Friday, October 04, 2013
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.