© 2021 Natalia Evgenyevna Mazalova

2021 — № 2 (22)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33876/2224-9680/2021-2-22/14

Citation link:

Mazalova N. E. (2021). Celitel’skie aspekty kul’ta blazhennoj Matrony Bosonozhki v peterburgskoj prihramovoj srede [Healing Aspects of Blessed Matrona the Barefooter’s Cult in the St. Petersburg Parish Milieu]. Medicinskaja biologija i biojetika [Medical Anthropology and Bioethics], 2 (22).

Author info:

Natalia Evgenyevna Mazalova, Dr. Hist. Sc., is a Senior Research Fellow at Peter the Great Museum for Anthropology and Ethnography (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg).

Keywords: healing, foolishness for Christ in St. Petersburg, mythology of St. Petersburg, parish milieu, folklore of parish milieu

Abstract. The article discusses healing practices among fools for Christ in St. Petersburg, based on the example of Blessed Matrona the Barefooter. Stories of these healers got embedded into St. Petersburg’s mythology and became a marker of the St. Petersburg identity. The author demonstrates that narratives about Matrona the Barefooter are a part of the mythology of St. Petersburg’s parochial milieu, which in our days forms a specific societal part. Mythologies based on female fools for Christ enjoy a special significance because this type of sainthood enjoys special popularity among Orthodox Christians. The author discusses the special psychophysiological states of Blessed Matrona during her healing and divination ceremonies, as well as their play aspect. Beliefs of Matrona the Barefooter’s healing and prophetic abilities have survived until our time. In our days, she is addressed with a prayer of curing, as well as in other difficult situations. There are also beliefs that were reflected in narratives surrounding her: dreams of Matrona indicate an upcoming pregnancy or a return to health. The multiple narratives about Matrona recorded in written form are a unique feature of the parish milieu of the Church of All Who Sorrow in St. Petersburg. The author pays special attention to Matrona’s apparition to a parishioner in early 2020, which in the parish milieu is viewed as a premonition of the coronavirus pandemic.

Matrona the Barefooter is one of St. Petersburg’s most famous fools for Christ. She gained fame thanks to her healing and divination practices in the late XIX-early XX centuries. Until now, the stories of her – and St. Petersburg’s other fools for Christ – constitute a part of the city mythology. Petersburg is a city with special mythology, its peculiarity is based, among other things, on the veneration of the local “blessed” people. In the XVIII-XX centuries, the feat of foolishness for Christ was accomplished by multiple blessed people, most of them women.

Another specific and integral part of St. Petersburg’s urban culture and mythology and mad people. Fools for Christ take a special place in St. Petersburg’s “world of madness”, among psychically troubled people, beggars, etc. It should be noted that their madness belongs to a sacred category, characterized by special psychophysiological states (altered states of consciousness) in ritual practices. An important aspect in the studies of foolishness for Christ is in understanding that it is not one of the psychic disorders but a cultural practice of an “ascetic feat”. All of Matrona the Barefooter’s life was dedicated to such a feat.

The author reviews the peculiarities of Matrona Mylnikova’s life, too: a peasant woman from Kostroma, a wife, a mother of two, a bourgeois in her second marriage, a medical nurse in the Russian-Turkish War, a wanderer, a fool for Christ in St. Petersburg. Special attention is paid to Matrona’s service as a nurse in the Russian-Turkish War. The author analyses the institution of medical nurses, which developed under the considerable influence of Orthodox Christianity, with its emphasis on the high Christian virtue of mercy.

Another aspect of Matrona’s biography is her pilgrimages. It is during her wandering that she embarked on the path of religious asceticism, with its self-sacrifice and merciful attitude.

Peculiarities of Matrona the Barefooter’s foolishness for Christ are reviewed as well. Unlike most fools for Christ, who received their sacred gift as children, her choice for the ascetic feat was a conscientious decision.

Using Matrona’s example it is possible to analyze certain features of female foolishness for Christ – above all, them walking barefoot, which is partial nudity, while full nudity is typical for men’s foolishness for Christ. Another trait rare among fools for Christ is Matrona being a parent. It is more usual that fools for Christ are virgins.

After several years of wanderings, Matrona obtained from God the gift of divination and clairvoyance. Matrona revealed her talents as a healer and prophesier in St. Petersburg. There she received the nominations “Barefoot Matrona” or “Blessed Matrona”. According to folk beliefs, which complied with her own convictions, Matrona was an intermediate agent between God and people.

The example of Matrona the Barefooter’s ritualistic practices may help in studying peculiarities of foolishness for Christ in St. Petersburg; these include special spirituality and a self-sacrificial attitude. Fools for Christ in St. Petersburg have demonstrated the moral ideal of self-sacrifice. Matrona’s foolishness for Christ, like that of most blessed people in St. Petersburg, lacks the element of laughter.

During her healing and divination rituals, Matrona entered a special psychophysiological state. Her ceremonial activities were also marked by the element of play.

Until our days, narratives of Matrona the Barefooter have occupied a special place in the mythology of St. Petersburg’s parish milieu. Today, she is addressed with a prayer of curing, as well as in other difficult situations. Stories about her have an informative, as well as persuasive function: they attest to Matrona working wonders even after her death. Over 500 narratives of wonders that occurred after prayers to Matrona have been recorded in written form – a unique folkloric feature of the Church of All Who Sorrow and its parish milieu.

In early 2020, a parishioner witnessed Matrona’s apparition, which later was interpreted by believers as a premonition of the coronavirus pandemic. During the pandemic, Matrona is offered prayers of deliverance from COVID.

The narratives connected to Blessed Matrona the Barefooter are a part of St. Petersburg’s mythology, as well as the city’s parish milieu, the latter being an important marker of urban believers’ identity.


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