March 01, 2015

The Murman Coast

The Murman Coast

Saints are not normally trendsetters. But when Tryphon set out from Novgorod in the fifteenth century to convert the “heathen” Sami of the Murman coast and Pasvik Valley, he established a trend that would last for half a millennium. Over that period, in parallel with Russia’s colonization of the East (Siberia), the Russian experience was profoundly shaped by its imperative to tame the North.

Yet the mission of “civilizing” one small fragment of the Russian North was not just a Russian enterprise. It relied on a cosmopolitan mix of players from different nations: Pomors, Kvens, Karels, Finns and Norwegians, along with the native Sami (or Lapps), all played a part in shaping life, culture and communities in the lands that abut the Barents Sea coast.

Tryphon was not the first to spread the holiness of Rus to the North. By the start of the fifteenth century, the first monastic settlements had been established on islands in Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega – both at about 61°N. Later in the same century, St. German endured many years of frigid isolation on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea (at 65°N).

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