For Liturgy in Hagia Sophia (cecc4c) wrote,
For Liturgy in Hagia Sophia

Western Christianity: culture against civilization.

Establishing a consolidated position of the Church on the question of “what is an icon - a work of art or just an object of worship?” - is all the more urgent because this issue has geopolitical implications and is closely intertwined with the attitude of Eastern Christians to Western European Christianity. Indeed, it was the heresy of iconoclasm that provoked the "Great Schism" and the emergence of Roman Catholicism, thus giving birth to the West as a catholic civilization.

Emperor Charlemagne
Albrecht Dürer, 1513.
As a seed that carries within itself all the subsequent properties of a full-grown tree, the historical events that led to the formation of the Western European civilization carried the germ of all its subsequent achievements and flaws. The notorious "Filioque" controversy was an early indicator of the yawning spiritual divide between Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church, which fissured in the year 800 when Pope Leo III willfully crowned Charlemagne Ecumenical Christian Emperor. Such a violent act destroyed the very idea of legitimacy in the West and silenced the symphony of Church and State articulated by Justinian, leading not only to an investiture contest, but also to the loss of a fundamental understanding of the interaction of this world with the world to come. This loss of understanding manifested itself primarily in the secularization of art and the divorce of symbolic, iconographic thinking from the Roman Catholic Church and made it a concubine of Western European dualism. The question of symbolic art in Western Europe has been so maliciously politicized and encrypted by confusing terminology that consideration of this subject matter should be simplified first and terms should be defined explicitly. In this regard, this work will focus primarily on the historical analysis of Christian art and will apply the following terminology:

1. Western Christianity – the result of the Christianization of the peoples of Western Europe, who joined the Church motivated by "the beauty of Christ, which will save the world." Representative peoples include the Irish Orthodox Church, nurtured by St. Patrick, the Gallo-Romans, including the Walloons, and some offshoots of the Christianization of the Normans, including the Burgundians. Amazingly, Western Christians, from the standpoint of art history, have continued to demonstrate their fascination with the beauty of Christ, even many centuries following the capitulation of Western Christianity to Roman Catholicism.

2. Civilization (or political) Christianity represented by Roman Catholicism and its consequent cultures in Western Europe, which emerged as a result of the drive of Western European nations to join the civilization of the Christian Empire. Civilization Christianity was solidified by the Great Schism.

3. Anti-Catholicism of Western Europe – which arose as a synthesis of the dualistic and pagan religions, heretical sects and Roman Catholics who were disgusted by some practices of the Papacy. The greatest contributors to this synthesis were undoubtedly the Cathars, who were dualists, and the Arians, while the anti-Catholic pagans, colliding with Catholicism generally, assumed either the position of dualists or of Arians, which is a well-known effect articulated by “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness.” 1 Cor. 1:23.

The influence of iconoclasm on the emergence of Western civilization is due to the fact that, in 754, when the iconoclastic Council of Hieria, also known as the Headless Council or the Mock Council of Constantinople, was convened, Pope Stephen II quite reasonably assumed that the power of the iconoclastic Byzantine Emperor Constantine V was an anti-Christian power and refused to cooperate with it. Therefore, Pope Stephen II acted exactly as Anthony Khrapovitsky wanted Patriarch Tikhon to do in a similar circumstance many years later: he refused to cooperate with the anti-Christian power and committed an act of treason against the Byzantine emperor by becoming a vassal of the Frankish crown. Indeed, Franks were the only Orthodox Christian nation in the west, and their kingdom, led by King Pepin the Short, was the right place to look for help against the advancing armies of Arian Lombards, especially considering that the Byzantine Emperor refused to help, pleading the necessity to fight a civil war with the iconophiles. As was typical in political Christianity, the Franks became Orthodox Christians in some sense by accident as Frankish King Clovis was baptized in 498, when the Orthodox were the Imperial power, while the Langobards and all the other nations of the West were baptized by the Empire when the Arians were ruling in Byzantium. So it is only natural that after Charlemagne defeated the Langobards in 772, and his establishment of the Papal state, popes became vassals of the Frankish crown and were doomed to make him emperor.

