Polotsk: Spiritual Center of Belarus

Considered the spiritual center of Belarus, Polotsk has an encompassing past of history and many vicious battles for power. As one of the most beautiful towns in the country, the city, believed to date back to 862, is now home to over 82,000 people. It is considered the oldest town in the country as well as one of the oldest in the whole Slavic region.

Polotsk is the fist Belarusian town to be the Capital of Culture due to its outstanding historical and cultural heritage and rich cultural life. Belarus has a huge historical and cultural legacy that includes architectural monuments, works of art, museum collections. All masterpieces of the Belarusian art are protected by the state. The most valuable assets are placed on the State Register of Historical and Cultural Values of Belarus.

In its eventful history, Polotsk has endured Viking incursions from the north, fought against crusaders and had been occupied numerous times. In 980 Vladimir the Great, prince of Novgorod, recognized the importance of Polotsk and sought an alliance with Prince Rogvolod of Polotsk, asking for the hand of his daughter, Rogneda, in marriage. The town became the center of Christianity during the first Russian state of Rus in 882. In the 10th-13th centuries Polotsk was the center of the powerful Polotsk Duchy. It is also considered one of the oldest Jewish communities in the area. There is evidence that Jews settled in Polotsk toward the end of the 15th century. In 1551 the Jews of the city were exempt from paying a special tax; when Ivan the Terrible captured the town in 1563 he ordered all Jews to be baptized. Those who did not were drowned in the Dvina River.

Mecca for Orthodox Christians

Beautiful cathedrals and monasteries of Polotsk are preserved till our days. The most famous landmark of the town is St. Sophia Cathedral. It was created in the 11th century. It stands at the confluence of the Polota and Western Dvina Rivers on the eastern side of the city and is probably the oldest church in Belarus. St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the major cultural centers of Belarus. It hosts religious services and ceremonies, excursions, concerts and recitals.

St. Sophia Cathedral  Polotsk, Belarus

St. Sophia Cathedral
Polotsk, Belarus

Originally built between 1044 and 1066, it was a rival for cathedrals of the same name in Kiev and Novgorod. Much of the cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt, but the eastern elevation and some of the basement walls are original.   It accommodated a huge library, archives, treasury, magistrate, and sanctuary. It was the place where diplomatic receptions were arranged. There was also a royal family vault in the cathedral. Archeologists discovered 16 sarcophagi. Nowadays the St. Sophia Cathedral is open as a museum; there is also an organ hall, where music festivals are held every year.

Christians arrive throughout the year to pray at the St. Euphrosyne convent. The Spaso-Preobrazhenskiy Temple is where the relics of the venerable Euphrosyne of Polotsk, the founder of the monastery are stored. This woman was nominated as a Saint and became a nun being 12-year old; only not to marry a man she couldn’t love.

Born as Predslava between 1101 and 1104, Euphrosyne was the granddaughter of a Prince Vseslav of Polotsk and daughter of Prince Svyatoslav of Polotsk. She refused all proposals of marriage and, without her parents’ knowledge, ran away to the convent where her aunt was the abbess. She became a nun and took the name Euphrosyne.

Euphrosyne composed music, and is regarded as the first Belarusian art patron. Under her direction and using her money, the Savior Church was built in the 1150s. It is the finest example of the Polotsk architectural school. Her name is connected with the emergence of the Madonna icon known as Hodigitria of Polotsk, which was brought from Byzantium. The calming influence of this woman of faith also helped to heal the historical enmity between the Polotsk and Kiev principalities. She is one of the 15 patron saints of Belarus, whose lives are celebrated in the Belarusian Orthodox Church, on the first Sunday after Pentecost, a feast that was instituted in the year of her canonization in 1984.

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Editor’s note: Join Original World and visit historic Polotsk as we tour Belarus, an ancient Slavic country located in the geographic heart of Europe, the Ukraine, second largest country after Russia, and Moldova, a very small multi-ethnic country that has suffered from violent ethnic conflict.  2018 tours are: May 26-June 13 & September 8-26.

View details: http://originalworld.com/tour_belaraus_ukraine_moldova/

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