June 20 – Gleb Andreyevich; Adalbert of Magdeburg

Gleb Andreyevich (d. 1174) was, according to my source, baptized “George,” but I’m suspicious of that because that was his brother’s name. His dad was Prince Saint Andrew Bogoliubsky (say that five times fast), who later in life had a little being-murdered-by-his-subjects problem, but that’s outside our scope. Gleb’s parents encouraged him in his desire for holiness—at no point did they arrange a marriage for him, for example. From the age of twelve he lived “a solitary spiritual life,” which sounds like he hid in his room like every other teenager, but prayed a good bit more. He kept a strict fasting regimen, slept little, and loved to read holy books. He was also charitable to all, which forces me to withdraw the comparison to teenagers. Sadly he was taken from us (or rather from his contemporaries) at age nineteen. At which point the story begins to really get interesting.

First off, his relics were incorrupt and associated with miracles, which is certainly nothing for any Russian to kov at. But there’s more. In 1238, the Tatars burned the cathedral in Vladimir, killing a bishop, a great-princess, and many other of Vladimir’s leading citizens (as well as a sizeable number of its trailing citizens). Yet the fire didn’t even touch Gleb’s tomb. In 1410 the Tatars ran out of whatever it was they got in Vladimir the first time, and came back for more. This time instead of burning the cathedral, they ransacked it. Not the brightest Vikings in the longboat[1], they thought Gleb’s tomb was a treasure chest, and laid hands on it in preparation of breaking it open, when flames shot forth from it, scaring[2] them so that they fled the city entirely. Gleb’s prayers are also credited with saving the city from Polish-Lithuanian plunderers in 1613—and Polish-Lithuanian plunderers were by far the worst plunderers in the 1610s. Gleb is, needless to say, the patron saint of the city of Vladimir.

Adalbert of Magdeburg (ca. 910–981) was a Benedictine monk living happily at St. Maximin’s in Trier (also called Trèves) when Princess Olga of Kiev, first Christian monarch of the Russian lands, was looking for a few good men. She texted Otto the Great, Holy Roman Emperor, and asked him to send some missionaries to convert the Rus. Adalbert and a small group of monks set off to Kiev to convert some pagans, just as Olga’s son Svyatoslav, himself not convinced of this newfangled Christianity stuff, deposed her. He sent the monks packing, and many of them were killed by the pagans near Kyiv (or Kiev). Adalbert escaped to Mainz, where he did something for the Emperor for four years.

Next came an appointment to Weissenberg, where he developed a reputation as a scholar, and started the monks to chronicling a chronicle, citing the duty to record a record of God’s world. After he spent four years abboting, Adalbert was tapped again by Otto. Seems Otto’s shiny new fortified city of Magdaburg, which he built to remove himself somewhat from his more unruly subjects, was all completed. (Of this city we sing in the old hymn, “Ein feste Burg ist Magdaburg.”) He dashed off the appropriate form (714ä) to apply for a new See, and the Pope sent back the requisite permission slip. Thus did Adalbert become the first Archishop of Magdaburg, which position he held until his death 13 years later. He is noted for sending missionaries out to the trans-Elbe Slavs as well as the Wends, pagan Slavs living in the Empire after whom the fourth day of the week is not named, even though it sounds like it. He reformed some monasteries in need of reforming, and founded some others in need of founding. He also founded six dioceses, and (sadly) died while visiting one of them. He has been called “Apostle of the Slavs” by people who never heard of Methodius and Cyril (May 11).

[1] Actually they weren’t Vikings at all. That’s a metaphor.
[2] And presumably scarring.