History- feudal, soviet, capitalist

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MILLENIUM MEMORIAL & ALEXANDER NEVTSKY

Novgorod’s Millenium Memorial, which incorporates famous rulers, political, historical, artistic and literary figures,  was completed in 1862 to commemorate a thousand years since the birth of Russia in the Novgorod region. During this millennium, Russia was invaded by Teutonic knights, Swedes and Mongols. Nevertheless during this period, Novgorod was the only Russian city which was never conquered.

From 1136, for almost 300 years, Novgorod was run by the city council called the Veche headed by the Posnadik (Mayor). When they were threatened with war by the Teutonic knights, they elected Prince Alexander Nevsky to lead them in Battle. Eisenstein’s 1938 film of the major battle shows Novgorod’s sparsely armed troops facing a large highly trained force of heavily armoured knights on horseback. Nevskiy makes his stand on the banks of Lake Peipus drawing the enemy onto the frozen lake where their weight breaks the ice causing their defeat. Although there is some truth in this version, in fact the Russian army greatly outnumbered their enemies.

Novgorod was finally conquered, during the Second World War, by the German army assisted by Spanish troops. They looted the Golden cross from the highest cupola of Novgorod’s St Sophia church and sent it to Burgos in Spain. Work was started on dismantling the Millenium Monument to send it to Germany as spoils of war. A narrow gauge railway was constructed from the monument to the railway station to transport the sections of the monument. Fortunately, the Soviet Army regained the City before the Monument could be moved

In my novel Russian Resolution the martyrs look to the Millenium Monument for inspiration, before giving their lives for it and the fate of the cross is a major subplot.

 

 ST PARASKEVA PYATNITSA

In the novel Russian Resolution, Tanya shows Jake the icon of St Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, whose legend plays a significant part in the plot.

St Paraskeva Pyatnitsa is the patron saint of markets, the blind, and also girls praying to be married. Pareskeva is Greek for Friday and Pyatnitsa is Russian for Friday, which is either the day she was born or the day she was baptised. There are many different stories about her. Here is one of them.

St Paraskeva took a vow of chastity and travelled amongst heathens converting them to Christianity. Emperor Pius tortured her, because she would not renounce Christianity. He then put her in a cauldron of boiling oil and was amazed when she seemed unperturbed so he asked her if the oil was hot. She threw some oil in his face and blinded him, but she asked the Lord to heal him and he was converted.

Similarly another ruler tested her and tortured her, but was finally converted to Christianity. However, she was subsequently beheaded whilst trying to convert a tyrant.

She was an important Saint for Novgorod the Great, which was a merchant town with an international market: a meeting place between the Mongol hordes and Western Europe and later a member of the Hanseatic League. The market was held on a Friday on the opposite bank of the river Volkhov from Novgorod’s Kremlin. Several small churches, including St Paravskeva, adjacent to the market were related to different trades and often held appropriate standards for the relevant trade.

 

 

NOVGOROD BELLS AND THE VECHE

Next to St Sophia’s Cathedral in Novgorod the Great there is a tall bell tower with large bells on the floor at its base

(As a child, Boris hides behind these bells when he witnesses his parents’ execution).

Traditionally a bell was rung to summon the town’s Veche (public assembly) to the Kremlin in cases of emergency or for important events. The veche was an early form of democracy, which elected and dismissed the town’s officials and even Princes like Alexander Nevsky.

The largest bell on the floor has one of its ears (hanging point) cut off by Ivan the Terrible, because it was used to warned the town of his attack.

 

THE BLUE DIVISION

How many of you knew that during World War Two Franco sent Spanish troops to Russia (the Blue Brigade) as part of the Werhmacht, to fight on the Leningrad front? This is an important sub plot in my novel. It happened as follows:

During the Spanish Civil War Russia supplied arms to the Nationalists who were largely Communists. Franco, himself a fascist, asked Hitler for help and the Luftwaffe carried out the first bombing attack ever against civilians in the village of Guernica. Picasso later produced a giant picture of this horrific event.

So when World War Two started Franco returned the favour by sending a brigade of Spanish soldiers and a squadron of aircraft to fight under the Werhmacht. They wore German uniforms and blue shirts and fought mainly from Novgorod to Leningrad.

The Blue Division fought along the river Volkhov and in winter across the frozen river Ilmen. Their HQ was Novgorod’s airfield at Grigorovo. The division took huge losses in the siege of Leningrad where at the battle of Krasny Bor they held off a Soviet Army many time larger.

As the Allies began to make advances in Europe. Franco withdrew the Division though some stayed on in the German army. Over 47,000 Spaniards served in the division.

As described in my novel, Russian Resolution, St Sophia’s cross was looted and sent back to Burgos in Spain. Years later it was transferred to The Military Academy in Madrid. The Spanish Government returned the cross to Novgorod in 2004

Comments
  1. Pat says:

    They say that history is written by the victor, but is it as simple as that?

    When, during communism Russians visited me at Sunningdale, I used to take them to Windsor Castle. On the way there I would stop at Runnymede where there is a symbolic plaque celebrating King John signing the Magna Carta in 1215, a charter of liberties of the barons and limitations of the monarch under the law.

    Then we would go to the Air Forces memorial on the hill above. This is a very moving monument, which bears the names of 20,456 Air Force personnel who were lost in operations during WW2 and therefore have no graves elsewhere.

    Everyone of my Russian visitors would look at the war dates 1938 -1945 and say the war did not start until 1941. They had no idea that Stalin had signed a pact with Hitler and only entered the war when Hitler invaded. So much for Russian school history.

    Mind you when I first went to the Soviet Union, although I had ‘O’ level geography I realised I knew nothing about the largest country in the world.

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