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Prominent Russians: Andrey Bogolyubsky

c. 1111 – June 28, 1174
Икона Андрей Боголюбский Icon of Andrey Bogolyubsky

Prince Andrey I of the Monomakh lineage, commonly known as Andrey Bogolyubsky (Beloved of God or God-loving) was named after the Apostle Andrew. As the Prince of Rostov-Suzdal (1157) and the Grand Prince of Vladimir (1169), he increased the importance of the northeastern Russian lands and contributed to the development of government and Christianity in the forest region. Known for his wisdom he was often compared by scholars to Israel’s Solomon.

Early years

Andrey Bogolyubsky was born in Rostov. He was the second son of Yury Dolgoruky (Long-Armed). His mother was Yury Dolgoruky’s second wife, a Kipchak princess and Khan Aepa's daughter. Andrey was good-looking and was said to have all the possible manly virtues - prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice. From childhood he remained good amid the temptations of the world, devoting much of his time to praying and reading, particularly ecclesiastical writings from whence he drew inspiration and wisdom. Andrey Bogolyubsky was very religious. He always strictly observed fasting periods and enjoyed all-night services of prayer and meditation at church. He never refused a beggar’s request, reflecting that, “it is perhaps Christ who has come to test me.”

Andrey stayed in Rostov until he was 35. After 1130 he married a girl named Ulita – at the time she was only twelve, but in the Russia of those time there was nothing extraordinary in such an early marriage. She was the daughter of a well-off boyar named Kuchka, who belonged to the upper nobility and owned territories on the banks of the Moskva River. Andrey had three sons: Mstislav, who was killed in a battle against a Bulgar tribe, Yury and Gleb, who was later consecrated as a saint.

Struggle for Kiev

Andrey Bogolyubsky Andrey Bogolyubsky

When a row broke out between Yury Dolgoruky, who ruled the Rostov and Suzdal regions but always had aspirations for Kiev, and Andrey’s cousin Izyaslav Mstislavovich, who also wanted to gain possession of the fertile Kiev land, almost all Russian princes became involved in the dispute. Andrey, who was reputed to be a courageous warrior, was of great help to his father. However, Andrey always tried to reach a peaceful resolution to any conflict and called on his father to find a nonviolent settlement to this dispute. His cousin Izyaslav also called on Andrey to help settle the quarrel. But this time his efforts as a mediator gave no stable result. In 1149, after ousting Izyaslav, Yury Dolgoruky seized Kiev and proclaimed Andrey Prince in Vyshhorod, near Kiev.

After his father’s death in 1157, Andrey became Prince of the Vladimir, Rostov and Suzdal lands and, with his father’s boyars, who wielded considerable power through their military support of the Kievan princes, he ousted his younger brothers from the Suzdal-Vladimir lands. Andrey had never dreamt of possessing Kiev, partly because he liked the Suzdal-Vladimir principality more but also because he was tired of the struggle for Kiev and knew he stood only a small chance of gaining control of Kiev, as there were still too many contenders who wanted to rule the area.

Ascent of Vladimir as capital

In 1155 Andrey Bogolyubsky became the ruler of all the Suzdal-Vladimir-Rostov lands and left Vyshgorod for the Suzdal-Vladimir-Rostov region. The people of this region favored Andrey so much that despite Yury Dolgoruky’s will to have his younger sons Vasily and Mstislav rule the area they unanimously chose Andrey Bogolyubsky as their prince. But to their great disappointment and even the boyars’ anger, Andrey didn’t move to Suzdal or Rostov, but transferred his capital to Vladimir, where he built a new center of both religious and civil life under his new appellation of Andrey Bogolyubsky (Beloved of God). Andrey developed a large feudal estate in the Rostov-Vladimir-Suzdal region and had a greater power in the Russia of that era than any of the feuding princes of Kiev.

During his twenty years as the feudal prince of the Russian North, Andrey Bogolyubsky saw nine of his relatives rise and fall in the struggle for control of Kievan Rus, none of whom lasted over two years. And this as well led him to understand that there should be another strong capital. Andrey wanted to make Vladimir on the Klyazma River – a new city built and named after his grandfather Vladimir Monomakh – the indisputable capital of his realm. Vladimir’s geographical position (the city was situated on the Klyazma and Oka Rivers, which enabled easy interaction with Kiev and all Southern Rus) also meant the city would make an ideal center for trade and political life.

In Vladimir Andrey Bogolyubsky planned to implement extensive building projects, bringing builders and craftsmen who used to serve the boyars to the city. The boyars in Kievan Rus occupied the highest state offices, received extensive grants of land and were members of the Boyars' Duma, the major legislator of Kievan Rus. In governing his realm, Andrey not only demanded that the subordinate princes obey him but also tried to reduce the traditional political powers of the boyars within his hereditary lands.