When the Empress Irina convened the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 in Nicaea, which ultimately condemned iconoclasm, the reason for the Pope’s change of homage disappeared, but the allegiance of the popes to the Frankish kings remained. Ironically, the allegedly illiterate heir to Pepin the Short, Charlemagne, well understood the inevitability of taking the title of Emperor, and the religious and political implications incumbent upon that title. In 794 he convened the Frankfurt Council, which established “Germanic theology” and condemned the veneration of icons formulated by the Seventh Ecumenical Council that ended the iconoclasm controversy in Byzantium, but the Frankfurt Council reduced the purpose of icons in the liturgy to an illustrative function, thus taking the iconoclastic position. Pope Stephen II (III) initially objected, but impressed by the military achievements, the Frankish kings obeyed and signed the proceedings of the Frankfurt Council, thus laying the foundation for the secularization of art in Western Europe and the transition from iconography to religious art. By the way, the notorious Filioque was also established as Western Christian dogma by the Frankfurt Council at the insistence of the future Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne, in order to prevent the popes from switching allegiance and submitting themselves to the Byzantine Emperor again. Thus, the anti-Arian Filioque, which was considered quite Orthodox in Spain, became the cause for schism as soon as Civilization Christianity used it as an instrument to seize power over the Church. However, we must pay tribute to Pope Leo III, who refused to sign the Filioque, or affirm his own infallibility, in spite of the pressure coming from Charlemagne.

Thus we can see the appearance of two fundamentally different directions of the development of Christian art. The historical dichotomy of Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism, beginning in the year 800 A.D., reached its peak in 1202 during the Fourth Crusade, while in art this dichotomy began at about the same time, but reached its apogee in the 16th century. This discrepancy in timing is caused by the fact that Orthodox Christian art became ripe not in Byzantium, but in Russian iconography right after the Kulikov Battle, which was the beginning of the historic counter-attack of Orthodox Christian civilization against the political Christianity provoked by the Fourth Crusade. The comparison of two pieces of art, the Coronation of Charlemagne by Raphael, and the Empress Irene at the Seventh Ecumenical Council by Dionysius, enables one to see a most amazing correlation of the historic, spiritual and aesthetic development of culture. Indeed, the Coronation of Charlemagne caused a chain of events resulting in the Fourth Crusade and appears to be not only the historical, but also the spiritual antithesis of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which not for nothing is called the “Triumph of Orthodoxy." One can only wonder that these two aesthetically opposite works of art were created almost simultaneously by the two artistic archetypes of Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. It is amazing that these works both appeared to be an artistic look-back on one and the same historic process caused by two different events.

Coronation of Charlemagne.
Workshop of Raphael Santi.
Papal Palace, Vatican City. 1516

Empress Irina and her son
at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
Frescoe by Dionysius. 16 Century

One of the main reasons for cooperation between the Orthodox Church and Russian museums should be the necessity of developing a correct attitude towards European art, as Western Christian culture has become such a vital part of Russian culture that any attempt by Russians to follow the path of self-imposed isolation from the West will inevitably lead to obscurantism and self-destruction. For example, in Russia, it remains a little known fact that prior to iconoclasm, the Pope belonged more to Byzantium than to Western Europe. Christian missionaries appearing in Western Europe after the barbarian invasions were sent by Irish monasteries, not by the Roman Pope. The followers of St. Patrick baptized England in the 6th century, but besides that they managed to create a system of Orthodox Christian monasteries, first in the British Isles, then throughout continental Europe. A special role was played by St. Columban, who with a group of Irish monks went to the continent in 591 and founded a number of monasteries in Burgundy, Neustria, Austrasia and Lombardy. In Northern France alone four monasteries were founded and even in Italy itself he founded the famous Orthodox Christian monastery of Bobbio, which laid the foundation of the Irish monastic tradition in Italy. It was this monastery, not the Papacy or Frankish kings, that through missionary work fought back against the advance of Arianism in Italy in the 7th century. Later, the monastery at Bobbio became a leading scientific center of medieval Europe and made an outstanding contribution to the formation of the scientific method. In particular, the scriptorium of the monastery provided a continuity of the theological and philosophical tradition of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. It is enough to say that it was the scriptorium of the Abbey of Bobbio that published in the 7th century the Chronicles by Paul Orosius, who was not only a disciple of St. Augustine but also an outstanding theologian and historian of the 5th century. The Chronicles are not only an important source of knowledge about the era of St. Augustine, but also the oldest and the most famous masterpiece of Celtic book art that is genetically linked not only with the Book of Kells, but also with Byzantine icon painting. It is curious that this relationship of Celtic book art with Byzantine iconography continued up to the 14th century in spite of the flourishing Gothic style surrounding it.

