Borys and Hlib

XI pageKyivan RusPrincely times

Borys and Hlib (? – 1015) – one of the first saints canonized by the Rus Church, younger sons of the Grand Prince Volodymyr Sviatoslavych of Kyiv.

It is known that Borys and Hlib were born of one mother, about whom the Old Rus chronicle mentions only that she was a Bulgarian. However, many scholars, basing on analysis of later monuments, come to the conclusion that she was Byzantine Princess Anna, sister of the Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-slayer, whom Prince Volodymyr married in the late 980 s. The scholars explain their father’s special attitude to them namely by their Byzantine blood, as he had, besides them, many sons from his numerous wives. Some historians, following S. Solovyev, suppose that Princess Anna could have some Bulgarian background.

Just before his death, Volodymyr invited Borys from Rostov (now the town in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russian Federation) to organize a campaign against the Pechenegs. There is a version that Volodymyr wanted to make Borys his heir to the Kyiv throne. Events in Rus after the death of Prince Volodymyr are elucidated in detail in chronicles and hagiographical sources (TheLegend and Passion and Laudation ofSaints Borys and Hlib, etc.). The discussion goes on about the time of appearance and interdependency of literary versions of the death of Borys and Hlib. According to these monuments, shortly after the death of Volodymyr, Borys was killed on the River Alta by the Varangians sent by his cousin Sviatopolk Yaropolchych. Some time later, assassins killed Prince Hlib of Murom and the Drevlianian Prince Sviatoslav by order of Prince Sviatopolk. The Novgorodian Prince Yaroslav the Wise took revenge for the fratricide. Sviatopolk died during the war with him. The scholars refer the appearance of the local tradition of special veneration of the brothers in Vyshgorod, where they were buried, to the time of Yaroslav’s reign.

The German chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg and the Scandinavian Eymundar Saga give us somewhat different account of the events of 1015–1017 than the Old Rus monuments composed by the subjects of Yaroslav the Wise’s descendants. This gave grounds to some researchers to doubt the reliability of information in Old Rus sources on Borys and Hlib and the role of Yaroslav the Wise in those events. The events of 1015–1017 became the foundation for veneration of Borys and Hlib as the Great Martyrs. There are two versions of appearance of their veneration. One group of scholars hold that the canonization of the brothers took place during the lifetime of Prince Yaroslav the Wise (1017–1054), and there is a great discrepancy in dating (from 1020 to 1050); others are inclined tothinkthat this event took place under the Prince’s sons – in 1072. There is one more version, according to which at first the veneration was of Hlib and Borys, and only in the early 12 th century, during the reign of Prince Volodymyr Monomakh (in 1115 the centenary of the brothers’ death was marked) the transformation took place – Borys was the first to mention and then Hlib. The veneration of Borys and Hlib is the veneration of defenders of Rus. In folklore tradition, Saints Borys and Hlib are honoured, first of all, as patrons of agricultural work, since the Orthodox Church commemorates them on 24 July (Old Style, the day of the death of Borys), 5 September (Old Style, the day of Hlib’s death), and May 2 and 30 (Old Style, in honour of celebrations in 1072 and 1115) – in the season of agricultural work.