Likbez: The Other Alexander Nevsky

Pravoslavie.ruAn icon of St. Alexander Nevsky
Alexander Nevsky, the actor and bodybuilder, is far from the only famous Russian to bear the name. The other Alexander Nevsky was a 13th-century prince-soldier widely regarded as one of the most important figures in medieval Russia. Born in Pereslavl-Zalessky, 130 kilometers northeast of present-day Moscow, in either 1219 or 1221, Alexander became the Grand Prince of Novogorod in 1236. He won a decisive battle against Swedish invaders on the banks of the Neva River in 1240, but local boyars forced him from Novgorod shortly after that. He returned from exile in 1241 to fight the Teutonic knights, defeating them at the Battle of the Ice in 1242. He became Grand Prince of Vladimir, the most important position in medieval Russia, in 1252, thanks to the support of the leader of the Golden Horde. Alexander died in 1263. After his death, he was venerated as a saint and canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547. Part of Alexander's significance for Orthodoxy revolves around his decision to wage war against Catholic invaders from Europe while pandering to the Mongols. According to hagiography, Nevsky made this choice because the Mongols proved less of a threat to Russian religious identity, although scholars have pointed out that this decision may have been simply a recognition of the strength of the Mongol army.

Given his role as the defender of the Neva, it is only natural that Alexander Nevsky is the patron saint of St. Petersburg. In 1710, Peter the Great founded a monastery in Nevsky's honor, which would also serve as a home for his relics. Today, the Alexander Nevsky Lavra is one of the most important monasteries in Russia, and its cemetery is the final resting place of many of Russia's most famous writers, actors and musicians.

The life of Alexander Nevsky provided the material for one of Sergei Eisenstein's most famous films. A new Russian film about Alexander Nevsky and the battle on the Neva will appear in theaters on May 1. It will not, however, star Alexander Nevsky the actor.