Bobboi Abbey, the Cathedral of St. Columban.

St. Columban. Fresco.
Cathedral of Abbey Bobbio, 642

Cover page of "Chronicles" by Orosi.
Scriptorium Bobbio.

Furthermore, the history of the monastery of Bobbio argues that the panic of Pope Stephen II (III) upon the offensive of Arian Lombards on Rome is unsubstantiated, to put it mildly, and is probably an excuse rather than the reason for the Pope’s betrayal of the Byzantine Empire. Meanwhile, the military union with the Franks against the Lombards caused the Papacy to become a vassal of Frankish military aristocracy, which even at that time was absorbed by disputes about who was and who was not a descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This Gnostic controversy, which continues even today, made the West in general, and political Christianity in particular, a hostage to pagan peculiarities of the “Salic truth,” according to which the blood, or otherwise genetic lineage along the male line, appears to be the primary source and measure not only of the right of succession, but of all other relationships between people.

One can only guess how much progress Western Christianity could have made if the Orthodox Christian Irish missionaries from Bobbio, rather than the swords of Frankish warriors, had been successful in converting the Lombards and the Visigoths. For instance, as mentioned above, even before the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation was created, the followers of St. Patrick built a system of monasteries in Ireland and then throughout Europe. This enabled them not only to baptize their Celtic relatives, the Scots, but also, unlike the Welsh, who were succumbed by nationalism, send missionaries to the Germans tribes – the Angles and Saxons - who were their mortal enemies. In parallel with the Irish missionaries in Scotland and Northumbria, in the south of England in the kingdom of Kent, the envoy of the Pope, Augustine (later St. Augustine of Canterbury), created the Canterbury bishopric. These two traditions, the Irish and the Papal, in the specific conditions of the British Isles, were in constant competition with each other, but still more or less peacefully coexisted, resulting by the 7th century in a convent school in Kent where, in addition to theology, Latin and Greek, medicine and rhetoric were taught.

Meanwhile, in Northumbria, in the far north of England, Christianity was for a short while under the influence of Canterbury, but the Irish monastic tradition was quickly restored and the culture of Northumbria went through a particularly flourishing period, which had a huge influence on the development of the culture in the British Isles that continues to this day. For example, one should remember the Gospel of Lindisfarne and the fact that according to legend, a cult figure of the Western world, King Arthur, is buried three kilometers from the abbey of Melrouz, which was built on the site of the abbey of St. Aydena, the Irish apostle to England. Furthermore, careful examination of the issue leads to the conclusion that Celtic Christianity never lost its connection with the Orthodoxy of St. Patrick.

Beginning of the Gospel of Mark.
Book of Durrow Abbey,
Trinity College in County Laois,
Ireland.Dublin, VII century.

