Olha, Princess

Image - Monument of Princess Olha with Saint Andrew and SS Cyril and Methodius in Kyiv. Image - Korosten: Princess Olha monument near the Uzh River. Image - Monument of Princess Olha with Saint Andrew and SS Cyril and Methodius in Kyiv.

Olha, Princess [Ol’ha] (Olga; Norse: Helga; Christian name: Elena [Helen]), b ca 890, d 11 July 969 in Kyiv. Kyivan Rus’ princess and Orthodox saint; wife of Prince Ihor and mother of Sviatoslav I Ihorovych. Olha was Sviatoslav's regent during his minority (945–57) and his later military campaigns. After Ihor's death she subdued the rebellious Derevlianians and avenged his slaying. She expanded and strengthened the central power of Kyiv, defined hunting areas, and replaced the annual journey (poliudie) to collect tribute (during one of which Ihor had been slain) by a system of local financial-administrative centers (pogosti) that collected uniform taxes for Kyiv. In foreign affairs she was mainly concerned with political relations with Constantinople and with Kyivan Rus’–Byzantine commercial relations.

Olha was the first Kyivan Rus’ ruler to become a Christian. Some scholars, relying on the Primary Chronicle, claim she was baptized in 955 in Constantinople. Others contend she was baptized in Kyiv before her trip to Constantinople in 957, on which she was accompanied by the priest Hryhorii. Olha urged Sviatoslav I Ihorovych to become a Christian, but he remained a pagan. He allowed a Christian community to develop in Kyiv, however, thereby paving the way for the Christianization of Ukraine by his son and Olha's grandson, Volodymyr the Great. In 959 Olha sent a mission to the German king Otto I requesting a bishop and priests to be sent to Kyivan Rus’. Otto responded by sending the monk Adalbert to serve as bishop in Kyiv, where he remained only briefly.

Volodymyr the Great had Olha's remains reburied in Kyiv's Church of the Tithes. Metropolitan Ilarion initiated the Christian cult of Olha in the 11th century, and the church canonized her during the first half of the 13th century. In the Ukrainian church Olha is considered an equal of the Apostles. Her feast day is 24 July (11 July OS).

The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text, trans and ed S. H. Cross and O. P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Cambridge, Mass 1953)
Sakharov, A. Diplomatiia drevnei Rusi: IX–pervaia polovina X v. (Moscow 1980)
Pritsak, O. ‘When and Where Was Ol’ga Baptized?’ HUS, 9 (1985)
Rychka, Volodymyr. Kniahynia Ol’ha (Kyiv 2004)

Mykhailo Zhdan, Arkadii Zhukovsky

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