8 July 1579: Our Lady of Kazan is found in a burnt-out building

A little girl’s visions reveal the location of the holy painting


In June 1579, the Russian city of Kazan was devastated by an all-consuming inferno. Soon afterwards, as citizens picked their way through ashes and debris, a message from the holy Virgin Mary was reportedly delivered to a nine-year-old girl named Matrona in a series of dreams.

According to an early 17th-century chronicle by Hermogenes (or Germogen), who had been a priest in Kazan at the time of the fire, the Virgin told the girl to find her icon inside the burned-out shell of an old house. Matrona and her mother appealed to local clerics to help with the search, but their plea was rejected by the Orthodox church. With no choice but to hunt for the icon them- selves, the pair began digging through the debris of the house to which Matrona’s dreams had directed them.

On 8 July 1579, Matrona discovered an icon of the Virgin Mary wrapped in a piece of old cloth and buried under a thick mound of ash. Now known as Our Lady of Kazan, the artefact shows the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus, their faces ringed by haloes.

The discovery was considered to be a miracle, for the painting – having been brought to Kazan from Constantinople in the 13th century – had been lost until then. It became a revered holy icon, rising from the ashes due to the persistence of a young girl. | Written by Helen Carr

More like this

8 July 1621

French poet and fabulist Jean de la Fontaine was born in Chateau-Thierry, Champagne. His celebrated Fables were first published in 1668. In 1684 he was elected a member of the Académie Francaise, which had been founded by Richelieu in 1635.

8 July 1640

Birth at Oatlands Palace, Surrey, of Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of Charles I. In 1660, shortly after the Restoration, he died suddenly of smallpox, to the great distress of his brother, Charles II.

8 July 1663

King Charles II granted a royal charter to Rhode Island. The charter acknowledged Indian rights to the land, guaranteed freedom of worship and gave the colony a large measure of self-government with officials elected by the colonists, not appointed by the king.

8 July 1685: The Duke of Monmouth is found cowering in a ditch

The eldest illegitimate son of Charles II tries to take the throne, but is undone by bad planning

The last days of James, Duke of Monmouth, were far from glorious. Having landed at Lyme Regis to try to seize the throne from his uncle, James II and VII, Monmouth failed to secure serious support for his rebellion. On the night of 6 July he launched a surprise attack on the royal army at Sedgemoor in Somerset, but the attempt was a debacle.

Monmouth’s men were slaughtered, though the duke escaped, disguised as a peasant. The chase was on. By the morning of 7 July, Monmouth’s pursuers were almost upon him. After leaving Sedgemoor, he had hidden out in an area of Dorset farmland known as the Island. According to a contemporary report, the militia were accosted by a local woman called Amy Farrant, who told them she had seen two men leaping over a hedge into “fields, some over- grown with fern and brakes, and others sown with rye, peas, and oats”. For the rest of the day, the soldiers scoured the fields, shouting that they would set them on fire if Monmouth did not see reason and come out.

It was not until 7am on 8 July, after endless hours of searching, that a soldier spotted someone skulking miserably in a ditch, hiding beneath brambles and ferns. It was Monmouth, a bedraggled, starving figure, who had eaten nothing but a handful of raw peas since the battle. “Shoot him! Shoot him!” some of the men shouted. Instead, he was taken to London, where it took the executioner at least five blows to sever his head. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

8 July 1822: Percy Shelley drowns off Italy

The poet’s ship goes down in a violent storm

The summer of 1822 promised to be a distracting one for Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poet was sojourning in Casa Magni, a bay-front house near Lerici on Italy’s Ligurian coast, where he planned to while away the days writing, seeing friends and sailing in his boat, the Don Juan. On the afternoon of 8 July, though, his plans went awry.

Shelley was sailing the Don Juan back from Livorno to Lerici with his friend Edward Williams and a boat boy, Charles Vivian, when the calm seas began to squall and a violent summer storm sprang up.

It seems that the Don Juan was overwhelmed by enormous waves that ripped off the boat’s stern and rudder. Two of the ship’s masts came loose and thundered onto the deck; the splintering vessel then sank beneath the waves.

Shelley reportedly had just enough time to cram a collection of John Keats’ poems into his back pocket before he was swallowed by the turbulent sea. A poor swimmer, he stood no chance; indeed, all three men aboard the Don Juan were lost. Their bodies, identifiable only by their clothing, washed ashore 10 days after the storm.


Shelley’s untimely and dramatic death prompted an outpouring of grief, and contributed to his posthumous fame. His eulogisers have even gone so far as to suggest that Shelley lived under the shadow of a “fatal destiny”, and that he may have prophesied his own death. | Written by Helen Carr

Browse more On this day in history