Book of Kells
- Gospel of Kells Abbey.
Page 34r. Monogram Hiro (χρ)
- first letters of the name of Christ, 800 A.D.
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Lindisfarne Gospels,

Lindisfarn Priory in Northumbria,
end of the VII-VIII century.
British Library, London
Unfortunately, the outstanding contribution of the Irish Orthodox monasteries to the baptism of the nations of Western Europe is ignored by the modern West, and is still unknown in Russia, which is misleading to the Eastern Orthodox Church, causing a lot of problems when it tries to cooperate with the nations of the West. This ignorance also obscures the minds of the Russian intelligentsia, in spite of the fact that it is essentially pro-Western. This problem has its origins with the influence of Venerable Bede, who was the father of English and European historiography, and whose works and their consequential cultural effects were brought into Russia without any critical analysis. Venerable Bede was a Benedictine monk from of the monastery of Saint Paul in Jarrow and one of the most brilliant followers of St. Augustine of Canterbury. The point is that the monastery of St. Paul in Jarrow was established by the Papacy on the border with Celtic Scotland for the specific purpose of reducing the influence of Irish and Scottish Orthodoxy in Northumbria. So it is no wonder that the importance of the influence of Irish and Scottish Christianity was not stressed by Venerable Bede in his historiography.

Meanwhile, after the year 800, when Civilization Christianity started to dominate Western Europe, Irish Orthodox Christianity went into the depths of European culture and, even in a somewhat dormant state continued to exert a major influence on the development of Western European Christianity.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
One should remember that six centuries before the Medici Gardens, Alcuin established the tradition of the so-called Carolingian Renaissance in Aachen, the capital of the Carolingian empire. He established an academy whose purpose was to connect antiquity and the Christian spirit. It is very important to acknowledge that he came from the Irish tradition and was a student of a very controversial figure – Archbishop Egbert of York – who was on the one hand a student of Venerable Bede and on the other hand a brother of Keolvulfa, the holy king of Northumbria, who had appointed him to his bishopric. Meanwhile Keolvulfa was famous not only for his virtuous life, but also because he voluntarily resigned from his kingship and departed to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, ending his life as a monk of the Irish Monastery of Cuthbert.

The history of Western Christianity is closely intertwined with the history of the Christianization of the Vikings as, contrary to popular opinion, they, not Frankish nobles, were the ones responsible for pulling Western Europe out of the swamp of barbarianism. In Viking culture it was considered part of military discipline to be a responsible parent, and thus Vikings loved and cared for their children without any regard for the marital status of their mothers. Indeed, to abandon a child was considered a sign of moral decay and treason against the society. Vikings were disgusted by the peculiarities of “Salic truth” that required Frankish nobility to distinguish between their children as legitimate and illegitimate. This distinction played a major role in the downfall of Frankish monarchies, as when kings enjoyed full reproductive abilities it caused a civil war between heirs or, when their reproductive abilities were absent or diminished, it caused a civil war between usurpers. In addition, the Normans lacked the type of ethnic feeling so characteristic of Germans, and that is why they were so inclined to multinational state building, which was facilitated even more by the applicability of Christianity to all humanity without regard to ethnicity. Besides that, they appeared to be hungry for the harmony of the mystical, ethical and esthetical. It is absolutely amazing that, once the Berserks, who caused fear by their fury and cruelty in battle, came into contact with Christian ideas, they were eager to reject violence and put law and order into their lives. For instance, St. Prince Vladimir was famous for his cruelty and sexual immorality, but after he became a Christian he refused to execute even murderers, advocating Christian humility and compassion instead. That is why it would not be too fantastic to hypothesize that the victory of the Franks over the Vikings in the Battle of Leiden in 981 gave rise to the feudal anarchy of Germany. Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe the victorious Normans, after imposing a crushing military defeat on Christian nations, were eager to be baptized by them. Norman Christian enthusiasm caused political Christians to participate more actively in state building for the sake of minimizing social evil.

After inventing the compass the Vikings were able to navigate on the open seas without seeing land, which gave them the ability to appear suddenly on almost any point of the coastline of continental Europe. Penetrating the continent along the rivers, they made sudden pinpoint strikes, thus enabling them to bring to their knees any European state of that time. In 911 the king of the Western Frankish kingdom, Charles the Simple, understood that he lacked the means to defeat the Vikings, so he entered into the treaty of St. Clair-sur-Ept with their leader, Rollo, who was known at the time as “Hrolf the Pedestrian” because he was a giant too heavy for a horse to carry. According to this treaty, the Norman coast and surrounding mouth of the Seine down to Rouen became his fiefdom on the condition that he would be baptized. After the former murderer and pirate Hrolf the Pedestrian became Christian, he also became an effective and just ruler, establishing law and strict justice.

