Ilya Muromets

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For other uses, see Ilya Muromets (disambiguation).
Ilya Muromets (1914) by Viktor Vasnetsov.

Ilya Muromets, or Ilya of Murom (Russian: Илья Муромец, Ukrainian: Ілля Муромець) is a folk hero of Kievan Rus', a bogatyr (akin to knight-errant) and a character of many bylinas (medieval epic poems). In the legends he is often featured alongside fellow bogatyrs Dobrynya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich. Although Ilya Muromets's adventures are mostly a matter of epic fiction, he is believed to have been an historical person: a medieval warrior, and in later life a monk, named Ilya Pechorsky. Venerable Ilya Pechorsky is beatified as monastic saint of the Orthodox Church. His relics are preserved in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

Ilya in byliny[edit]

According to legends, Ilya Muromets, the son of a farmer, was born in a village 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.

Legendary stature[edit]

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.

Bogatyrs (1898), a famous painting by Viktor Vasnetsov. Ilya Muromets is in the center, with Dobrynya Nikitich to his left, and Alyosha Popovich to his right
Incorrupt relic of saint Ilya Muromets in Near Caves at Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
Forensic reconstruction of Ilya Muromets by Sergey Nikitin

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[edit]

It is generally believed that Muromets's prototype was Venerable Ilya Pechorsky, a monastic 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 East Slavic for "(small) boot", given to him after an incident when Ilya, caught by surprise, fought off enemies with only his boot.

In 1988, Soviet archeologists exhumed Ilya Chobitok's 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[edit]


External links[edit]