Northern Illinois University Press

Imperial Saint

The Cult of St. Catherine and the Dawn of Female Rule in Russia

Gary Marker

“A delightful book. It adds an important perspective on the problem of female rule in Russia … and reveals the enduring importance of religious symbolism and discourse at Peter the Great’s court.”—Nancy Shields Kollmann, Stanford University

“Marker not only focuses new attention upon the under-studied and disregarded Catherine I, but in so doing opens wide an innovative approach to the entire issue of ‘female rule’ in eighteenth-century Russia.”—Daniel Kaiser, Grinnell College

Historian Gary Marker traces the Russian veneration of St. Catherine of Alexandria from its beginnings in Kievan times through the onset of female rulership in the 18th century. Two narratives emerge. The first focuses on St. Catherine within Christendom and, specifically, within Russia. The second shifts attention to the second wife of Peter the Great, Catherine I, who became Russia’s first crowned female ruler. Marker then explores the evolution of divine queenship and the Catherine cult through the reigns of Elizabeth and Catherine the Great.

Russia’s cult of St. Catherine diverged from the veneration of Catherine in Western Christendom in several ways, particularly in the evolution of the Bride of Christ theme. Also, while St. Catherine became a figure of personal intercession in the West, her persona in Russia took a different path, one that valorized her regal and masculine qualities—attributes that supported her emerging role as a patron saint of the women of the ruling family.

The intersection of gender, power, and religion is a central theme of this study. Under Catherine I, the ruler’s identification with St. Catherine, her name-day saint, became critical. In ever-widening cascades of public ceremonies, Catherine was lauded as her saint’s living image, an affinity that ultimately provided the basis for establishing a distinctly female path to divinely chosen leadership.

Imperial Saint draws upon extensive and often rare sources, including service books, saints’ lives, sermons, public ceremonies, pilgrims’ accounts, laws, and personal correspondence. It also calls attention to icons, iconostases, fireworks, processionals, and other visual evidence. For readers interested in saints’ cults, the ritualization of power, and the relationship between gender and religion—as well as scholars who study St. Catherine—this stimulating study offers valuable insights.

(2007) 328 pp., 20 illus.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-375-3
cloth $42.00

Gary Marker, Professor of History at SUNY at Stony Brook, has published widely on Russian cultural and intellectual history. His books include Reinterpreting Russian History and Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700–1800.

Table of Contents

1. The Problem of Female Rule
Part I: The Saint
2. Vitae: The Lives of St. Catherine
3. The Terem Chapel and the Romanov Women
4. Monasteries
5. Dimitrii Rostovskii and the Militant Bride of Christ
Part II: The Tsaritsa
6. The Order of St. Catherine
7. The Saint's Living Image
8. The Archbishop and the Empress: The Coronation of 1724
9. Sacralizing Female Rule
Works Cited

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