When some people accept Christ genuinely, they often express in works of art the impression made upon them by His beauty. Thus the son of Rollo, William the Long Sword, after his capture of the Kotenten Peninsula in 933, celebrated this victory by sponsoring the construction of the Abbey devoted to Archangel Michael on Mont Saint-Michel - the first church of Norman architecture and the direct predecessor of Gothic architecture, which explicitly demonstrated the important element of the Gothic arch.


The first Carolingian Church.
Notre Dame sous Terre.
Church of the Virgin under the ground.

A particularly important role was played by the third Duke of Normandy, Richard I, the son of William and grandson of Rollo. For fifty years a colossal drama of ideas played out in Mont Saint-Michel, about which little is known even to specialists, in spite of the fact that this drama of ideas determines our life even now. First it should be noted that Richard I married his daughters (in succession) to one of his vassals, whose name was de Hautville. Not only were their sons energetic warriors, conquering the south of Italy, but they also demonstrated the enormous potential of Western Christianity in expressing the impression made on them by the breathtaking beauty of Christ. On the other hand, Richard I pursued a direction of thought that obstructed the tradition of Christian cooperation between Christian Gallo-Romans and the Normans and halted the work of Irish Christian missionaries, thus making the intellectual dominance of Civilization Christianity in Western Europe inevitable.

When the father of Richard I, William the Long Sword, was treacherously murdered in 942, Richard was taken hostage by the French king, Louis IV in violation of the treaty of St. Clair-sur-Ept. The relatives of Richard asked for help from the king of the Danes, Harald Bluetooth. The Danes forced the French king to set Richard free, and immediately thereafter Richard began to make a significant investment in the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, which, according to the “Golden Legend,” was the location of the finale of the battle of the Archangel Michael with Satan in the guise of a dragon, which had begun on the Mount of Gargana. On the other hand, it was Richard I who, fearing the connections of the monks of the Gallo-Roman community of St. Aubert with Breton, dissolved this community and brought Benedictines into the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, along with their own abbot Mynar (Maynard). Abbot Mynar, as the head of Mont Saint-Michel, became famous as a tireless collector of libraries. It is known that he gathered in the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel almost the entire library of the Alcuin Academy in Aachen, including Alcuin’s personal archive. The list of books from this library is absolutely amazing because it refers to books that even in those days were considered to be lost. The archive of Alcuin is particularly important, as it is practically the sole source of knowledge about this intellectual center of Civilization Christianity. Alcuin himself originally belonged to the Irish spiritual tradition, and for that reason he was very reluctant to join the intellectual community assembled by Charlemagne in Aachen, whose members became the architects of Civilization Christianity. However, Charlemagne managed to convince Alcuin to come to Aachen, so that he would join the group of intellectuals invited by Charlemagne at the time they were beginning to develop the so-called “Germanic theology” and preparing for the Frankfurt Council. Alcuin was charmed by Charlemagne and found out that this “illiterate martinet” was actually a leader and personal friend the most brilliant intellectuals of Europe at that time, scientists and artists whom Charlemagne had gathered in Aachen for the purpose of restoring the ancient civilization and the Roman Empire. One should not lose sight of the fact that Alcuin himself was a famous scientist and mathematician, who independently created the foundation of mathematical logic and graph theory over 1000 years ago. The effect created by the Alcuin Academy in Aachen cannot be overemphasized.

Of course, it is not surprising that the 25-year old Richard I was trying to recreate in the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel the intellectual center of Charlemagne, because in doing so he imitated the great victor of Poitiers, whose persona had a way of hypnotizing all the conquerors of Europe, from Frederick Barbarossa to Adolf Hitler. It is surprising that such a young man was able to understand how military force could be derived from the power of knowledge, and began to imitate Charlemagne as a civilization builder.

