Confiscated images of Archangelist women Moldova



Confiscated images of Archangelist women Moldova
Fotografii ale unor femei arhangheliste, Moldova
Фотографии женщин-архангелистов, Молдова


These photographs were confiscated by the secret police of the Moldavian SSR from a community of Archangelists in 1952. Archangelism inherited the iconographic tradition of Eastern Christianity and developed them creatively using modern techniques of photograph, photocopying, collage and multiplication. The first image was produced using the technique of photo collage. The creator of the image has utilised a copy of an Orthodox icon showing a female saint replacing the face of the saint with a photograph of the face of Elena Culiac, venerated by Archangelists as the embodiment of Virgin Mary or the Mother of God as she is more commonly referred to in Orthodox Christianity. She was the wife of Alexandru Culiac, one of the founders of Archangelism who was considered to be the embodiment of the Archangel Michael by the believers. Above the image of Elena Culiac, there is a writing similar to that used on classic orthodox icons that praises her as a saint and as an empress. The other two photographs show two groups of Archangelist women preachers. They are dressed monastic-style robes, holding icons and crosses in a stance similar to those seen in iconographic representations of saints.
Archangelism emerged in Bessarabia from mainstream Eastern Orthodox Christianity but one of its distinctive features was the central role that women came to play. Unlike mainstream Christianity where only men can become priests, in Archangelism women hold leadership positions and officiate some religious services. The women had different roles and levels of status inside the community and these hierarchical differences are depicted in their visual representations. Elena Culiac was worshiped as the embodiment of Virgin Mary and she is represented according to sacred iconographic traditions. The first image creates a connection between these older representations of the Virgin Mary and Elena Culiac, encouraging the believer to worship her through this image. The clothes and stance of the women in the second and third photographs, who are shown standing or sitting in distinctive poses, underline their status as preachers. These icon-like images, however, do not gives them the same aura of sanctity associated with Elena Culiac. The small icons held in their hands may be intended to underline this difference. It is unlikely that these photographs fulfilled the same purpose as the photo-icon of Elena Culeac. The women depicted on the second and the third photographs were rather messengers of the embodied saints of the movement. There role was to deliver the word and the icons of the embodied saints to believers.
It is no coincidence that three of five icons held by the preachers represent Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is the most venerated female saint in Christianity and for Archangelist women the association with her person was the highest mark of respect and status.
Not all women in the second and in the third photographs share the same status. According to police records and as the images suggest, one of them held more authority. The women represented seating on the second photograph and sitting on the left side in the third picture held a leadership role in the community. Her status is marked by a special headscarf on the second picture, and by a handkerchief placed on her left lap on the second image. Both the headscarf and the handkerchief are decorated with crosses. On both photographs she is seated on the chair in a central position.
These confiscated photographs were used by the police as evidence of the women's involvement in an illegal sect and as a means of identification of other members of the group. Through these photographs the police tried to reconstruct the network of Archangelists in the south of the Moldovan SSR.

These photographs are attached to a secret police investigation case file created in 1952. Today the file is preserved under number 3716 at the National Archive of the Republic of Moldova, fond R-3401, inventory 1. It contains a total number of 14 photographs that include one mugshot, one picture showing confiscated religious items produced by the police and 12 confiscated photographs.

For related entries see:


Material culture--Religious aspects
Religious sects
Evidence photographs
Christian saints in art
Women and religion
Icons, Byzantine
Evidence, criminal


Dumitru Lisnic


Arhiva Națională a Republicii Moldova, Fond R- 3401, Inventar 1, Dosar 3716


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




Dumitru Lisnic


Arhiva Națională a Republicii Moldova








Arhiva Națională a Republicii Moldova, Fond R- 3401, Inventar 1, Dosar 3716


20th century

Bibliographic Citation

Dumitru Lisnic, "Confiscated images of Archangelist women Moldova"

Date Created