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Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine

The sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise in St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the most significant and revered relics of Kievan Rus. In this tomb in the 11th century, the great Kyiv prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich and his wife, the Swedish princess Ingigerda (baptized Irina), were buried. These are the most ancient relics of the Kyiv rulers, whose location is known. Is it just known? The events of recent years cast doubt on this.

In September 2009, scientists from the Sofia Kyiv National Reserve opened the sarcophagus to examine the remains of Yaroslav the Wise using the latest technology. First of all, they wanted to do a DNA analysis to establish who the Ruriks were – Slavs or Scandinavians. But this was not possible – the skeleton of Yaroslav mysteriously disappeared from the sarcophagus.

Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise
Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise

History of the sarcophagus

The tomb contained only a pile of bones, which was later identified as the remains of two different women. And they also found the newspapers Pravda and Izvestia for 1964. But where is the Grand Duke himself?

It was definitely in place in 1936, when a six-ton rectangular box with a gable lid was first opened, decorated with carvings of vines, palm trees, cypress, fish, birds, crosses and other ancient Christian symbols. This tomb was made by Byzantine craftsmen from Proconesian marble for the relics of St. Clement in Chersonese. When in 988 or 989 Vladimir the Baptist captured this city, he ordered that the relics of St. Clement, together with the sarcophagus, be transferred to Kyiv. After a difficult journey, they found peace in the Church of the Tithes – the first stone church of Kievan Rus. Yaroslav the Wise was buried in the same tomb in 1054 (St. Clement was apparently provided with another shrine).

Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise - side view
Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise – side view

Next to him rested the remains of his wife Irina, whom the prince dearly and devotedly loved all his life and from whom he did not want to be separated even after death. When she was placed near the prince is not entirely clear. According to some sources, Irina died before her husband, in 1050, and her skeleton was transferred to the sarcophagus from another crypt. According to another version, this married couple did not live very well in recent years, so the proud and power-hungry princess moved to Novgorod to her son Vladimir, where her grave is allegedly located.

In 1936, Kyiv scientists discovered two skeletons in the opened sarcophagus – a male and a female, and several children’s bones (where the latter came from is not at all clear).

Judging by the absence of any decorations on the relics, the tomb was looted. Most likely, this happened in 1240, during the capture of Kyiv by the Mongol-Tatars. Then “foreign” bones could get into it.

Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise XI century. Marble. Kyiv, St. Sophia Cathedral
Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise XI century. Marble. Kyiv, St. Sophia Cathedral

Remains relics

In 1939, the remains were sent to Leningrad, to the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Scientists have established with a high degree of probability that one of the skeletons really belongs to Yaroslav the Wise. At the same time, they relied on the chronicles, which say that the prince lived for 70-75 years, was lame from birth, and was wounded in the leg and head in battles.

All of these lesions were found on the male skeleton. At the same time, the great Soviet anthropologist and archaeologist Mikhail Gerasimov restored the alleged appearance of Yaroslav the Wise, now known to everyone who studies history, from the skull. The female skeleton could not be identified.

Yaroslav the Wise. Reconstruction M.M. Gerasimov
Yaroslav the Wise. Reconstruction M.M. Gerasimov

In 1940, the remains were returned from Leningrad to Kyiv. But for some reason, the museum staff failed to place them in the sarcophagus. Allegedly, they did not have enough strength to lift the two-ton cover of the marble tomb – this required special equipment. The bones were placed on a shelf in storage. And then the war began, and it was not up to them. They remembered the remains only in 1964 and decided to return them to their rightful place. The sarcophagus by that time was fairly clogged. Its lid did not fit snugly to the bottom, and devout visitors, who revered the prince as a saint, threw notes there asking for help and support, photographs. And some of the unbelievers, but very curious, threw lighted matches into the sarcophagus, trying to see what was there. And from time to time everything that got inside caught fire.

Opening of the sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise
Opening of the sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise

Therefore, having removed the lid, first of all they cleaned the sarcophagus. And then they took the skeleton from the shelf and put it in the tomb (at the same time, some joker left Soviet newspapers there). And until 2009, the employees of Sophia of Kyiv were sure that Yaroslav the Wise was safely resting in his rightful place. One can imagine their horror and bewilderment when it turned out that the skeleton in the sarcophagus was not at all male, but was made up of the remains of two different women! An investigation has begun.

Investigation into the disappearance of the remains of Yaroslav the Wise

During the investigation, one elderly employee of the museum remembered how an American delegation visited here during perestroika. It included a Ukrainian who emigrated to the United States. And she seemed to say: “Yaroslav the Wise is not here, but in America.” Then her words did not attach any importance. But now they decided to find this lady, and with the help of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, this was done.

Nina Nikolaevna Bulavitskaya during the Great Patriotic War worked in occupied Kyiv as the secretary of Oleks Postenko, the then director of the museum. She said that in 1943, along with the retreating Germans, some representatives of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church also left Kyiv. At the same time, Archbishop Nikanor took the relics of Prince Yaroslav and the miraculous icon of the 14th century St. Nicholas the Wet from St. Sophia Cathedral. Colonel of the German gendarmerie Paul von Denbach (aka Pavel Dmitrenko) undertook to help the archbishop take the relics out of Kyiv. According to one version, he was supposed to bring the icon and the box with the relics to the train in which Nikanor was leaving, but he was late for his departure. According to another version, the accomplices agreed that the colonel would return the relics in Warsaw to the archbishop. But at the appointed time, Nicanor did not appear in the Polish capital, and von Denbach was forced to hand over the remains of the prince and the miraculous icon to the archbishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Pallady. He took them first to Germany and then to the United States. There he handed over the box with the relics to one of the priests – Ivan Tkachuk, who for some reason kept the relic in his tiny room in New York under the bed for 20 years. In 1990, Tkachuk died, and traces of the remains of Yaroslav the Wise were lost.

Currently, the miraculous icon of St. Nicholas the Wet, taken out along with the relics, is located in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn. Representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora, with whom the employees of Sophia of Kyiv keep in touch, claim that the long-suffering princely bones are also buried in the same temple. However, the rector of the temple, Vladimir Vronsky, and the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the USA, Metropolitan Anthony, categorically deny the fact that they have the relics of Yaroslav the Wise. But even if, to put it mildly, they are telling a lie and the princely skeleton is indeed in America, it will be very problematic to return it to Ukraine.

The sarcophagus itself also made riddles to scientists. For example, the Armenian scientist Zhirayr Ter-Karapetyan believes that there are also Armenian letters on the lid of the tomb, with which the words of the phrase “Amenaimastun mets takavori Kievi bnakchutyunits” begin, which translates as “To the all-knowing great king from the inhabitants of Kyiv.” Maybe the sarcophagus was not brought from Chersonesus, but was made in Kyiv by Armenian craftsmen?
Magazine: Secrets of the 20th century No. 14, Viktor Mednikov, rusiian language

Section “Yaroslav the Wise”

Список литературы

  1. Magazine: Secrets of the 20th century No. 14, Viktor Mednikov, rusiian language
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Опубликовано: 14.08.2022
Изменено: 14.08.2022