Bodies in Motion: Steam-Powered Pilgrimages in Late Imperial Russia

This essay examines the phenomenon of group pilgrimage in early twentieth-century Russia. Made possible by modern advances in technology and transportation, parish pilgrimages represented a new form of spiritual travel at the end of the imperial era,
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  © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀲 DOI 󰀱󰀰.󰀱󰀱󰀶󰀳/󰀱󰀸󰀷󰀶󰀳󰀳󰀱󰀱󰀲X󰀶󰀲󰀷󰀱󰀴󰀸  Russian History 39 (2012) 247–268 Bodies in Motion: Steam-Powered Pilgrimages in Late Imperial Russia * Robert H. Greene University of Montana, MT, USA  Abstract This essay examines the phenomenon of group pilgrimage in early twentieth-century Russia. Made possible by modern advances in technology and transportation, parish pilgrimages represented a new form of spiritual travel at the end of the imperial era, allow-ing greater numbers of Orthodox men and women to visit and venerate sacred sites across the length and breadth of the Russian empire. Undertaken with the blessing of Orthodox bishops and often underwritten by local merchants and entrepreneurs, organized parish pilgrimages also a􀁦forded new pedagogical opportunities for the Orthodox clergy to instruct their 󰁦󰁬ock in the articles of faith, to supervise and give structure to lay devotional practices, and to assert the continued meaningfulness of the Orthodox faith against the rival claims of sectarians, secularists, and socialists alike. In adapting an age-old practice for present-day purposes, the clerical organizers of parish pilgrimages sought a spiritual solu-tion to the crises engendered by Russia’s passage into modernity. Just as mass pilgrimages by rail and steam could accommodate greater numbers of participants, so too did they invite a wide range of multiple meanings from the Orthodox men and women who took part in them. Keywords pilgrims, pilgrimage, relics, monasteries, Russian Orthodoxy, modernization, technology  The oldest example of Russian pilgrimage literature, The Life and Pilgrimage of Daniil, Abbot of the Russian Land  , dates to the early twelfth century and recounts the author’s journey to the sacred sites of the Holy Land where * )  My thanks to Eugene M. Avrutin, David Goldfrank, and Kyle G. Volk for their insightful comments and criticism on earlier drafts of this article.  248  R.H. Greene / Russian History 39 (2012) 247–268 Christ and His apostles walked. 󰀱  In subsequent centuries, as the East Slavic lands produced their own harvest of homegrown saints and sacred sites, spiritual travel came to focus increasingly on domestic destinations, and pilgrimage remained a central component of Russian Orthodox spiritual life until the very end of the imperial regime. For Russian Orthodox believ-ers, the attraction of pilgrimage was two-fold. As recent scholarship has shown, visiting and venerating holy relics and miracle-working icons pro- vided Russian men, women, and children with a means to access and chan-nel the power of the divine in order to achieve desired results in their everyday lives. 󰀲  But as Church authors and parish priests reminded their audiences, the pilgrimage experience was also an occasion to transcend  worldly cares and focus one’s attention on higher, and more spiritual, mat-ters. In a short pamphlet published in 󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀰, Fedor Ivanovich Titov, a Kiev archpriest and proli󐁦󰁩c Orthodox publicist, explained that pilgrimage pro- vided “true nourishment for man’s soul.” Sacred travel o􀁦fered Orthodox believers the opportunity to experience an “uplifting and strengthening” of the soul that could not be achieved through other, more ordinary, means:  We can spend no more than a few hours in church. The elevated spirit we acquire in church involuntarily weakens under the in󰁦󰁬uence of home life, which draws our souls toward other thoughts, feelings, and aspirations. This is why going on pilgrimage is particularly useful and bene󐁦󰁩cial for a Christian. Here, for several days or a week at a time, a person can completely distance himself from the ordinary conditions of every-day life. At the same time, he can devote himself without distraction to a prayerful mindset. This is why our pious Russian people, who love prayer, seek to go on pilgrim-age to holy places! 3 Conservative estimates suggest that by the end of the nineteenth cen-tury, no fewer than one million pilgrims in the Central Black Earth region alone set o􀁦f on pilgrimage every year, mostly by themselves or in small groups, and mostly to churches and monasteries close to home, on trips 󰀱)  Victor Terras,  A History of Russian Literature  (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀱), 󰀳󰀱-󰀳󰀲. See also S. V. Kornilov,  Drevnerusskoe palomnichestvo  (Kaliningrad: Knizhnoe izdatel’stvo, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀵), 󰀷-󰀱󰀰. 󰀲)  Vera Shevzov,  Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution  (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀴); Christine D. Worobec, “Miraculous Healings,” in Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia , ed. Mark D. Steinberg and Heather J. Coleman (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀷), 󰀲󰀲-󰀴󰀳; and Robert H. Greene,  Bodies like Bright Stars: Saints and  Relics in Orthodox Russia  (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰). 