The Museum of Russian Icons

The Museum of Russian Icons, located in Clinton, Massachusetts, is worth a visit, especially if you like this kind of art.

saint john of climacusI certainly do.

This wooden panel—notice how it’s curved over the centuries—was painted around 1750, and depicts the teachings of Saint John of Climacus (of the ladder).

Saint John was born in 579, became a hermit, and at the age of 16 moved into a monastery on the Sinai Peninsula of what is now Egypt.

Eventually, he put his wisdom in a book, which he titled, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.”

Designed as a guide to living the proper religious life, the book has 30 chapters, each dealing with a particular vice or virtue. Master them all and you get to Heaven, in essence climbing the metaphorical ladder from earth to the better world.

Here they are, from lowest rung to highest.

1. Forsaking the World
2. Detachment
3. About being a foreigner
4. Obedience
5. Repentance
6. Remembrance of death
7. About weeping
8. Angerlessness
9. Remembrance of wrong
10. Slander
11. Talkativeness
12. Lies
13. Despair
14. Gluttony
15. Purity
16. Greed, love of money
17. Not possessing things
18. Insensitivity
19. Indolence, sleep
20. Prayer
21. Keeping vigil
22. Fear
23. Meekness
24. Faith
25. Humility
26. Judging others
27. Silence
28. Mercifulness
29. Passions
30. Love

But what happens if you fail to master a rung on the ladder?

Down you go, like the unfortunate souls on the left side of the picture.


The Museum of Russian Icons has more than 100 icons, organized by theme. Most, like the one above, are of egg tempera, which maintains its bright colors over the centuries.

They were collected by a local businessman, Gordon B. Lankton, who in 2006 opened his collection to the public in this purpose-made museum, located in old industrial buildings in the otherwise unremarkable town of Clinton.

On the Friday my wife and I were there, the museum had only a handful of other visitors, so we were able to view the collection slowly and carefully, enjoying all the details of these inspiring artworks. It’s worth a visit!

The Museum of Russian Icons

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