The Bulgars, Kiev’s neighbors to the east, had commercial relations with the Russians, although their treaties were often violated. Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky converted many of them to Christianity, especially the merchants and business people of Vladimir. After Andrey’s death the authorities of older cities threatened to burn down Vladimir and populate it with their people, as Vladimir’s main population was comprised of craftsmen, brought to the city by Andrey. In the development of feudal relations, Andrey relied on his close allies and on Vladimir’s townspeople; he strengthened his ties in trading and the craft business.

Uniting the Rus lands under Bogolyubsky’s authority

Andrey Bogolyubsky Andrey Bogolyubsky

Andrey Bogolyubsky tried to unite the Russian lands under his authority and conducted a complex military and diplomatic game in the South. He planned to make the Suzdal-Vladimir-Rostov principality superior over all the Rus lands by bringing Kiev and Novgorod under his control. He compelled Novgorod to accept a prince of his choice. Pursuing such a policy towards Novgorod and Kiev led Andrey to bitter disputes with the princes of Southern Rus. In 1169 Andrey attacked the Kievan prince Mstislav Izyaslavovich. Kiev was conquered and devastated. Many buildings were destroyed and residents were taken captive as slaves to central Russia. After plundering Kiev and seizing much religious artwork, he returned to the northeast. Bogolyubsky refused to rule in Kiev and asked his younger brother Gleb to govern there. Such a defiance of Kiev was a milestone in Russian history. This act underlined the declining importance of the city, showing that the center of political and religious life had been moved to the North, to the upper course of the Volga River. Shortly before his death Andrey tried to attack Novgorod, but failed. Novgorod citizens gave battle to Bogoluybsky’s troops, which he had to pull back.

The next stage in the architectural history of the Suzdal-Vladimir-Rostov principality occurred very quickly. Under Andrey’s leadership Vladimir was much enlarged and fortifications were built around the city. He encouraged colonists to settle in Vladimir and built many churches.

The chronicles’ first mention of churches built by Yury Dolgoruky is in 1152, while the actual building activity associated with his son Andrey is evident only six years later. Andrey’s churches had quite a different character, which continued after his death in 1174, and was to shape the main features of Vladimir architecture up to the Tatar Mongol invasion of Rus in 1223.

Contribution to culture and architecture

A key symbolic act of Prince Andrey was the transportation from Vyshgorod of the holiest of all icons in the history of Russian Orthodoxy: the Byzantine icon of the Mother of God of Odigitriya (Ikona Bogoroditsy Odigitrii), which is known in Russian history by the name of the Miracle-Working Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. According to the traditional account, the icon was painted by Luke the Evangelist, but its history over the next millennium is unrecorded. In 1131, the icon was brought from Constantinople to Kiev. It was first housed at a church in Kiev and then at a convent in Vyshgorod, until 1155, when Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky took the icon to his new city of Vladimir – from which the icon takes its name. At the same time the castle Bogolyubovo was built next to Vladimir, becoming the Prince’s beloved residence. According to legend, when Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky was returning north from Kiev carrying the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God his horses stopped where Bogolyubovo now stands, 11 kilometers east of Vladimir, and wouldn’t go another step. This is supposedly why Andrey made his capital in nearby Vladimir, rather than at his father’s old base of Suzdal. Legends aside, Andrey built a fortified stone palace that dates from 1158-1165 at this strategic spot near the meeting of the Nerl and Klyazma Rivers. In 1395 the icon was relocated to Moscow and its final home became Moscow’s Dormition Cathedral, where it was placed by Metropolitan Varlaam in 1514.

Success in many battles was attributed to this holy icon, which Andrey always took with him to the battlefield. Andrey Bogolyubsky also had his priests pray over him and his soldiers before he started any battle.

Andrey Bogolyubsky

In 1158 Andrey Bogolyubsky also constructed the magnificent Assumption Cathedral and other churches and monasteries. In Bogolyubovo, he constructed a cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos. Like other princes, he ordered the construction of monumental stone gates that he called “golden,” “silver” and “bronze.” This was a clear reference to similarly named structures in Kiev and Constantinople. Vladimir’s Golden Gate (Zolotye Vorota), part defensive tower, part triumphal arch, was built to guard the main, western entrance to his city. According to a legend surrounding the construction of the Golden Gate, when the work was close to completion, the gate’s coffering suddenly fell down covering 12 people. Everyone who saw the accident thought they all immediately died under the rubble. But Prince Andrey prayed to the Mother of God and brought the Vladimir Icon to the site of the accident and when the debris was cleared, a miracle happened - all 12 people were alive and well. In honor of this miracle Andrey built a church over the gate. Restored in 1867, the Golden Gate now houses a military museum, which includes a diorama of old Vladimir being ravaged by nomadic raiders.

