Saint Prince-Martyr Gleb (baptized as David) was the son of the Equal to the Apostles St. Prince Vladimir. Boris and Gleb are the first canonized Russian saints.
The story of his life and death, post-mortem miracles and canonization are contained in chronicles and some hagiography works written soon after St. Boris’ death based on oral accounts. One of them, The tale and passion and praise to saint martyrs Boris and Gleb, reports that the mother of brothers Boris and Gleb was a native of Bulgaria. Upon reaching adulthood, Boris accepted the management of Murom from his father Prince Vladimir. After St. Vladimir’s death in 1015, his son Svyatopolk seized the power. Wishing to get rid of Gleb’s brother Boris, whom his father had wanted to be his successor, Svyatopolk sent to him contract killers. Fearing that Gleb could revenge for the murder of Boris, Svyatopolk decided to kill him, too. He deceived St. Gleb into urgently coming from Murom to Kiev on the pretext that his father was ill. The young prince and his warriors headed for Kiev. On his way to Kiev he made a stop on the banks of the river Smyadyn, in the vicinity of Smolensk. It was exactly when Gleb got a message from prince Yaroslav that his father had died and his brother was killed on Svyatopolk’s order. This terrible news dismayed young Gleb. He was sailing in a boat down the river, when the contract killers, Goryaser and Gleb’s cook Torchin, caught him. The young prince swept and pleaded for mercy but they ruthlessly killed him, leaving his body in a desert place. Soon after this event, the place became famous for its miracles. Merchants, hunters and shepherds who walked past this place sometimes saw a pillar of fire, burning candles and angelic singing. Prince Yaroslav the Wise ordered that Gleb be buried beside his brother Boris near the Church of St. Basil in Vyshgorod.
After a while, the grave of the saints began to work wonders. Having learned about the miracle, Prince Yaroslav the Wise, brother of Boris and Gleb, on advice from the Metropolitan of Kiev John, build a five-domed church in the name of Sts. Boris and Gleb. On July 24th, the day of the assassination of St. Boris, the church was consecrated, and the relics of the saints were translated into the cathedral. In the opinion of historians, this happened in the second half of 1940s. Since that time the saint martyrs Boris and Gleb have been broadly venerated across Russia. They were considered heavenly patrons of Russian princes, protectors of the Russian land and healers.
The first icon of St. Boris was painted for the church in honor of the saints, built by Yaroslav the Wise. While Boris and Gleb are normally portrayed together, their separate images are also encountered. The Russian medieval chronicles didn’t preserve a description of St. Gleb, stating only that he was very young. Therefore, the icons portray the saint as a beardless young man dressed in the Russian national garment – a round fur-linen hat and a cloak, with a cross and a sword in his hands. The earliest example of St. Boris’ portrait is a slate icon from the Solotchinsky monastery, dated to the first third of the 13th century (presently kept at the Ryazan Museum of Art).
In the 14th century there appeared icons depicting Sts. Boris and Gleb as horsemen such as the 1340 icon from the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin (State Tretyakov Gallery). These images are derived from the late Byzantine icons of saint warriors.
The feast day of St. Boris is celebrated on May 15 (May 2, in the old style) and August 6th (July 24th , in the old style).
1. Назаренко А. В., Павлинов П. С. Борис и Глеб. // Православная энциклопедия. Том VI. — М.: Церковно-научный центр «Православная энциклопедия», 2003. — С. 44–60.
2. «Сказание и страдание и похвала мученикам святым Борису и Глебу»: Успенский сборник XII—XIII вв. Издание подготовили Князевская О. А., Демьянов В. Г., Ляпон М. В. — М., 1971. Интернет ресурс Института русской литературы (Пушкинский Дом) РАН: http://www.pushkinskijdom.ru/Default.aspx?tabid=4871
3. Кондаков Н. П. Изображения русской княжеской семьи в миниатюрах XI в. — СПб., 1906.
4. Саенкова Е. М., Герасименко Н. В. Иконы святых воинов. — М.: Интербук-бизнес, 2008.