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  • Publication . Article . 2019
    Open Access Estonian
    Enn Ernits;
    Publisher: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum

    The article gives an insight into the hagiology (Old Russian житие) of Alexander Nevsky (ca. 1220–1263), Grand Prince of Novgorod and Vladimir. It was probably put down in the 1280s, at the Nativity Monastery in Vladimir, where his body was initially buried and where, in the late 14th century, he was canonised. The hagiology was written by an unknown author. About twenty versions of the hagiology, dating back to the 14th–19th centuries, have been preserved, and all in all, about 500 manuscript texts. The unknown author did not describe Alexander Nevsky’s entire life but focused on certain details essential for the hagiology, such as the Battle of the Neva, driving out the German invaders from Pskov, the Battle on the Ice, a campaign in the Lithuanian territories, and diplomatic relations with the Golden Horde and Vatican. The ruler is depicted as an ideal hero – a brave commander, a wise politician, and a skilful diplomat. The author has not attempted to show Nevsky as a real person but has rather constructed him as a good Christian, a saint, and a pious man, who believes in Christ and therefore defeats all the enemies of Russia. The hagiology of Alexander Nevsky is a pathetic work written in the superlative, which, based on the then canons, glorifies the hero, yet includes many inconsistencies and exaggerations. It is especially important to emphasise that the story strongly overestimates the Battle of the Neva (1240) and the Battle on the Ice (1242), which were actually of local importance only. In the description of the Battle of the Neva an interesting detail is an Izhorian called Pelkoinen (in the hagiology Пелгусий) or Pelkoi (Пелгуй). These names are the first recordings of words in Izhorian. It can be concluded that Alexander Nevsky’s hagiology was a significant religious work in Russian political and church history, which aimed, through overestimating the hero’s deeds, to create and canonise the figure of an ideal ruler, which in turn helped to strengthen Russian statehood and Russians’ national identity.

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