Ilya Muromets (Russian: Илья́ Му́ромец) is a Kievan Rus' epic hero. He is celebrated in numerous byliny (folk epic poems). Along with Dobrynya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich he is regarded as the greatest of all the legendary bogatyrs (i.e., medieval knights-errant of Kievan Rus). (The three of them are represented together in Vasnetsov's famous painting Warriors, as illustrated below.)
Although Ilya's adventures are mostly a matter of epic fiction, he is believed to have been an historical person: a 12th-century warrior, and in later life a monk, named Ilya Pechorsky. Ilya is beatified as a minor Saint of the Orthodox Church. His relics are preserved in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
Ilya in byliny
According to legends, Ilya, the son of a farmer, was born in Morivsk a village in Karacharovo, near Murom. He suffered serious illness in his youth and was unable to walk until the age of 33. He could only lie on a Russian oven, until he was miraculously healed by two pilgrims. He was then given super-human strength by a dying knight, Svyatogor, and set out to liberate the city of Kiev from Idolishche to serve Prince Vladimir the Fair Sun (Vladimir Krasnoye Solnyshko). Along the way he single-handedly defended the city of Chernigov from nomadic invasion (possibly by Polovtsi) and was offered knighthood by the local ruler, but Ilya declined to stay. In the forests of Bryansk he then killed the forest-dwelling monster Nightingale the Robber (Solovei-Razboinik), who could murder travellers with his powerful whistle.
In Kiev, Ilya was made chief bogatyr by Prince Vladimir and he defended Rus' from numerous attacks by the steppe people, including Kalin, the (mythical) tsar of Golden Horde. Generous and simple-minded but also temperamental, Ilya once went on a rampage and destroyed all the church steeples in Kiev after Prince Vladimir had failed to invite him to a celebration. He was soon appeased when Vladimir sent for him.
Ilya Muromets's name became a synonym of an outstanding physical and spiritual power and integrity, dedicated to the protection of the Homeland and People and over time has become a hero of numerous movies, pictures, monuments, cartoons and anecdotes. He is the only epic hero canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Although the remains of Ilya Muromets are supposedly stored in Kiev Pecherski Monastery, his character probably does not represent a unique historical persona, but rather a fusion of multiple real or fictional heroes from vastly different epochs. Thus, Ilya supposedly served Prince Vladimir of Kiev (ruled 980–1015); he fought Batu Khan, the founder of Golden Horde (c. 1205–55); he saved Constantine the God-Loving, the tsar of Constantinople, from a monster (there were a number of Byzantine emperors named Constantine, none of them contemporaries of Prince Vladimir or Batu Khan, and the one most likely to be called "God-loving" was Constantine XI, 1405–53).
Ilya as a saint
It is generally believed that Muromets's prototype was St Ilya Pechorsky, a minor saint of the Orthodox Church, beatified in 1643. According to hagiography, before taking his monastic vows Ilya was a warrior famous for his strength. His nickname was Chobitok, Old Russian for "Boot", given to him after an incident when Ilya, caught by surprise, fought enemies with his boot only.
In 1988, Soviet archeologists exhumed Ilya's Chobitko remains, stored in Kiev Pechersk lavra, and studied them. Their report suggested that at least some parts of the legend may be true: the man was tall, and his bones carried signs of spinal disease at early age and marks from numerous wounds, one of which was fatal.
Ilya Muromets depictions
- Viktor Vasnetsov's 1898 painting Bogatyrs (center figure).
- Reinhold Glière's 1911 Symphony No. 3 (Ilya Muromets) in B minor, op. 42
- Ilya Muromets is depicted on the 1913 Russian stamp.
- Viktor Vasnetsov's 1914 painting Ilya Muromets.
- Aleksandr Ptushko's 1956 film Ilya Muromets.
- Konstantin Vasilyev's 1974 and 1977 paintings.
- Liz Williams' Nine Layers of Sky (2003) writes a modern day account of Ilya.
- Juraj Červenák's historic fiction Bogatyr trilogy (2006-2008).
- Vladimir Toropchin's animated feature, Ilya Muromets and Nightingale the Robber, released on July 7, 2007, and its sequel Three Bogatyrs and the Shemakhan Queen, released in 2010. 
- Ilya Muromets at Tradestone Gallery's Russian Fairy Tales gallery
- The evolution of Christianity, X. The History of Russia in the Context of the Evolution of the National Spirit and Orthodoxy
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