Early Russian Hagiography: The Lives of Prince Fedor the Black

By Prestel, David | The Catholic Historical Review, April 1999 | Go to article overview
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Early Russian Hagiography: The Lives of Prince Fedor the Black


Prestel, David, The Catholic Historical Review


Early Russian Hagiography: The Lives of Prince Fedor the Black. By Gail Lenhoff. [Slavistische Veroffentlichungen, Fachbereich Neuere Fremdsprachliche Philologien der Freien Universitat Berlin, Band 82.] (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. 1997. Pp. xi, 496. Paperback.)

Prince Fedor Rostislavich of Smolensk and Jaroslavl', who after his deathbed tonsure was known as "the Black," was one of the most venerated of the "sovereign" saints of imperial Russia. His death, on September 19, 1299, and the inventio of his uncorrupted relics and those of his sons, Konstantin and David, on March 5, 1463, were commemorated widely, and the large corpus of writings associated with his cult extends over several centuries. The significance of Fedor's cult makes it an effective subject for Gail Lenhoff's comprehensive and thorough study, which addresses the question of how a saint's life in its sociocultural development inspired a variety of texts over an extended period of time.

Part I of the study describes the sociocultural context of Fedor's cult and establishes the methodology employed by Lenhoff in her investigation. In contrast to other diachronic approaches that assume that texts originally created for religious purposes evolve over time into literary narratives, Lenhoff applies the notion of Sitz im Leben developed by Formgeschite critics and investigates Fedor's cult in the context of sociocultural factors such as local customs, behavior, and experiences. She shows that Jaroslavl', located in what she calls a "multicultural zone," was able to develop a distinctive regional culture that provided a foundation for the cults of Fedor and other local princes and affected their development long after the demise of the appanage system and the consolidation of central authority in Moscow.

The analysis of the texts associated with Fedor Rostislavich begins with chronicle accounts. Little of saintly promise is present in these rather bleak records of a mercenary soldier, but they do provide a foundation for the later biographies. The investigation of the texts associated with the cult of Fyodor Rostislavich follows and comprises Parts II and III of the study dealing with regional and national veneration respectively.

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