1
Roman Empire (Byzantine Era) (330-1453)
Our Lady’s Mantle (1) : Shortly after Askold and Dir founded Kiev in 862, they launched a brazen but ill-fated assault on the capital of the Roman Empire.
Our Lady’s Mantle
Part one

Based on ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, Volume V, Chapter 55 by Edward Gibbon, and ‘The Tale of Past Years’, traditionally ascribed to Nestor (?1056-?1154).

The feast of the Protection of the Mother of God on October 1st is especially important in Russia, which is in some ways surprising. It goes back to 866 and a time when the early princes of Rus’ were trying to conquer Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire and the chief See of the Orthodox Church.

IN 988, Vladimir the Great, Prince of Kiev, converted to Christianity after receiving exuberant reports of the beauty of worship in Constantinople. A century earlier, however, Kiev’s pagan founders, Askold and Dir,* had thought quite differently, crossing the Black Sea to lay siege to the Imperial capital while its Emperor, Michael III, was away dealing with an Arab assault on the eastern border.

Michael managed to scramble back into his capital and his palace, the Blachernae, and summoned Patriarch Photius to join him for urgent prayer in the nearby church, where the robe, mantle and belt of the Virgin Mary herself had been kept since the fifth century.

After a long night’s vigil, the Patriarch and his clergy bore the Virgin’s mantle down to the Black Sea, and with the utmost reverence dipped it into the gently lapping waters.** At once, a lively wind picked up, the waters skipped, and soon Askold’s fleet, two hundred strong, was being helplessly tossed and splintered on the shore.

* The story and dramatis personae as given here follow ‘The Tale of Past Years’ fairly uncritically; the reader should be aware that scholars today are sceptical. However, some kind of an assault on the City in 866 or so, emanating from Kievan Rus’, seems reasonably well-established.

** The sources do not state precisely which item of clothing was used.

Based on ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, Volume V, Chapter 55 by Edward Gibbon, and ‘The Tale of Past Years’, traditionally ascribed to Nestor (?1056-?1154).

‘To Thee, Our Leader in Battle’

According to tradition, this very hymn (composed after an Arab assault in 826) was sung in Constantinople that day in 866, when Askold’s fleet was speeding over the Black Sea. Here it is at the re-opening of the Rotunda in Thessaloniki in 2015, a fourth-century pagan temple which subsequently became a church.

TO thee, Our leader in battle and defender, O Theotokos,
We thy City, delivered from calamity,
Offer hymns of victory and thanksgiving.
Since thou art invincible in power,
Set us free from every peril, that We may cry to thee:
Hail, Bride without bridegroom!

More like this

Mediaeval History (62) Lives of the Saints (97) History (413) Russian History (17) Roman Empire (2) Roman Empire (Byzantine Era) (1) Constantinople (10)

Picture: From Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
Patriarch Photius lowers a garment said to have belonged to the Virgin Mary into the Black Sea, in the face of the invasion from Kievan Rus’. This painting is a fresco in the Kremlin in Moscow, where the Church of the Laying of Our Lady’s Robe stands.
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