On the guard of the new year: Illya Muromets - famous and unknown

There is the first holiday that comes right after New Year and remains unnoticed in the dazzling splashes of January's fun. Probably because it is not accompanied with some traditional actions such as caroling, divination or bathing in the ice-holes. However, Orthodox churches and monasteries do not forget about him. Because on January 1, the Church celebrates the memorial day of the Saint Illya Murovlyanyn, the warrior, the holy protector of the Russian Land, who we better know under the name of Illya Muromets.

The folk tales warriors are treated by the majority as entirely fabulous heroes. However, scientists believe that the actual basis of the fables is the reflection of the real facts of our past. Academician Dmytro Lykhachov expressed this idea best of all: "... ancient Russian literature didn't know fictional heroes or plots. There were always described real historically important people and events. Even if the author added odd and fantastic touches to his story, it wasn't a willful fiction, because the writer and his readers believed in the truthfulness of the writing.  Naturally, the ages and tribulations that have flown since the birth of the national epic, the peculiarities of its oral existence, the breadth of spreading, along with regional differences in folklore traditions, couldn’t but impose its imprint on the content and form of epics. Hence, their numerous anachronisms: instead of Pechenigy, Polovtsy and Tatars - only Tatars; Volodymyr Velykyi ("Red Sun") instead of Volodymyr Monomakh and other princes; mentions of realities that had't been known at the times of the early Middle Ages in Kiev Rus; rather conventional descriptions of battles; and, of course, empowering the heroes with extra human capabilities. Moreover, there was no such notion as a "warrior" in the folk language at the time of the creation of the first epic. Militiamen were called "khorobr" (Slavic word). The word "warrior" was firstly mentioned in the Ipatyevsky chronicle - in a note devoted to the tragic capture of Kiev by the Batu hordes in 1240. Besides that, not the courageous defenders of the city are called "heroes", but Mongolian leaders, intermingling on the Slavic manner the Mongolian "baator", or the old Turkic "bahatur".  Here are three main characters of the national epic - Illya Muromets, Dobrynya Nykytych and Alyosha Popovych - they are quite real people.

 However, they couldn't meet in real life, because they lived in different years and even centuries.

Dobrynya, according to the chroniclers, was a brother of Vladimir's "Red Sun" mother, who initially was a clerk, but then became a lawful wife of the Grand Duke Svyatoslav Malusha, that is, he lived in the tenth century. Incidentally, this can be proved by his Slavic name, from those given to children even before the Christianization of Kyiv Rus. The paternal of "Nykytych", according to the researchers, was changed to a more familiar form of the patronymic "Nyskynych", from the preserved in some chronicles the second name of his father - Drevlyan prince Mala - Nyskynya.

Alyosha, more precisely Alexander, Popovych lived at the edge of the XII-XIII centuries, was a Rostov militiaman and a glorious knight - one of the main heroes of the Battle of Lypetsk (1216), and died along with many "khrabramy" and Russian princes in the battle with the Tatars at Kalka in 1223. One of the epics contains such words about his origin "...Olesha - a son of Rostov Pope named Levontyi is now called Popovych".

But there is no certain information preserved about the central figure of many epics –Illya Muromets. Though, we know precisely the place of his grave, and it sheds a completely unexpected light on his life.

... Glittering lights in the dark. Quaint shadows on rough walls. Muffled voices, whispers, cracking of candles. There are special trunk on a shape of coffin in crypts and niches, containing holy relics. The religious cross themselves and bow to the tombs. These are called Antony's or as they are often called, the Near Caves of the Svyato-Uspenska Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. Among the most revered Saints, who found here a place eternal rest, is Saint Illya Murovlyanyn. The one Illya Muromets.

The first written mention about having relics of Illya Muromets stored in the Lavra Caves is dated 1594 year. This is a record about visiting the Caves left in the diary of the Ambassador of the German Emperor Rudolph, Eric Lysotti. He not only mentions an unusual "giant or hero", but also notices his Kyiv nickname "Chobitok" and tells a local legend about the origin of this name. It seems that somehow Illya was attacked by enemies. At that moment, he was just putting his boot on and, since there was no other weapon at hand, he began fighting back with the second boot, with the help of which he defeated all the attackers.

Ivan Lukyanov who while traveling to the Holy Land also drove to Kyiv writes about the Saint Illya Muromets: "I visited Antonyev's cave and saw a brave warrior, Illya Muromets, lying under the gold cover; his left arm is pierced with spear, all covered with ulcer, and the right hand depicted the cross mark... "

In the well-known book "Teraturhima" by Afanasiy Kalnofoyskyi mentioned even the date of the death of the Saint Illya, that happened 450 years before its writing, that is, he died approximately in 1188.

Certainly, the grave of the legendary hero was well-known among the citizens of Kiev. And considering the fact that the Svyato-Uspenska Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra almost always was one of the most revered monasteries in Kyiv Rus, and the stories of its reverend fathers were widely spread among the people, so it is logical that Illya Muromets is honored as a saint knight not only in Kyiv.

And in his epic character Illya had all the best moral qualities that only the defender of the Motherland could possess. No wonder that narrators empowered Illya with such words: "As two Russian fight – it is necessary to speak, if Russian fights with person of other faiths – a help is needed, and if there are two fighting foreigners – you have to go away" (Dobryna's fight with Danube "). Not without reason, among dozens of epic plots, in hundreds of their variants there is no one, where the heroes took part in internecine fights.

The thought that they defended their native land only from an external enemy became the key one in most of the works devoted to our ancient literature. But the presence of Christian motifs in our heroic poetry is less tangible. Though our knights fought not only for the native land, but for the orthodox faith. And their number was, as noted in some epics, "twelve heroes, Illya is thirteenth." As many as the apostles!