Attempts to establish a metropolitan in Vladimir

In1162 Andrey Bogolyubsky tried to have a metropolitan instated in Vladimir. But since Vladimir was the new capital of a northern realm, and therefore a rival to Kiev, he knew he could not transfer the metropolitan of Kiev to the Suzdal-Vladimir-Rostov region. Bogolyubsky planned to set up a new eparchy with a new metropolitan. He built a church in honor of the Assumption of the Theotokos in Vladimir and had a candidate ready to fill the new metropolitan’s cathedra. His name was Fyodoret, or Fyodor. He was an abbot of a local monastery who was a very well educated and robust individual. But Fyodor was also very ambitious. After consulting with the boyars, Bogolyubsky sent his agent on behalf of Fyodor to voice his suggestions to Patriarch Luka Khrizovergus in Constantinople, but failed to gain a positive reply. The patriarch summoned a council and rejected the request. A few years later, in 1168, during the cathedra of Metropolitan Constantine II, an ecclesiastical council was held in Kiev. Bogolyubsky sent Abbot Fyodor on his behalf. He also wrote to Prince Mstislav Izyaslavich of Kiev, asking him to expel Metropolitan Constantine at this council and ordain another instead – having Fyodor in mind. Many were dissatisfied with Metropolitan Constantine, but Prince Mstislav decided against it, as it would only have added to the turbulence and upheaval in the Kievan realm. Fyodor however didn’t give up his attempts to ascend the cathedra of Metropolitan. In 1169 without the knowledge of Prince Bogolyubsky, he left for Constantinople to visit the patriarch. He could not make his way to the metropolitan’s cathedra in Kiev, but at least he could get himself ordained as Bishop of Rostov and Vladimir in the Russian north. On his return to Russia, Fyodor went directly to Rostov and took up his responsibilities, but Bogolyubsky – although he liked Fyodor very much – asked him to travel to Kiev to acquire the blessing of Metropolitan Constantine. Bogolyubsky did not care for Constantine and presumably wanted this performed only for the sake of ecclesiastical protocol. Fyodor, in his arrogance, replied, “I have been ordained as bishop by the patriarch. Why do I need the blessing of the metropolitan?” Metropolitan Constantine, meanwhile, having become aware of these events, wrote to the abbots and priests of the eparchy of Rostov, asking them not to accept Fyodor as bishop until he received a blessing in Kiev. The letter had its desired effect and they all refused the rites and liturgy of Fyodor, including laymen and serfs. This irritated Fyodor greatly and he began to interdict abbots and priests who did not accept him as bishop, closing the doors of their churches and appropriating their property. Unable to tolerate Fyodor’s arrogance and criminal conduct, Bogolyubsky had him arrested and taken under custody to Kiev, where he was tried by Metropolitan Constantine at an ecclesiastical court, defrocked, and incarcerated in a local jail.

Scholars have devoted much attention to Andrey Bogolyubsky’s attempts to establish a second Russian metropolitan in Vladimir ranking with that of Kiev - that is, directly subordinate to the Constantinopolitan church, bypassing Kiev. The result of prolonged and complex negotiations, intrigues and even acts of force, in which representatives of Kiev, the metropolitan, and princes, envoys and clergy from southern and northeastern cities of Russia took part, was, however, that the status quo was maintained. In Constantinople neither the patriarch nor the emperor supported Andrey Bogolyubsky.

In religious affairs, according to some scholars, Andrey was an autocrat. He was said to have expelled Leon the bishop of Suzdal for prohibiting the consumption of meat during religious holidays if they fell on a Wednesday or a Friday. It is very likely that Andrey’s choice of Fyodor as bishop was based on his desire to have an autocephalous bishop.

Сергей Кириллов.Андрей Боголюбский.(Убиение) Andrey Bogolyubskii (Murder) by Sergei Kirillov.


In response, Andrey’s embittered courtiers formed a conspiracy, which resulted in his murder on the night of 28 June 1174. Twenty of his disgruntled retainers burst into Andrey’s chambers and killed him in his bed. Among them was his wife’s brother, Yakim Kuchka, who intended to take revenge for the execution of his brother, who was also the father of Andrey’s wife Ulita. Andrey had always been very generous towards his wife’s family. According to some scholars, Andrey’s father Yury Dolgoruky ordered the execution of Kuchka and then took his daughter to Kiev to marry his son Andrey. Bogolyubsky became an innocent victim of this revenge.

Andrey’s silver-inlaid war axe can now be viewed at the National Historical Museum in Moscow. The plotters robbed Andrey Bogolyubsky ’s possessions, and Andrey’s body was brought to the church, but fearing the anger of the plotters, the clergy didn’t carry out a requiem mass for Andrey. Only on the third day was his body put into a coffin. The city of Vladimir suffered from riots and priest Mikulitsa, who had helped Andrey move the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God to the city, walked around the city with the icon and a miracle happened – the riots stopped. Six days after Andrey’s death, his body and the body of his son Gleb, who was only twenty when he died, were moved to Vladimir from Bogolyubovo. People saw that the bodies of Andrey and his son remained incorruptible. After some time Andrey and his son were consecrated saints and their incorruptible relics are said to cure many people. His only remaining son, Yury Bogolyubsky, was the first husband of Queen Tamar of Georgia.

Written by Olga Prodan, RT

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