“Whoever will come to us with a sword, from a sword will perish“ (Alexander Nevsky’s proverbial interpretation of Matthew 26:52)
|Death bed scene of Alexander Nevsky by a major representative of religious Symbolism in Russian art, Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (1862 – 1942)|
Legend has it that Slavic and Finnish tribes, tired of their continuous fighting each other, called a Norman lord from over the sea, because, as a foreigner, equally foreign to every local tribe, he could bring about peace. The year was 862 and the Norman’s name was Rjurik. His son Igor conquered Kiev and united almost all East Slavic tribes under his rule and their successors, the Rurikids, lorded it over a region between Lviv and Nishni Novgorod and from the Dnepr north to Lake Ladoga and Onega, became Christian with all of the Rus, as the people were now known, in 980 and grew rich on the trade between Constantinople and the Baltics. Everything changed though when the Mongols came. Kiev fell in 1240 and what remained of the lands of the Kievan Rus’ became Polish and Lithuanian or small principalities tributary to the Golden Horde – with one notable exception, Vladimir-Suzdal. They became Mongolian subjects as well, but one of their Rurikid rulers would make history and set the course for the development of future Russia: Alexander Nevsky.
|Eugene Lanceray (1875 - 1946): "After the Battle of the Ice" (1942) - Alexander Nevsky's finest hour.|
Alexander Yaroslavich became prince of Novgorod in 1236 when he was in his early 20s and earned his nom-de-guerre Nevsky after he defeated the Swedes near present-day St Petersburg at the Battle of the Neva in 1240. Two years later, when the Teutonic Knights tried again to expand their rule from the Baltics into Russian territories, he won another, even more spectacular victory on the ice of the frozen Lake Peipus that ended further invasion plans of the Knights for good. Nonetheless, Alexander Nevsky and his brother Andrej, Lord of Vladimir, had to call on the court of the Great Khagan in Karakorum to secure their positions and while the Mongols were quarrelling over the succession of Güyük Khan by the end of the 1240s, Andrej tried to seize the opportunity, tried to band together with the Scandinavians and sent emissaries to Rome and held out the prospect of a conversion from the Orthodox to the Catholic faith – while Alexander stayed true, to his Mongol overlords and Orthodoxy.
|Henryk Siemiradzki: "Burial of Alexander Nevsky" (1876)|
Güyük Khan’s successors Möngke and Sartaq Khan of the Golden Horde thanked Alexander by creating him Grand Prince of Vladimir and after his death, his youngest son Daniel inherited Moscow and the small principality began the “Gathering of the Russian lands“ that ended with the Rurikid Grand Prince Ivan IV’s coronation as Tsar of all the Russians in 1547. Alexander Nevski himself was glorified (canonised as a saint) by the Orthodox Church in the same year after his veneration already had begun, when his great-great grandson Dmitri Donskoi received a vision of his ancestor’s grave and Alexander’s remains were found incorrupt before the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. Peter the Great finally reburied Alexander Nevsky to St Petersburg and the sanctified Grand Prince became a patron saint of the city. Sergey Eisenstein’s movie “Alexander Nevsky” from 1938 with its iconic scenes retelling the Battle of the Ice against the Teutonic invaders finally made him an icon during the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War, an image that is cherished to this day.
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