St Xenia of Petersburg (1719-1803)

Hand painted icon of Saint Xenia of Petersburg - egg tempera on wood, oil gilded

Widowed and childless at 26, Xenia Grigoryevna Petrova gave away her considerable possessions to the poor and took upon herself the form of asceticism probably most difficult for us to understand. She became a fool-for-Christ, deliberately renouncing not just material possessions but also the comfort, dignity and security which come from being considered respectable and seen as being sound of mind. Unsurprisingly, Xenia’s family protested against her giving away her possessions. They had her examined by doctors, who declared her completely sane.

St Xenia lived in the Smolenskij Cemetery and wandered the streets dressed in her husband’s military uniform, introducing herself by his name – Andrew. In the icon she is seen in a worn out jacket, too large for her, standing in Smolenskij Cemetery, with the church that she secretly helped to build in the background. The landscape and architecture in icons is stylized and the reverse perspective used in icons can be seen in the lines of the buildings and graves.