In 961, Richard I, in connection with a new attack by the French king, was again obliged to call on Harald Bluetooth. The militant fellowship between Christian Richard and pagan Harald definitely contributed to the conversion to Christianity of the Danes. Harold Bluetooth and his people were baptized in 965 by a monk called Popo from the Frisian Annegrey monastery founded by St. Columban. This event marked the beginning of the domino effect that resulted in the conversion to Orthodoxy of all Normans from Kiev to the British Isles.

It is extremely interesting that Harald Bluetooth of Denmark documented the circumstances of his baptism by Irish Orthodox Christians (rather than Civilization Christians) by inscribing them on the runic stone in Jelling, which he had erected in honor of his parents. The fact that even in 1096 the official historian of Civilization Christianity, Adam of Bremen, tried to explain these events as a consequence of the victory of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II over the Danes only confirms the fact that people tend to judge others by themselves and proves by contradiction that his method of interpreting history has no substance whatsoever.

In 977, St. Vladimir, the future Baptist of Russia, while still a pagan, arrived in Norway to seek support from his cousin, King Haakon the Mighty. The latter at that time was at war with his suzerain Harald Bluetooth, in connection with the attempt of Harald Bluetooth to baptize Norway, including Haakon. Ironically, the baptizer of Norway, Olaf I Tryggvason, who grew up in the house of St. Vladimir, was the one who killed Haakon the Mighty. Curiously, Olaf Tryggvason and St. Vladimir permanently parted with each other in Novgorod in 981 as pagans, but independent of each other became Christians more or less simultaneously ten years later. Vladimir the Saint met Christ in the Crimea, impressed by the beauty of Hagia Sophia, while Olaf was baptized by an Irish monk on the island of Scilly, yearning for the beauty of his suddenly deceased wife.

After the baptism of the Danes and Norwegians, the Normans’ talent for state building became fully apparent. Canute the Great, the grandson of King Harald Bluetooth, conquered England in 1016 and immediately put down all quarrels between the different ethnic groups of England, codified English law and created the financial system of England by organizing the minting of coins. He strongly contributed to the Christian education of England and Denmark, and his son Hardeknund brought back from exile to England his half-brother Edward the Confessor, who is now locally venerated as a saint by the community of Sourozh of the Russian Orthodox Church. St. Edward the Confessor was related through his mother, Emma of Normandy, to William the Conqueror, the founder of the British monarchy and the grandson of Richard I..

It should be noted that the state-building talents of the Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, were supported not only by the Papacy but by his monastery of Mont Saint-Michel, which consequently in 1066 became a major intellectual center for Civilization Christianity, and became for the Normans a means of self-identification. The conquest of England by the militant union of Normans and Civilization Christianity became a prototype for not only the “Baussant” over Jerusalem, but also of the “Union Jack” over the Suez Canal and “Old Glory” on the Moon. The cold, rational cruelty of the Norman conquest of England and its engineered style fundamentally distinguishes it from Berserker rage and was a sign of a new type of civilization – the Anglo-Norman monarchy. The subsequent history showed that Anglo-Norman monarchy, while not actually a part of continental Europe, managed to surpass Europe in the Europeanization of the rest of the world. An analysis of the reforms of William the Conqueror and his methods of suppressing the resistance in York proves that the “Doomsday Book” was pregnant with the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Reserve System, while the Devastation of the North was pregnant with racial slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. Nevertheless, the prototype reflected a potency rather than reality.

Bayeux Tapestry.

Battle of Trafalgar. Mellord Joseph Turner. 1806.

One should not forget that despite the esthetical excellence of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting engineered murder, which became the artistic embodiment of the Norman conquest of England as a triumph of professional war, the British iconographic tradition of illuminated manuscripts continued to exist for another 200 years, manifesting itself in the most unexpected places.

Fortunately, in spite of the fact that the paradigm of Norman civilization changed, so that in the Doomsday Book one can find only three wealthy Saxons, the same Normans showed themselves to be completely different a few year later when they began the conquest of Ireland. Conquest never leaves pleasant memories; however, the very fact that the Norman conquerors caused the idiom “Níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil iad féin” (“More Irish than the Irish themselves”) to appear in the language of the conquered says that the Normans at that time had not yet lost the potential to build a multi-national state. This allowed them to make a significant contribution to the establishment of the Orthodox Empire on the eastern end of the continent.

