The lowest tier of the iconostasis includes the so-called 'local images'. Earlier those were the venerated icons placed in icon-cases (kiots). From the second half of the 16th century, they became a solid and complete Veneration tier. There is an entrance to the Sanctuary in the centre of it – the symbol of Heaven; the gates to the Sanctuary are called the Holy (Sanctuary, Royal) Doors, as during the Liturgy the Gospel is brought through these Doors, meaning the Heavenly Father proceeding to Heaven. There is the Annunciation, the symbol of incarnation, and the four Evangelists depicted on the Gates. The canopy over the Holy Doors contains icons symbolizing the sacrament of communion – Christ Giving Holy Communion to the Apostles and the Trinity. The images of Christ and the Mother of God are traditionally placed on both sides of the Holy Doors. The second to the left is the patronal icon.
Christ Enthroned (Christ in Gold Icon Cover), Our Lady of Vladimir, The Dormition of the Virgin, Christ Enthroned, Did Stand the Queen, The Saviour (Shoulder Length), The Saviour Furious Eye, St Demetrius of Thessalonica, The Trinity, The Vernicle (The Saviour Not Made by Human Hands)
Christ Enthroned (Christ in Gold Icon Cover)
To the right of the Holy Doors, we can see the icon Christ Enthroned (Christ in Gold Icon Cover), which got its name for a gilded silver cover leaving only Christ’s representation of the face, hands and feet uncovered. This eleventh-century icon originates from the Cathedral of St Sophia in Novgorod. It was transferred to Moscow among other icons in 1561 by Ivan IV the Terrible, who was collecting ancient and the most revered relics in the major cathedral of the capital. The icon was repainted in 1572 and its copy was sent to Novgorod.
During the times of Patriarch Nikon, it was of especial veneration; following Antiochian Patriarch Macarius’s advice, he put it on the most revered place – just to the right from the Holy Doors. It was repainted again in 1700.
Our Lady of Vladimir
The place to the left of the Holy Doors is occupied by a silver icon-case plated with chased gilded silver in 1882. It contains a copy of the miracle-working icon Our Lady of Vladimir of the 12th century (now kept in the State Tretyakov Gallery). Grand Prince Vasily III and Metropolitan Barlaam commissioned the copy in 1514. This icon reproduces the size and the image of the ancient icon and bears twelve evangelic scenes on its margins, repeating analogous chased images of the gold filigree cover made for the old icon by Greek craftsmen in the first half of the 15th century on the order of Metropolitan Photius (now the cover is kept in the Armoury Chamber). Margins depict the Christian festivals and the figures of oecumenical and Russian Holy Hierarchs, including Peter and Alexis. This icon took the place of the old one during religious processions in nasty weather. It was painted by an artist from Dionysius’s circle in a characteristic manner – elegant and elongated proportions of the figures, smooth, rounded line and refined, light tones.
The Dormition of the Virgin
Traditionally, the second to the right from the Holy Doors icon is the patronal icon. The Dormition of the Virgin was probably painted specially for the consecration of the new cathedral on 12 August 1479. The distinguishing features of this icon are its complex subject and narrative composition. The figure of Christ in glory stands over His mother’s bed with Her soul in the form of a swaddled infant. The Mother of God is mourned by the apostles, Holy Hierarchs, 'the daughters of Jerusalem' and a host of angels. The abundance of characters and strict symmetry underscore the significance of the composition. The expressive images and vibrant tones of sober colours were typical of mid-fifteenth century art.
The Christ Enthroned icon is placed to the right from the patronal icon. It was painted at the turn of the 14th-15th centuries and transferred from Novgorod, like the Christ in Gold Icon Plating icon. Earlier there was a small figure of kneeling St Barlaam of Khoutyn – a famous saint from Nizhny Novgorod and a founder of one of the largest monasteries in the North of Russia. This icon might have appeared in Moscow in the time of Metropolitan Barlaam, who was an icon painter himself and could have expressed a wish to paint his patron saint. The small figure has disappeared during the restoration in the 1930s.
Did Stand the Queen
Between the doors to the Diaconicon and St Demetrius side-chapel, there is a monumental icon Did Stand the Queen, a special version of the Deesis icon representing enthroned Christ dressed in royal and hierarch's vestments; He is depicted as the King of Kings and the Great Hierarch. Upon the right hand of Christ there stands the Mother of God in a devotional pose, dressed up in Byzantine royal vestments as well, and John the Baptist upon Christ’s left hand. This composition illustrating the words from the Psalm "Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir" (Psalm 45:9) interprets a union of Christ and the Church in the image of the Mother of God.
The icon was painted in the late 14th century in Novgorod, probably by a Serbian painter, one of those from Greece the Balkan countries who worked in Russia at that time seeking refuge from the Ottomans, creating remarkable picturesque ensembles in the temples of Novgorod and Moscow. The bright and rich paints and the lavish use of gold underline the festive nature of the image.
The Saviour (The Saviour Shoulder Length)
The Saviour (The Saviour Shoulder Length) icon of the first third of the 14th century is placed in a showcase in the left choir. Apparently, it originated from the Assumption Cathedral of 1326 and could have been one of its main icons. Later on, it has always been placed by the shrine of Metropolitan Peter, the wonder-worker and the founder of the cathedral. A feature of this image is the depiction of a large cross adorned with precious stones behind Christ’s head, which is the symbol of His suffering and glory.
The Saviour Furious Eye
The Saviour Furious (Fiery) Eye icon occupies a place above the door to the St Demetrius side chapel. The title of the icon reflects the intent and seeming austere glance of Christ. This impression is created by the small dimensions and the drawing of the face, with the frowning forehead, hollow cheeks and intense gaze. The tense nature of the image is intensified by the contrast between the scarlet mouth and the dark-green and almost white tones used to model the face. This icon is probably painted by one of the Russian disciples of the Greek painters who came together with Metropolitan Theognostus and decorated the Assumption Cathedral in 1344.
St Demetrius of Thessalonica
Late 12th-century icon of St Demetrius of Thessalonica occupies a place to the right of the St Demetrius side chapel’s entry. According to the text on a bronze plate under the icon, it was brought to Moscow from Vladimir in 1380 in the time of Prince Dmitry Donskoy, whose patron was St Demetrius. The legend says that the image of the warrior martyr was painted on his tomb transferred from Thessalonica to Vladimir in 1197 for the renewed Cathedral of St Demetrius in the time of Prince Vsevolod, who was christened Demetrius.
The Trinity icon of the 14th century is fixed in the Veneration tier near the north wall of the cathedral. This highly revered icon was placed to the left from the Holy Doors, but in 1655 Patriarch Nikon moved it to the current place. In 1701 the icon was repainted by one of the court principal icon painters Tikhon Filafiev.
The Saviour Not Made by Human Hands
The Saviour Not Made by Human Hands icon above the entrance to the Prothesis evidently originates in Novgorod. It was painted by a Russian artist who took late Byzantium art traditions which were widely spread in Novgorod and Moscow because of the masters from Greece the Balkan countries, seeking refuge from the Ottomans.