In the thirteenth century large parts of Russia fell to the Mongol invaders.1 The initial impact on religious life and art was devastating. Priests and monks were slain, churches and icons were burned, cult objects made of precious metals and gems were looted. The anonymous author of The Tale of the Destruction of Riazan, the first city to be attacked in 1237, recounted:
They burnt the whole city of Riazan with all its renowned beauty and wealth and seized the relatives of the princes of Kiev and Chernigov. They destroyed God's churches and spilt much blood on the sacred altars. Not one person was left alive in the city, all had died and supped from the same cup of death. And all this came about for our sins.2
Even if we make allowances for the rhetorical insistence upon complete annihilation, the losses were devastating. The sheer number of Orthodox Christians who perished at the hands of pagans, together with the belief that God had inflicted ruin on Russia as a punishment 'for our sins', left the survivors and their descendants with the imperative of praying for the souls of the dead and the salvation of the living. In this disaster lay the seeds of a religious revival that has been described as 'the flowering of Russian holiness'.3
Russia's relationship with its new overlords was complex. Even after they adopted Islam in the fourteenth century, the Mongols, or Tatars as they were generally called in Russian sources, respected the local religions of their empire in return for political obedience and compliance in delivering up tribute in money and kind. They ruled from afar. In Russia there was no campaign of forced conversions, no tampering with the conventions of Orthodox ritual
1 I refer to Russia and Russian(s) throughout this chapter in the awareness that contemporary documents used the term Rus and variants.
2 D. S. Likhachev, Pamiatniki literatury drevnei Rusi. XIII vek (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1981), 190-1.
3 Leonid Uspenskii, Theology of the icon (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1992), II, 257.
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