Bayeux Tapestry.

Christ Pantocrator

Do not forget that for thirty-six years before the Norman conquest of England, in Norway, the homeland of the Vikings, St. Olaf, the last saint of the unified Church, managed to fulfill his mission as a pacifier and unifier of the people, putting down a bloody civil war. St. Olaf became the object of veneration and love by protecting Christianity, which arose in Norway as a religion of the peasants, from pagan nobility who were supported by the invading army of the Danes. Escaping death, he fled with his son Magnus, first to Sweden and later to Novgorod in the newly baptized Kievan Rus as his childhood sweetheart Swedish princess Ingegerd, had married the Kievan Prince Yaroslav the Wise. On her insistence, Yaroslav adopted St. Olaf’s son Magnus, Meanwhile, St. Olaf returned to Norway as Christians there became victorious and proclaimed him King. Later, he was murdered by rebellious jarls and Danish invaders, but when Danish king Canute the Great died five years later, the people’s love for St. Olaf caused them to proclaim his son, Magnus the Noble, King of Norway and Denmark. This completed the process of the Christianization of the Vikings and brought to Scandinavia a 200-year golden age of peace and prosperity.

St. Olaf is considered not only to be the patron of the kings of Norway, but also of sculptors, as he was a sculptor himself. The veneration of St. Olaf created an entirely new liturgical art - wooden sculpture iconography. Iconographic sculpture spread rapidly not only in Norway but also in Normandy, Russia and Byzantium, as a large number of Vikings served in these countries in the army and as Imperial guards of the Palace.

It is not surprising that around that time in all these countries there appeared many sculpted icons. What is surprising is that in 1923, when N.N. Serebrennikov discovered in the Perm Region in the north of Russia the centuries-old artistic tradition of wooden sculpture of Orthodox saints, somehow it was attributed to the Komi-Permian pagan tradition. Specifically, the credit went to a so-called “Golden Baba” – the idol of the Komi people, which recently caused an appearance of a large amount of pop literature in modern Russia. Of course, the Golden Baba existed, and it even lent its name to one of the Finno-Ugric peoples – the Zyryane (in Komi language “golden baba” sounds like “Zarni ani”). Meanwhile, the only reliable description of the Golden Baba (Zarni ani) is a Norwegian saga about an expedition to Biarmia (Perm) in 1023 to purchase furs, which was headed by Thorer the Hound, the eventual assassin of St. Olaf. This saga actually describes how Thorer the Hound stole this golden idol and melted it, and that alone proves that this golden statue could not be the origin of the tradition of scultped icons. Quite to the contrary, it proves that a close cultural interaction existed between the Vikings of Norway and the Komi tribes and that the origin of the Komi-Perm sculpted icons comes from the sculpted icons of Norway, originated by the followers of St. Olaf. Indeed, it is quite natural to hypothesize that the Vikings brought to Biarmia not only sculptures, but Christianity too.
The failure of the Soviet art historians who discovered the wooden sculptures of Christian saints in Perm to connect this tradition with the Norwegian of sculpted iconography is inexplicable – until you find out that one of these discovers was Igor Grabar, and that they made this discovery while watching members of the Young Communist organization burn these sculptures. Aye, there’s the rub. For who in the time of the Bolsheviks’ crusade against Christianity needed to establish this kind of connection? It goes without say that the last thing that Igor Grabar needed was to establish a cultural connection between the brilliant Perm sculptures and St. Olaf of Norway, as well as proof of the fact that the Christianization of Rus came not only from Byzantium but through Norway and Great Perm too. Another Holy Lie?

Of course, we must thank God and Igor Grabar that all these masterpieces of liturgical art were saved for Russia, but our time of total seizure by paganism and dualism of each and every space from which Orthodox Christian teaching was expelled requires immediate clearing of the semantic debris and reversal of the cultural consequences of this “holy lie.”

© 2010 Alexander Brodsky

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