Inochentist postcard-icons Transnistria



Inochentist postcard-icons Transnistria


The images show postcards and mass produced photographs confiscated from a group of arrested Inochentists in February 1942 in the village of Cuibușor, in Romanian-occupied Transnistria. Image 1 and 2 show the front and reverse of a postcard. On the front, the monk Inochentie is shown in a scene from his vernacular hagiography in which he is under arrest, surrounded by Tsarist soldiers after his attempted to escape from exile on Solovetsky island. The reverse of the postcard, comprises short quotes and adaptations from the New Testament. Here text and image were configured in a relationship designed to establish a parallel between Inochentie’s suffering and the passion of Jesus Christ. The text opens with an abridged and slightly altered version of Jesus’ discourse on the Good Shepherd from John 10: 14-16. In the section of the text that follows, this is taken one stage further with the torments suffered by Inochentie being equated to Christ’s passion. “Here is the good shepherd whose life was given and is not given back. By his spiritual brothers, chased, cursed, shot [with a gun], insulted, given poison to drink, with hands tied behind his back, put in prison because he revealed the truth, not heeding what the Apostle says: Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and the murderer will not enter the Kingdom of God (1 John 3: 15).” Image 3 is a photograph-icon of Inochentie that shows him with angels wings and a dove at his heart, a symbol which indicates his association in Inochentist belief with the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
This type of mass produced photo-postcard image were widely used by Inochentists to spread their message. These were carried from village to village across the Moldovan countryside, easily concealed about their person. There are reports of them being sold on markets from suitcases. Hidden under officially sanctioned religious icons and booklets, they were sold to knowing customers ‘on-request’ for the price of 10 lei. The Holy Synod took very seriously the danger posed by these subversive and heretical images and texts being produced by religious dissenters, not only Inochentists but also Old Calendarists, and passed a ruling in 1936, to be enforced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs through the Gendarmerie, requiring all religious icons, crosses and religious publications to be approved by the Church. Arrests were frequently made on the basis of possession of illegal icons and Inochentists were, by the 1940s, routinely sent to the military courts where they received anything between a small fine to 6 months in a labour camp.
The file from which these items come reports the arrest of a group of 41 Inochentists, 9 men and 32 women, in an illegal “prayer house” in the village of Cuibușor. The village was located adjacent to the underground Inochentist complex of Gradina Raiului (the Garden of Paradise) that had been destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1919/20. The area had recently been occupied by Romania following the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. In the 1942, there were a series of arrests of Inochentists from Bessarabia (which had become part of Greater Romania following the First World War) as they began to gather around their sacred centres of Balta and Gradina Raiului. It was illegal for Bessarabians to travel to the occupied territories without travel papers. The Romanian authorities noted that the rumour of deportation of sectants from Romania to Transnistrian concentration camps alongside Jews and Roma (Gypsies) seemed to have inspired some Inochentists to relocate to the place of origin of their movement. Both the postcard and the groups relocation to their sacred centre are expressions of the apocalyptic expectations of the group that intensified with the start of World War Two.

These images come from the National Central Historical Archives of Romania [Archiva Naționale Istorice Centrale – fond. Inspectoratul General al Jandarmeriei (Romania) [Central National Historical Archive – General Inspectorate of the Gendarmerie], dosar. 120/1942, pp. 22-26. Alongside the two items reproduced here, there is a third postcard-icon and a brief description of other religious materials found at the hidden prayer house.

For related entries see:


Material culture--Religious aspects
Religious sects
Evidence photographs
Fascism--Europe--History--20th century
Folk icons
Icons, Romanian
Underground literature


James A. Kapaló


Archivele Naționale Istorice Centrale
ANIC – fond. Inspectoratul General al Jandarmeriei (Romania), dosar. 120/1942.


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme No . 677355










ANIC – fond. Inspectoratul General al Jandarmeriei (Romania), dosar. 120/1942.


20th Century




Copyright for these images belongs to Arhivele Nationale - ANIC

Bibliographic Citation

James A. Kapaló, "Inochentist postcard-icons Transnistria"

Date Created