Saints Boris and Gleb

Saints Boris and Gleb are the earliest Christian saints of Kyivan Rus. They were the sons of the Grand Prince Volodimir the Great (r. 980-1015), under whose leadership the Rus people were Christianized.

The Eastern Christian rituals of the Byzantine Empire were most impressive. Upon experiencing the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Volodimir's ambassadors remarked: “…we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.”

Volodimir's sons were assassinated at the request of their older brother who wanted to control their territories soon after their father's death. Their deaths were memorialized in subsequent rituals and writings that emphasized their Christian identities. Boris and Gleb thus became holy martyrs celebrated in the Eastern Christian Church on July 24. 

Icons of Saints Boris and Gleb often show the two brothers side-by-side, either standing frontally or on horseback. They are dressed in rich garments, indicative of their royal status, and often hold a Christian cross and either a lance or a sword, as symbols of their martyrdom and protection, respectively. More complex images also include scenes from their lives as described in the textual sources. 

The icon that adorns the current issue of Medieval World: Culture & Conflict shows Saints Boris and Gleb standing against a gold-leaf background. The two saints face and engage the viewer, while displaying their elaborate brocaded and pearl-lined garments, crosses, and swords. 

Removed from time and place, Saints Boris and Gleb underscore the lavishness of the Rusian court, their Christian faith, and their protective powers. They invite the viewer into their world; a world enriched by its position at the crossroads of empires and traditions, yet one so little known outside of local circles.

Explore the pages of the new issue of Medieval World: Culture & Conflict to learn more about military saints like Boris and Gleb, as well as the vibrant history and cultural heritage of Kyivan Rus in the Middle Ages.   


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