󰀳)  Archpriest F. I. Titov, O pol’ze blagochestivago podviga puteshestviia na bogomol’e k sviatym mestam  (Kiev: Tipogra󐁦󰁩ia Kievo-Pecherskoi Uspenskoi lavry, 󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀰), 󰀲.   R.H. Greene / Russian History 39 (2012) 247–268 249lasting no more than a few days. 󰀴  Amid the great social and economic changes taking place in the era of the Great Reforms and after, Orthodox  writers, publicists, and political 󐁦󰁩gures alike took solace in the seeming timelessness and cyclical patterns of pilgrimage. In 󰀱󰀸󰀵󰀸, the imperial min-ister of education, A. S. Norov, himself an experienced pilgrim, noted with no small pride that in an age when “the human mind, with the help of sci-ence, has achieved extraordinary results,” Russian Orthodox men and  women continued to perform the same spiritual deeds and trudge down the same paths to visit the same monasteries they had for hundreds of  years. The “true pilgrims in the time of Alexander II,” he observed, were quite literally following in the footsteps of “our true pilgrim forefathers from the time of the Great Prince Sviatopolk Iziaslavich,” eight hundred  years before. 󰀵 The contours of pilgrimage, however, began to change in the early twen-tieth century, particularly after the Revolution of 󰀱󰀹󰀰󰀵, when the imperial government relaxed its long-standing restrictions on the mobility of its subjects. 󰀶  By 󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀱, N. I. Smirnov, an Orthodox priest from a working-class parish in Moscow, could proclaim in the pages of the popular religious  journal  Kormchii   (The Helmsman) that “the path of pilgrimage has taken a new form in recent times.” Smirnov noted with approval that Orthodox pil-grims “have begun to venerate sacred places and objects not by themselves, not even in small groups, but in whole parishes, by the hundreds and thou-sands, led in procession with a priest at their head.” 󰀷  Father Smirnov was 󰀴)  A. N. Kurtsev, “Palomnichestvo v Tsentral’nom Chernozem’e (󰀱󰀸󰀶󰀱-󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀷 gg.),” in  Materialy dlia izucheniia selenii Rossii. Doklady i soobshcheniia shestoi Rossiiskoi nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii “Rossiiskaia derevnia: istoriia i sovremennost’.”   Part 󰀱:  Istoriia. Demogra󰁦󰁩ia.  Ekonomika. Ekologiia. Verovaniia  (Moscow: Entsiklopediia Rossiiskikh Dereven’, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀷), 󰀱󰀴󰀵; and idem, “Kul’tovye migratsii naseleniia Tsentral’nogo Chernozem’ia v 󰀱󰀸󰀶󰀱-󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀷 gg.,” in  Iz istorii monastyrei i khramov Kurskogo kraia , ed. A. Iu. Drugovskaia (Kursk: KGMU, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀸), 󰀹󰀲-󰀹󰀶. 󰀵)  A. S. Norov,  Neskol’ko myslei starago palomnika (stat’ia g. ministra narodnago prosvesh-cheniia)  (St. Petersburg: Tipogra󐁦󰁩ia “Morskago sbornika,” 󰀱󰀸󰀵󰀸), 󰀳, 󰀴. 󰀶)  Charles Steinwedel, “Resettling People, Unsettling the Empire: Migration and the Challenge of Governance, 󰀱󰀸󰀶󰀱-󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀷,” in  Peopling the Russian Periphery: Borderland Colonization in Eurasian History , ed. Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Abby Schrader, and Willard Sunderland (London: Routledge, 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀷), 󰀱󰀲󰀸-󰀴󰀷. For a thorough overview of the changing policies on passports and mobility, see Eugene M. Avrutin,  Jews and the Imperial State:  Identi󰁦󰁩cation Politics in Tsarist Russia  (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀰), ch. 󰀳-󰀴. 󰀷)  Smirnov’s article was subsequently issued as a stand-alone pamphlet. See Priest N. I. Smirnov, O prikhodskikh palomnichestvakh ko sviatyniam  (Moscow: Tipo-litogra󐁦󰁩ia I. E󐁦󰁩mova, 󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀱), 󰀷.  250  R.H. Greene / Russian History 39 (2012) 247–268  well acquainted with this new phenomenon. The previous year, he had escorted approximately 󰀳,󰀵󰀰󰀰 of his parishioners on three pilgrimages to  various monastic sites across the length and breadth of Moscow diocese – the Nikolo-Ugreshskii monastery on the left bank of the Moscow River, the Savva Storozhevskii monastery in Zvenigorod, and the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad. Variously described by their clerical organizers as “mass pilgrimage,” “popular pilgrimage,” or “parish pilgrimage,” these group excursions represented a new form of spiritual travel at the end of the imperial era, allowing greater numbers of Orthodox men and women to  visit and venerate sacred sites and a􀁦fording new pedagogical opportuni-ties, as well, for the clergy to supervise and give structure to lay devotional practices – a project to which Orthodox pastors had devoted considerable e􀁦forts and energies from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. 