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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.1 (2001) 77-84

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Forum: Memory and the Shaping of Ukrainian National Identity

Recovering The Ancient And Recent Past: The Shaping Of Memory And Identity In Early Modern Ukraine

Frank E. Sysyn

Twice within a century early modern Ukrainians undertook a project of restoring historical memory. The more renowned effort, in the early seventeenth century, comprised the rebuilding of the medieval monuments of Kyiv and the restitution of the memory of the great medieval state centered on that city. After the massive uprising in mid-seventeenth century Ukraine led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1648-1657), a new political and social order emerged under the control of the Zaporozhian Cossack Host. By the early eighteenth century, the new Ukrainian elite undertook a project to legitimize the new order by fashioning its own vision of the Khmelnytsky Uprising. The first recovery reached back more than six hundred years; the second, barely sixty. In both instances, early modern Ukrainian intellectuals, through their efforts to recover the ancient and recent past, provided the foundations for modern Ukrainian identity and memory. 1

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, the large area of what had been the medieval city of Kyiv filled in as the population of the surrounding lands boomed. The city recovered from a century of Tatar attacks that had undermined its late fifteenth-century revival and commercial life reemerged. The ruined Golden Gates of the medieval walls and the cathedral of the Holy Wisdom were evidence of the city's former greatness to its inhabitants. The Monastery of the Caves, with its numerous relics, marked its holiness. Seventeenth-century man could not help but feel small amidst the ruins of what had clearly been a splendid civilization, but he could also take delight in a return of part of its glory.

In the late sixteenth century, the Polish poet Sebastian Klonowic in Roxolania thus characterized the significance of the major city on the southeast frontier of the Polish-Lithuanian state:

Ancient Kyiv, former grand-princely capital,
How many traces have you preserved of glorious antiquity! . . .
Know that here in Rus', Kyiv means as much as ancient
Rome to the early Christians; it has the same importance.
Kyiv does not lack ancient marvels--it takes constant pride
In all its wonders: all this it will show to you.
Deep underground there are great caves, and
The ancient crypts of princes may be seen in the darkness of underground vaults.
In the deepest caves there repose the uncorrupted remains
Of the heroes of Rus'. 2

Kyiv was like Rome not only in its relics and holy sites and in the remnants of the former polity, but also in its rebuilding program. Not only were the great cathedral and monastery churches rebuilt in the early seventeenth century, but archaeological [End Page 77] digs were undertaken on the site of Kyiv's oldest church, the Church of the Tithes, where the relics of Kyiv's Christianizer Prince Volodymyr were discovered and a new church was built. If the rebuilding of the ancient city and reverence for the catacombs made Kyiv similar to Rome, the tradition of the Church had long linked the city with the second Rome, Constantinople. Volodymyr was the new Constantine and his Christian grandmother Olha, the new Helena. Not only had Kyiv received its Christianity from Constantinople, but church tradition, so frequently affirmed in seventeenth-century writings, saw the Apostle Andrew not only as traveling to the site of future Constantinople but also to Kyiv and predicting the rise of a great city on its hills. The link to Constantinople was further reinforced by the Kyiv Orthodox Metropolitanate's subordination to Constantinople. Yet, in the religious turmoil following the union of the metropolitan and most of the bishops with Rome in 1596, the Orthodox Church, which the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had declared illegal, turned to the Eastern patriarchs for support. In 1620, with the authorization of the patriarch of Constantinople, Patriarch Theophanos of Jerusalem consecrated a new hierarchy. As the...


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