Friday, October 04, 2013

Red Fortress

Red Fortress

The Secret Heart of Russia's History

By Catherine Merridale

Published by Allen Lane/Penguin, October 3rd, 2013

Professor Merridale has published several books abut Russian history and has certainly produced another masterful volume in "Red Fortress". Using the Kremlin as its focus, this book encompasses a vast swathe of the history of the territories which would become known as Russia, disentangles fact from fiction and uses the dark and sinister history of the Kremlin itself to good effect.

For those readers of Orthodox background, there are frequent references to famous historic icons and fascinating detail about the building and decoration of the Kremlin's Cathedrals and chapels; indeed the history of the earliest days of Holy Rus is intertwined with the story of  Simon Ushakov’s  icon masterpiece of 1668, The Tree of the State of Muscovy which is nowadays housed in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. She gives a generally accurate and quite sympathetic treatment of Russian Orthodoxy, although I was slightly puzzled by this quote on P 17 of the PDF version where we are told about Prince Vladimir of Kiev:
"Just to make sure, he also had the pagan idols flogged and dragged about the streets before condemning
them to death."
 I wondered if this is meant to read "pagan idolaters" as it would be rather difficult to condemn an idol to death.

No fewer than 479 pages cover the first settlement at the Kremlin, its growth and embellishment, its role in the Romanov dynasty, the Russian Revolution and the inevitable purges, ending with the subsequent interest in preservation and restoration in modern times. I found this a gripping read indeed and it will certainly appeal to anyone with an interest in Russian history, Orthodoxy or culture.

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Michelle M. said...

That sounds like something I would really enjoy!

Jerry said...

I am not a historian and can not speak with any authority, but I have heard the story of the flogged idols before: that the wooden idols were taken to a public square, flogged and then, I believe, burned.

Meg said...

Sounds fascinating. Actually, though, it *was* the idols themselves that he had flogged and dragged through the streets, then condemned to death. After all, false gods are as real to those who believe in them as our God is to us, and the best way to make his point that these *were* false gods was to treat them the same way he would have treated enemies. Which is pretty gruesome, but Russians have never had a monopoly on cruel and unusual punishments.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

@Jerry and Meg:
Thank you for the clarification of the point about the idols.....the episode was new to me and I did do a double-take when I read it!

@Michelle, it is a fascinating book indeed!