An extract from a bylina about the healing of Ilya Muromets
Wonderful stories about the deeds of the extraordinary heroes of epic poems — bogatyrs — were handed down from generation to generation for many centuries in ancient Rus’. Russian bogatyrs are famous for their incredible strength and patriotism and they always seek to protect their native land and restore justice. These stories used to be so popular that they evolved into a completely new genre — bylina (a Russian epic). To this day, everyone knows and understands stories about bogatyrs and sometimes they serve as a basis for new fiction.
Ilya Muromets is one of the most popular epic heroes. He is a symbol of an ideal warrior and bogatyr. According to sources that survive to this day, he came from a small village, Karachrov, near the city of Murom, hence his name — Muromets. Unlike most characters from similar stories, Ilya wasn’t born a hero. On the contrary, he was born in a typical village to a peasant family and was disabled from birth, spending thirty years on a Russian stove, unable to move.
When Ilya turned 30, a groupof vagrant musicians and pilgrims turned upin his village. According to legend, they were the ones who healed Ilya Muromets. They were asking for water and as there was nobody around apart from Ilya, he overcame his weakness, stood upand upon drinking the water, he gained his incredible strength, which he promised the pilgrims that he would use to protect his country from the enemy.
With their blessing, he set out to join the army of Prince Vladimir. Along the way he came across an unliftable stone. However, he managed to move it and found weapons, chain mail and a horse lying under the stone. Some of Ilya’s most famous heroic deeds include his meeting with Svyatogor, his victory over the forest-dwelling monster Nightingale the Robber (Solovei-Razboinik) and his three journeys. It was crucial that he serve the Prince but not because of vassal relationships, it was much more important for bogatyrs to serve their homeland and people, and this is the reason why he goes off to fight his mighty opponents voluntarily.
Each bylina invariably ends with the triumph of righteousness over injustice. Ilya relies on his calm attitude and experience, as well as his strength, stamina and determination to defeat his enemies. The prediction stating that he would never die in battle makes him a strong and fearless warrior.
It is this stern and solemn image that the craftsmen chose to convey in the stone mosaic. The contrasting colours of the composition make it particularly striking: the black horse, the bright red jasper and agate used for Ilya’s clothes and the brilliant white snow. A natural block of aragonite shaped like snow powder whirled upby the horse’s hoofs brings the composition to life and makes it incredibly dynamic.
...As soon as he drank a cupof the honey drink,
His heart was filled with bogatyr strength,
And his white body started to sweat.
The kaliki said:
‘How is thy strength now, Ilya?’
Ilya bowed to the old men and thanked them:
‘I can feel great strength in myself’.
The kaliki said:
‘Be a great bogatyr, Ilya,
And you will not die in battle;
Fight together with any bogatyr
And together with a great team of bogatyrs...
He had been living with his father and mother,
For not too long, nor too short, for three years.
Then the accursed Idolishe found out,
That infidel tzar, —
That Ilya Muromets had been absent for three years.
And then Idolishe started thinking,
Thinking and gathering an army,
And he gathered all the Tartar force,
Tartar and Muslim force,
And as he gathered this force, off he went.
And this Tartar and Muslim force
Came close, very close
To the city of Kiev.
Then Idolishe came out of his white marquee.
<...> On that day Ilya Muromets felt unwell:
He could not eat anything for lunch;
His passionate heart started to ache,
And his hot blood started to boil.
And Ilya himself said the following:
‘I do not know why, but I feel unwell.
I can no longer live in my house;
I need to go, to go to an open field.
I need to go, to visit the beautiful city of Kiev.
Hard stone carving studio “Svyatogor”
Author: Ivan Golubev
Craftsman: Stanislav Shiryaev
Finisher: Albert Klevakin
Jeweller: Dmitry Babushkin
Blacksmith: Evgeny Belan
Materials: dolerite, Belorussian flint, agate, aragonite, jasper, chalcedony, fossilized wood, silver, steel
Dimensions: 73 × 85 × 55 cm