Magazine article Russian Life

Tatyana's Day

Magazine article Russian Life

Tatyana's Day

Article excerpt

This day is special not only as the name day of all Tatyanas but also as a day on which Russian students cast their cares to the wind and celebrate. This year, the holiday will be 242 years old.

It all started on January 25, 1755, when Russian Empress Elizabeth Petrovna signed a decree prepared by Ivan Shuvalov establishing the University of Moscow. Shuvalov did not choose this day on a whim - he wanted to congratulate his mother Tatyana Rostislavskaya on her name day. The University Church of Saint Tatyana, located next door to the university, was also dedicated to Tatyana - an early Christian martyr.

The decree led to large-scale preparations in which Russia's leading scientific figures - including the well-known renaissance man, Mikhail Lomonosov - participated. As early as 1754, Lomonosov expressed his opinion on establishing the university in a letter to Ivan Shuvalov, advising that it should be created on a large scale, without sparing funds and "looking ahead," in order that "the plan of the university should serve future years." And Shuvalov heeded the advice of the great scholar. Departments were set up for all the most important branches of science, the best scientific staff was attracted and the university building itself, designed by the top architects of the day, spread over several city blocks in central Moscow (Mokhovaya street).

Not surprisingly, Ivan Shuvalov became the first head of this first Russian university. Shuvalov was a remarkable personality. The last lover of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, he was far from a typical favorite, as he had a passionate love for science, mixed with an unusual modesty and fairness. He came to court at the age of 15 (in 1742) and seven years later became a nobleman and favorite of the Empress. Elizabeth tried to make him a count, but he refused the title (unlike his unscrupulous brother Peter, whose corrupt ways helped to bring about a financial crisis in the country).

Such a dizzying ascent could turn anyone's head, but Shuvalov used his almost limitless power to further the arts and sciences. He helped Lomonosov with many a scientific undertaking and generally patronized scholars, writers and artists. His mansion, one of the most beautiful on St. …

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