From Vladimir, the ancient Russian Orthodox religious center near Moscow, comes bad news. Forensic experts claim to have established conclusively that the relics of some of the most revered saints in Russia are, in fact, the bones of Mongol invaders.
This may not sound like an earthshaking development for anyone but those who believe in the healing and other miraculous powers of these relics.
yand yet, it is an unsettling discovery for most Russians. The bones preserved in Vladimir and nearby Suzdal, another important religious center in the Middle Ages, were supposed to belong to the Russian saints who miraculously shielded their communities from the onslaught of Tatar hordes in the 14th century.
ythe ability of these holy men and women to exercise protective influence is at the center of a deply rooted Russian belief that no one can conquer this vast country.
Even as savage an antireligious zealot as Stalin, who did not believe that God was protecting Russia, took advantage of this widespread sentiment in December 1941, when the German Army was 15 miles from Moscow. In a Red Square speech to Soviet soldiers who were going straight to the battle, Stalin invoked the memories of Russia's old saints -- rather than those of Marx and Engels.
Now, the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya reports that what were revered as relics of three saints whose existence has been historically established have turned out to be the bones of their Mongol adversaries. The saints thus apparently displaced are Bishop John, who lived in the latter part of the 13th century; Euphemia, who died in 1404 at age 88, and Euphrosinia.
ACCORDING TO historical accounts, Euphrosinia lived in the Pizpolozhensky convent and was canonized following an attack on Suzdal in 1238 by Tatar hordes under Khan Baty. The Tatars laid waste everything in the city but the defenseless convent, which stood outside the city fortifications. St. Euphrosinia was credited with this miracle.
Forensic experts led by Vera Pashkova examined the relics. The skull thought to be that of Euphrosinia was described as having the flat, unprotruding features characteristic of the Mongol race. The body was only about 4 feet 8 inches tall and was mummified at the age of 75 or older.
Bishop John also turned out to be a Mongol. According to his biography, he helped protect Vladimir from the Mongols and lived to a ripe old age. Apart from proving that the body was that of a Mongol, the examination also concluded that its bones were those of a young man who died at the age of no more than 35.
In the case of St. Euphemia, the relic turned out to be composed of at least three skeletons, including one of a child, with extra ribs and far too many other bones to fit a normal body.
ANOTHER RUSSIAN holy man who claimed miraculous healing powers has made a comeback of sorts. After eight years of scrutiny by censors and endless arguments within the Ministry of Culture, a film about the "mad monk" Rasputin was shown here for the first time on the closing day of the otherwise boring Moscow Film Festival.
Rasputin was a cunning peasant priest given to drinking and debauchery who played a sinister role in the closing days of the Russian Empire.
Brought to the court in Petersbury by Nicholas II to cure the heir to the throne of hemophilia, Rasputin gained an enormous influence over the imperial family, especially the empress, Alexandra. He became involved in court politics during the dying days of the doomed regime and was killed by a group of noblemen, including the czar's relatives, who saw Rasputin's hold on the imperial couple as one of the causes of the impending disaster.
The movie "Agony" deals with one of the most sensitive periods of modern Russian history in a straightforward manner. As such, it marks a major departure from the official Soviet view that individuals such as Rasputin were only marginal figures propelled by the "tide of history" in the events leading to the revolution.
The end of the Romanov empire is still shrouded by various taboos and few Soviets know enough to talk about it apart from the cliches they learn in school. By making Rasputin a central figure in a movie on this touchy period, director Elem Klimov took the chance of facing charges that his was not a class-oriented approach to history.
Yet, that period now seems so remote that a more detached view is possible. Indeed, the film includes no preaching, no glorification of the workers and barely a mention of the Bolsheviks and the revolution.
The acting is outstanding. And while it shows politicking and corruption at the court, the film also portrays some members of the ruling class atempting to save Russia from disaster. Even the czar is characterized as a proud and weak man who could not comprehend the crisis around him.
Authorities have said that the film will be shown in Soviet movie houses in the fall, probably with some cuts. Even so, it would undoubtedly become an instant hit because, nowadays, there is a sense of nostalgia here for a world so distant as well as a fascination with the end of the Romanov empire that few Soviets know very much about.