The Influence of Religion on Russian Culture

As we have seen multiple times throughout the readings, the influence of the Church was able to penetrate nearly every aspect of Russian life. Popular culture was definitely not immune to the domination that the Church had. The strict social hierarchy that included the high social classes and the Church were very prevalent in Russian society, they were essentially in control of what would be passed down generation to generation. Since most of the literate population was somehow involved with the Church, their damnation towards minstrels and their performances led to very little historical record of them, and what remained is never very positive.

The minstrels mostly entertained local villagers, who held their performances in the highest regard. “Surviving village inventories from around the year 1500 list minstrels just as they might some priest or smith, indicating not only a tolerance for such entertainers, but also a recognition of their social station and value.” (Kaiser 131) However, since the Church disapproved of them and their, “bawdy songs”, and how they “caricatured the world around them.” (Kaiser 128) Therefore, the Church was able to end the passing down of performances since they controlled a majority of the literate population. In some cases, princes would seek to have minstrels banned, in order to preserve their social order. (Kaiser 132) Minstrels did have an effect both on the lives of the average person and they upset the elite culture.

When observing the will of Patrikei Stroev, the presence of the Church and fear of God is evident immediately. He not only begins his will with a prayer, but he also gave a village and three beehives to the Church. Meanwhile, he gives his descendants animals or money.  (Kaiser 130)

The paintings of Rublev are very similar to the paintings that would have been found in Italy during the Renaissance due to their religious nature. Art was a market that was driven by the patron, and often times, the artist themselves were deeply religious. (Kaiser 142)

Was pop culture truly representative of the people living during that time? Or is it purely whitewashed by the Church?

Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994

Religion and Pop Culture in Post-Kievan Rus’

Religion had a very prominent role in pop culture in Post-Kievan Rus’, influencing the social structure, everyday life,  and art as well.  Churchmen and high officials were easily threatened of the toppling of the social structure throughout Rus’ and were highly cautious of the entertaining minstrels. The Rus’ minstrels were looked down upon by the church because their performances “caricatured the world around them,” ((Kaiser and Marker 128)) no doubt making fun of the church at times.  But because the church was a part of the elite society, they were able to “[prevent] the minstrels from bequeathing these performances to subsequent generations,” ((Kaiser and Marker 128)) thus displaying the church’s power to the people of Rus’.

Religion was also important in everyday life for the people of Rus’ as displayed by The Last Will and Testament of Patrikei Stroev.  Stroev introduces himself as a “slave of God” ((Kaiser and Marker 130)) and mentions the Holy Trinity throughout his will.  Interesting to note is how the first sentence of the document is as if he were saying the sign of the cross, and beginning to pray “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” ((Kaiser and Marker 130)).

Beyond influencing social structure and everyday life, religion also heavily impacted the art in Rus’, especially the artwork of Andrei Rublev.  Rublev painted to decorate the churches because his “faith overflowed from him, and inspired him in his creative achievement” ((Kaiser and Marker 142)).  Because the themes in his paintings were heavily religious, they were able to “silently [take] part in Orthodox liturgy” ((Kaiser and Marker 142)).  Rublev’s work provides evidence of a cultural awakening in the fourteenth century, after the destruction of the Mongols.

Question to consider:

Why does Stroev begin his will as if he were about to pray by using the sign of the cross?

Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.



Culture In Post Kievan-Rus’- The Minstrels

One of the more overlooked aspects of culture of post- Kievan Rus’ was the role of the minstrel.  The minstrel, or skomorokhi, was a musician, actor, and all-around entertainer that operated in a wide variety of venues.  These could range from small villages to large cities such as Novgorod.  The minstrel sub population moved Northeast in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries into the region more known as Russia.

It is very surprising to note that Minstrels often played secular music and preformed secular entertainment.  Despite this, they were not banned from performing for nearly 400 years in Novgorod.

The minstrels, as depicted by manuscripts from 1323, were always dressed in elaborate costumes, some with headdresses.  It is possible that these may have been religious in nature. This is reinforced by the fact that a large majority of the artifacts recording their existence are maintained in the north where their beliefs would be more tolerated.

The influence of Christianity continued to grow in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, thus creating working conditions for minstrels more difficult.  Since the skomorokhi were secular in nature, the church was vehemently against any of their behavior and work.  In 1470, they were banned from all of Muscovy by Iurii Dmitrov.  Maksim Grek continued this opposition into the sixteenth century, stating “the skomorokhi have learned their trade from Satan himself” and by virtue of this are already cursed and damned”.  Despite this, the minstrels continued to be a integral part to Russian Culture. Some were wealthy enough to even be required to pay taxes, but many were peasants or even serfs.

Why were minstrels more accepted in the north versus the south?

What was the gusli and what purpose did it serve to the skomorokhi?

Were the headdresses worn during performances religious?  Was this a reason for their eventual expulsion from Christian regions?


Minstrels in Rus’

Due to the destruction caused by the Mongols during their invasion of Rus’, the culture of the time is not as well known as it is in other times. The Mongols obviously had significant impact on the culture of Rus’, but they also left large amounts of destruction in their wake, meaning that culture came second to other activities (namely: survival).

Painting, literature, and other forms of the performing arts were not as prevalent in this time, but we know that one thing that was very prevalent was wandering minstrels. These minstrels would go town to town performing their various arts or crafts for the people.

They were popular among the general populace (mainly in villages), but not as commonly seen in larger cities. This is primarily due to the Church warring against, and banning in some cases, the traveling minstrels due to their activities and methods. The Church was still trying to eliminate traces of paganism and they were very clearly carrying on the traditions of paganism.