Our Lady of the Dawn Gate, Nov. 16, a thanksgiving Mass presided over by Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas was held at St. Nicholas Parish in Kyiv.
The faithful thanked God and the Blessed Virgin Mary for the miracle of the rescue of Mary’s image from the fire.
According to the Kyiv Post, the fire — whose cause was investigated by police, but determined to have been a faulty electrical system — broke out during an organ music rehearsal.
The parish priest, Father Pawel Wyszkowski, OMI, expressed his gratitude: “We especially thank the Blessed Virgin Mary for her presence among us.”
The fire destroyed the entire organ, but the painting remained largely intact. Few works of art can survive a fire. Upon its restoration, Andriy Afanasyev determined that the artwork, created at the end of the 19th century, was well preserved in its entirety — canvas, paint, stretcher, and original frame.
“It’s simply a miracle,” the restorer said, “because even at moderately high temperatures, the oil paint always melts and disintegrates.”
During the restoration, Afanasyev found silver spots on the back of the painting. At first, it was thought to be silver paint. However, the restorer concluded that it was metal, melting at very high temperatures. There were also remnants of ash and dirt.
The restorer, Afanasyev, asked with amazement: “How high must the temperature have been in order for the melted metal of the organ pipes to almost completely cover the back of the painting and even get on the front side?”
He said he was convinced that divine intervention was involved.
According to research, the painting is as old as the church of St. Nicholas.
There had been a side altar dedicated to Our Lady of the Dawn Gate until the church was closed in 1938 by the communist regime.
In 1991, the faithful prayed for several months on the steps in front of the locked church. The people hoped for the building to be returned to the parish community.
One day Father John Krapan, then pastor of St. Alexander parish, came with the image of Our Lady of the Gate. The priest gave the icon to the parish.
“It is likely that this is the original painting from our church, which was hidden from Bolshevik looting and later given to a neighboring parish,” said the pastor of St. Nicholas.
The image depicts the prominent icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, Lithuania.
According to a presidential decree on the restitution of church property adopted in 2002, the painting would have been returned to the Roman Catholic Church. But St. Nicholas disappeared from the list of church properties. Until recently, the National House of Organ and Chamber Music, which hosted organ concerts, operated there, and the parish was only the tenant of part of the interior.
In November 2021, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the parish and the authorities to return the church to the parish.