August 01, 1997

In the Footsteps of St. George

If you have traveled to Moscow recently, chances are you’ve seen his image on subway walls, in shop windows — and even on bus tickets. But just who is that red horseman with the spear? Murad Agdzhi takes us on a trek through the distant past, as he traces the mysterious origins of Moscow’s patron saint.

St. George — Moscow’s symbol and coat of arms — has once again become the city’s own. So much so that the Moscow boss who doesn’t have a picture of St. George on his office wall — a place of honor until recently reserved for Soviet leaders — is rare indeed. From times of old, churches and streets have been named after him, and bronze sculptures have depicted him killing the dragon with a spear. At one time all but forgotten, George’s image is now plastered all over the city. But how and when did George receive a Moscow residence permit? And, in the end, what do we really know about him?

Since 1380, Moscow has related to George as a bringer of victory. Prince Dmitrii Donskoi carried his icon onto the field of Kulikovo, the Russians’ first victory in their attempt to escape the Mongol yoke. Soon afterwards, a sculpture of a mounted soldier, fragments of which are preserved to this day, appeared on the main tower of Moscow’s Kremlin. Then, in 1497, Prince Ivan III had George’s image engraved on Moscow’s great seal, and the horseman became part of the city’s life once and for all. But at that time, Muscovites were not yet calling him George. Instead, they spoke of the “rider,” whose name was Mikhail.

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