The main faith defender is, of course, is Illya Muromets. Moreover, he is not only a defender but also a bearer of Christian values. Illya never destroyed an enemy without the extreme need. He won, captured, went to the prince, but only some extraordinary circumstances made him kill somebody... And upon finding the treasure, he gave it to the construction of the church, in which he was buried later (this plot we come across in some variants of the epic "Three trips by Illya Muromets "). Is it accidental? And is it accidental that Illya was saved from death thanks to "cross", because the spear hit this cross, as it was told in the epic "Illya Muromets and son"?

Of course not! This only points out his special attitude to Christianity. And in view of this, it becomes understandable and easy to explain why Illya Muromets belongs to the rank the Orthodox saints.

By the way, the fact that this saint was not only a soldier, but also a monk, has nothing special for history: it's enough to mention only the legendary monks of the Trinity-Sergius monastery – the heroes of the Kulikov battle – Alexander Peresvet and Rodion Oslyab.

Still many scholars doubted that Saint Illya Murovlyanyn, whose relics are kept in the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, and the epic hero Illya Muromets is one and the same person. The famous Soviet historian Rybakov, based on the fact that the majority of epics, the main character of which is Illya Muromets, belong to the "Volodymyr's" (or Kyiv) cycle, believed that his possible prototype could live only in the days of Volodymyr "Red Sun", with which the beginning of the broad Christianization of Russia is closely connected. The question of Illya and his parents' Christian name (according to some stories Illya's parents were called Ivan Tymofiyovych and Yefrosyniya Polykarpivna), who were born before Christianization, academician simply ignored.

Another reason for doubt was the incomplete identity of the nickname of the epic hero with the second name of St. Illya. After all, in the epics there is not only the form "Muromets", but also not quite familiar - "Murovets", as, for example, in the epic "Ilya Muromets and robbers", which was recorded on the Don, in the Yesaul village in 1905. There are other forms of this nickname similar to Muromets that can be found in other tales about glorious hero. That is, not only "canonical" form of the name was widely spread, but other its varieties, and it is difficult to say which of them is closer to its original sound. However, the main point is not in the form of "Muromets-Murovets-Murolvyanyn-Morovlyn", which originate from the place of its birth according to the medieval tradition, but in the letter "v" in the middle of his nickname.

"V" - it's not a trifle! Only one letter, but it persuades us that the most widespread version that Illya was born in the city of Moore on the territory of present-day Russia is doubtful.

Most likely, Illya didn't descend from Murom, but from the chronicle city Morovyisk in Chernihiv region (now it is the village of Moryvsk in the Kozeletsky district of the Chernihiv region). The city was located on the way from Chernihiv to Kiev. Incidentally, the length of the route from Moravia to Kiev that is about 100 km, proves this version, the length from Murom ten times longer. So if the Illya actually lived in the Murom's during first decades of his life, he would hardly have gone to work for the service of the Kyiv prince, there were other cities nearby. Indeed, in those days, between the Murom-Ryazan and Kyiv principality were principalities of Chernihiv, Novgorod-Siverskyi and Pereyaslavskyi and their rulers also needed strong warriors. But going to the Kyiv prince's "khorobry" was quite logical for Illya from Murovyisk.

If not for the study of representatives of a completely different field of knowledge, scholars and ordinary lovers of history would be in doubts whether the Saint Illya Murovlyanyn and epic Illya Muromets is the one person. They brilliantly confirmed the identity of the folklore-literary character and the real person. The research was conducted relatively recently – in 1988-1990. Then the holy relics of the Saint Lavra Fathers were investigated by members of the interdepartmental commission of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.

Thus, the study of the imperishable remains of the Saint Illya Murovlyanyn showed that he was very tall for that time – 177 centimeters (the height of the rest of the Saint Fathers didn't exceed 170 centimeters). He had an extremely strong body and developed muscles, had traces of numerous injuries and wounds, fractures of the ribs and the right collarbone, and died from a perforating injury in the chest with a flat sharp weapon (most likely with a spear). At the same time, as Ivan Lukyanov wrote, the left hand of Illya was also pierced with a spear. Maybe with those spear that deadly wounded the area of the heart. And the most interesting: just as the epic hero, Saint Illya suffered from a serious illness of the spine in his younger years, which even led to a certain functional rearrangement of his body...

Moscow forensic doctor Serhyi Nykytyn resumed a physical appearance of Illya Muromets (or rather Murovets?) using the method of Professor Mykhaylo Herasymov. Looking at it, it's hard not to mention the central character of the picture of Victor Vasnetsov "Bohatyri". The similarity of the image that artist saw in his imagination and his real prototype is striking.

We don't know anything about the last days of Saint Illya Murovlyanyn. We only know what happened during the reign of the Kyiv Grand Duke Svyatoslav Vsevolodovych, during the third wave of polovtsian raids on Rus. We don't know when he gave a monastic vow. We can only say that the Saint Illya died due to wounds somewhere in the eighties of the XII century, during the third wave of polovtsian raids on Rus. Perhaps he received a fatal blow during one of the campaigns of the Grand Duke of Kiev Svyatoslav Vsevolodovych against the Polovtsy.  He became officially canonized in 1643 among more than sixty Lavra Saints. His life continues through the centuries  –  in folklore, literature, cinema, painting, music, and even in the name of the most famous aircraft of the First World War (by the way,  Igor Sikorskyi is the developer). But the main thing is that he is remembered by dozens of generations of compatriots.