This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11 -- Feast of Saint Olga of Kiev

Russians call Olga Equal-to-the-Apostles
It was tough for a woman to dodge a marriage back in the day.  Lots of martyred virgins attest to that.  It must have been even tougher for a widow, since there was no virginity to defend.

How Olga Exterminated the Drevlians and Avoided Marriage

Olga was a tenth century Ukrainian princess who married  Igor, King of Kievan Rus (proto-Russia).  Igor was a conqueror of the rapacious sort, offering neighbors the choice between heavy tribute or heavy slaughter.  When he tried to shake down the Drevlians for the second time in a month, they unwittingly opted for heavy slaughter.  They grabbed Igor and tied him between two birch trees that had been bent double to the ground.  Once everything was secure, they cut the trees free, resulting in Igor being town asunder as they snapped back up.

Burning down the house! (Bath house!) 
The witless chief of the Drevlians, Mal, flattered himself to think that Olga would then marry him.  There was some sense to that, I suppose, since he no doubt reminded her that her son was too young to rule and she was merely a woman.  He probably emphasized his generosity in offering to share their combined kingdoms with her rather than merely taking Kiev by force and extinguishing her and her son.  Olga ordered that the entire delegation of twenty Drevlians be buried alive, but then she sent word back to King Mal that she accepted his proposal, but that she wanted to arrive with all due pomp.  She requested that a delegation of all the Drevlian councillors and potentates come to Kiev to escort her to Mal's court.  When they arrived, she welcomed them warmly and invited them to refresh themselves in the bathhouse after their long journey.  When they were all inside, she ordered the doors locked and the building burned down.  

She then sent word to Iskorosten, the Drevlian capital, that Kievan customs demanded that she offer a funeral feast for Igor before she could marry again.  As it needed to be a grand affair, all the Drevlians already in Kiev would be there, but she was inviting even more.  Those who came were given a lavish feast, and once they were properly sated and drunk, soldiers set upon them and killed them.  Then she and her army set out to conquer Iskorosten itself.

The Drevlians, learning at last of the brutal fates of nearly their whole aristocracy, begged to be allowed to submit without further retribution.  She declared that they had suffered enough and told them to send tribute of three doves and three sparrows from every house.  Once she had the birds, she ordered a little sulfur and cloth to be tied to a leg on each bird.  They were released.  Now any third level wizard in Dungeons and Dragons will tell you that sulfur + guano = fire.  I don't know if it is true, of course, because I always played a cleric instead of a wizard.  (Too much info?  Sorry.) When the birds flew home to their dovecoats and nests and the sulfur hit the guano, every Drevlian home went up in flames.
Kill that one, and that one, but leave that other one, okay? 

Decimated, betrayed, and burned out, the Drevlians again tried begging.  This time Queen Olga was more merciful.  She rounded them all up, killed all those she didn't want, awarded some of the others as slaves to her supporters, and left the rest to pay tribute to her.

How Olga Became a Saint
This story's a little quicker.  Kievan Rus and the Byzantine Empire had fought under King Oleg, but eventually they signed a peace treaty.  When Olga's son Svyatoslav grew old enough to mind the country for a while, she made a visit to Constantinople and accepted baptism.  She took the name Helena (after Empress Helena).  She even requested that a bishop be appointed for Kievan Rus to begin the conversion of the country.  Although some progress was made, she retired as Regent when Svyatoslav came of age, and he -- being pagan -- promptly sent the bishop and his crew packing.  Olga triumphed again however; she tutored Svyatoslav's children, including Vladimir, the next king of Kievan Rus.  Vlad proclaimed that his faith, Christianity, would henceforth be the nation's official religion.  

Thanks, Otto, but you're not really bright enough for me. 
How Olga Dodged a Marriage -- G-Rated Legend 

Some folks don't like to picture saints as being drenched in the blood of their enemies.  They created a totally fictional story about the Emperor being smitten by Olga's beauty and proposing marriage.  There are seven sources that discuss Olga's visit to Constantinople and none mention this story, but that doesn't make it any less charming.  Nor is the story diminished by the facts that 1) The Emperor, Constantine VII, was happily married to Helena Lekapena and 2) Olga was somewhere between 55 and 67 years old, well past the child-bearing capacity that preoccupies monarchs.

Olga hit town and Emperor Constantine VII was gobsmacked.  She had barely doffed her riding cap before he found a ring to proffer.  She declared how very flattered she was, but said that she could not wed him as she was not yet a Christian.  He agreed, of course, and welcomed her to town with all pomp.  Preparations were made for a grand baptism.  Olga requested that Constantine himself sponsor her christening.  He agreed.  The crowd loved it.  Then he proposed again, but this time she told him that he was now her godfather, and even pagans did not allow fathers to marry their daughters.  They shared a good laugh over how clever she was, and then he gave her valuable scriptures and icons to take home with her.

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