󰀸 Combining old and new, authenticity and innovation, autonomy and supervision, parish pilgrimage in the Russian Orthodox context was a multi-layered phenomenon that invites us to rethink the very nature of sacred travel. Victor and Edith Turner famously characterized pilgrimage as a “liminoid phenomenon,” a state of “exteriorized mysticism” which brings believers out of the mundane routine of the everyday and into a totalizing religious environment that transcends quotidian experience. The Turners saw pilgrimage, essentially, as an unstructured (indeed, anti-structured) pursuit that undermines hierarchical norms and levels social strati󐁦󰁩cations. 󰀹  But while the clerical coordinators of parish pilgrimages certainly sought to lift their fellow travelers out of the cares and concerns of the everyday world and elevate their attention to higher and more spiritual matters, organizers attempted also to transform pilgrimage from an inde-pendent undertaking into a highly structured, regulated, and synchronized experience that would shape the way in which the Orthodox laity imagined and interacted with both the sacred and with the modern world more broadly. Bishops, monks, and parish priests alike thus embraced chaper-oned religious excursions as a chance for pastors to mold the religious experience of the laity, educate the faithful in the 󐁦󰁩ner points of theology, 󰀸)  Gregory L. Freeze, “Institutionalizing Piety: The Church and Popular Religion, 󰀱󰀷󰀵󰀰-󰀱󰀸󰀵󰀰,” in  Imperial Russia: New Histories for the Empire , ed. Jane Burbank and David L. Ransel (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀸), 󰀲󰀱󰀰-󰀴󰀹. 󰀹)  Victor Turner and Edith Turner,  Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropolog-ical Perspectives  (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 󰀱󰀹󰀷󰀸), esp. ch. 󰀱. For a critique of the Turners’ thesis, see Raymond Jonas,  France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart: An Epic Tale for  Modern Times  (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀰).   R.H. Greene / Russian History 39 (2012) 247–268 251and protect their 󰁦󰁬ock against the creeping advance of secularism and sec-tarianism. Making pilgrimage conform to the dictates of railroad schedules and the agendas of clerical organizers, however, proved a challenge. Just as mass pilgrimages by rail and steam could accommodate greater numbers of participants, so too did they invite a wide range of multiple meanings from the Orthodox men and women who took part in them. At the end of the old regime, Orthodox believers were more mobile than ever before. Between 󰀱󰀸󰀶󰀰 and 󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀳, the Russian railway network increased from a total length of 󰀱,󰀶󰀲󰀶 kilometers of rail to 󰀷󰀰,󰀱󰀵󰀶; this same period witnessed an attendant rise in both the total volume of freight transported and the number of passengers shuttled across the empire. 󰀱󰀰  T. G. Frumenkova has charted the correlation between technological advance and the surge in pilgrimage in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the completion of the Northern Railroad, Orthodox pil-grims traveling from St. Petersburg to the Solovetskii monastery by way of  Arkhangel’sk were obliged to rely on overland postal routes and riverboats, unreliable options which made the journey all but impossible for nine months out of the year. 󰀱󰀱  The construction of new railroad lines and the development of a􀁦fordable travel across the empire’s waterways now meant that Russian pilgrims could set o􀁦f on their journeys at virtually any time of  year, regardless of inclement winter weather or spring 󰁦󰁬ooding. Further, pilgrims journeying in large groups by rail or steamship could pool the cost of travel, lodging, and food, thus reducing substantially the price per pilgrim. The author of one pilgrimage narrative recalled that in 󰀱󰀸󰀶󰀷 it had 󰀱󰀰)  Arcadius Kahan, “The Russian Economy, 󰀱󰀸󰀶󰀰-󰀱󰀹󰀱󰀳,” in Kahan,  Russian Economic History: The Nineteenth Century , ed. Roger Weiss (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀹), 󰀳󰀰. On the social e􀁦fects of rail expansion, see Daniel R. Brower, The Russian City between Tradition and  Modernity, 󰀱󰀸󰀵󰀰-󰀱󰀹󰀰󰀰  (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀰), 󰀴󰀲-󰀵󰀴. 󰀱󰀱)  T. G. Frumenkova, “Puteshestviia peterburzhtsev v Solovetskii monastyr’ v XVIII – nachale XX veka (po zapiskam sovremennikov),” in “Peterburzhets puteshestvuet.” Sbornik materialov konferentsii 󰀲-󰀳 marta 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀵 goda  (St. Petersburg: “Piligrim,” 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀵), 󰀸󰀶-󰀹󰀵; and idem, “Puteshestviia iz Peterburga v Arkhangel’sk v XIX veke i stroitel’stvo Severnoi zhelez-noi dorogi,” in Trudy Gosudarstvennogo muzeia istorii Sankt-Peterburga , vyp. 󰀳:  Peterburzhets  puteshestvuet   (St. Petersburg: Muzei, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀸), 󰀳󰀳-󰀴󰀱. As a result of unequal patterns of eco-nomic development, Catholic pilgrimage organizers in Western Europe had capitalized on the opportunities a􀁦forded by railroad transportation several decades before their Russian Orthodox counterparts. See David Blackbourn,  Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a Nineteenth-Century German Village  (New York: Vintage, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀵), 󰀱󰀳󰀶-󰀳󰀷; and Ruth Harris,  Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age  (New York: Penguin, 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀹), 󰀲󰀵󰀸-󰀵󰀹.
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