Cathedral graffiti pronounces the names of the murderers of a medieval Russian prince


In the second half of 12th century AD, the expansive realm of what we know today as Russia went through major political upheavals, as the power of the fragmented Kievan Rus state rapidly diminished by the decades. One of the architects of such a decentralized state of affairs was Andrei I Yuryevich, better known by his sobriquet Andrey Bogolyubsky. His rule paralleled the rise of the rival city of Vladimir (or Vladimir-on-Klyazma), and consequently the prestige of what was to become the Grand Duchy of Vladimir-Suzdal. In 1169 AD, his troops even managed to sack the city of Kiev itself, thus in the process plundering priceless artworks, like the Byzantine Mother of God icon. However his rise to power also amplified the underlying tension between the princely class and the immediate nobles (known as boyars) – which finally culminated in his murder on June 29, 1174 AD.

And now, researchers have uncovered an entire wall filled with graffiti that pronounces the names of the murderers who took part in the conspiracy. Identified on the east-side wall of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior in Pereslavl-Zalessky, a cathedral located around 60 miles from Moscow, the graffiti comprises the names of 20 people. It also goes on to describe the sequence of events that happened on that fateful night.

Interestingly till now, historians were only aware of the three conspirators who were involved in the murder plot – courtesy of medieval chronicles. But clearly the incident made a mark on the religious community back then, with the inscription consisting of two columns while also being crowned with a cross. The latter motif certainly alludes to a symbolic scope since Andrey Bogolyubsky was known for his apparent piousness, and is even beatified as a saint in Russian Orthodox Church.

Now as for the reasoning behind this graffiti, the researchers are still in the unknown. However their hypothesis relates to a scenario where the inscribed text was formulated by the Vladimir administration still under the prince’s authority. This text was compiled and possibly sent to different locations, including the main cities of the northeastern Russian lands. And the accompanying command perhaps entailed the inscriptions of these murderers in the walls of the major cathedrals and churches. As Alexey Gippius, professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said (to Discovery News) –

Now graffiti is regarded as something undesirable and destructive, but in Middle Age graffiti on the walls of houses and churches could act as an important channel of communication between officials and the people.


Late 19th century portrait of Andrei Bogolyubsky as a saint, created by Viktor M. Vasnetsov .

Source: DiscoveryNews

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