Women in Russia
(visit book homepage)

3. Russian Peasant Women’s

Culture: Three Voices

Christine D. Worobec

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the task of uncovering the culture of nineteenth-century Russian peasant women involved a search for women’s voices in the ethnographic and literary sources of the time. Folk songs, proverbs, folktales and other expressions of oral culture, as well as the ritual practices associated with the life-cycle – baptism, courtship and marriage and death – recorded by educated observers and utilized in prose writing, infused life into otherwise faceless government statistics. In the period before the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, serfowners’ accounts regarding taxpayers and their obligations, property, as well as household composition, performed a similar service.1 After emancipation, records from newly-established volost’ (township) courts supplemented both official sources and ethnographic materials. These transcripts provided a sense of the issues that concerned peasant women, including spousal abuse, personal and familial reputation, control over their dowries and their children’s parental obligations.2 In navigating rich ethnographic sources, historians understood those sources’ limitations. The static nature of the written form had obviously robbed the materials of their creativity and constantly evolving use of wordplay. Furthermore, recorded oral traditions represented sanitized versions of the originals. Not only had Russia’s strict censorship laws prohibited the printing of anything that smacked of a bawdy or political nature, but peasants wary of the educated observers’ intrusion into their lives had tailored their responses to what they thought the ethnographers wanted and expurgated information that might have had adverse implications for their communities.3

Systematic examination of evolving ethnographic practices and the representations of peasant culture by an educated elite had to wait until the post-structural turn began to influence Russian historical writing in the West, beginning in the 1990s. Works by Cathy Frierson and Stephen P. Frank, for example, demonstrated the fact that observers of the countryside had their own agendas and prejudices that dictated which oral sources they would record and how exactly they would portray Russian peasant life. Contradictory images of peasant women as temptresses and viragos, on the one hand, and as meek virgins, on the other hand, coexisted uneasily with one another, both within peasant culture and in representations of that culture.4 While most contemporary descriptions of the late nineteenth century decried these women’s backwardness, others (often from the one and the same author) complained about women’s brazen independence and growing consumerism, which the educated elite believed was threatening traditional peasant culture.

Of a more serious nature was the fact that the dominant ethnographic representations of the nineteenth century focused on what their authors considered to be ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ peasant culture, a culture that had to be stripped of any associations with, or influences from, elite and official cultures. In retrospect that sanitization appears to be an impossible task.5 In essence, this search for authenticity translated into recording cultural artefacts supposedly untainted by written culture, on the one hand; on the other hand, it dictated a focus on rituals and practices that were denounced by the Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical hierarchy as being ‘superstitious’ and even ‘pagan’ (a term that churchmen used very loosely). At the same time, non-clerical writers searching for pagan remnants and magical practices left unrecorded those ‘superstitious’ religious practices, such as excessive veneration of saints’ uncorrupted bodies, which they deemed to be too Christian for their tastes.6 The resulting partial sanitization of nineteenth-century Russian peasant culture and the artificial binary opposition between peasant and elite cultures have had unfortunate ramifications for our understanding of nineteenth-century peasant culture in general and peasant women’s culture in particular.

Uncritical readings of nineteenth-century ethnographic materials have resulted in the perpetuation of the myth that Russian peasant society subscribed to dvoeverie or dual faith, in which pagan beliefs co-existed with Christian beliefs, or, worse yet, in which Christian beliefs amounted to nothing more than a veneer overlaying ancient beliefs. ‘The persistence and ubiquity’ of this concept of dual faith ‘have encouraged an unhelpful preoccupation’ in scholarship ‘with identifying latent paganism in Russian culture and spirituality’.7 On the basis of nineteenth-century sources, Joanna Hubbs, a specialist in Russian cultural studies, has, for example, argued for the existence in that century of a resistant matriarchal peasant women’s culture that had its foundations in the goddess culture of the pre-Christian era. According to Hubbs, the Mother of God and St Paraskeva, as well as other Christian elements, were merely evolutionary stages that involved the assimilation of pagan deities.8

Eve Levin’s seminal critique of the notion of dual faith, and her invitation to scholars of early modern Russia to learn from their Western European counterparts in understanding the ways in which Christianity co-opted paganism and transformed it, have largely succeeded in dampening enthusiasm for the concept, at least among historians.9 Through textual evidence and that of material culture, she has demonstrated that the cult of St Paraskeva, prevalent not only in Russia but also in the Balkan Peninsula, had medieval Christian origins and was emphatically not ‘a manifestation of living paganism’. Neither was Paraskeva ‘just a pagan goddess with a new name’. Russian peasant women who venerated St Paraskeva and associated her with spinning, among other domestic duties, ‘staunchly identified themselves as Christian’. Furthermore, popular and ecclesiastical representations of the saint were closely linked.10 Similarly, Vera Shevzov’s exploration of Marianism in late Imperial Russia demonstrates conclusively the ways in which ‘a rich liturgical tradition’ helped construct a ‘Marian-centred culture’. The lay veneration of Mary, particularly among women who found in Mary a sympathetic intercessor and protectress who understood their positions as virgins, pregnant women and mothers, was not confined to peasant women. However, rural women figured prominently in the miracle tales associated with the Mother of God icons. Those stories ‘allow us to see Mary working among those who at the time had little voice in the Church’s establishment and whose experiences and thoughts are thereby harder to unearth’.11 Finally, Stella Rock’s definitive exposé of dual faith should lay to rest folklorists’ obsession with trying to uncover pagan and ‘indigenous’ elements in contemporary Russia, when folklorists of other cultures have largely abandoned the attempt to ‘reconstruct […] pre-Christian belief system[s]’. Rock convincingly argues that in the medieval and early modern periods the term did not pertain to dual belief as being an amalgam of paganism and Christianity but rather to Christian ‘believers who accept[ed] the validity of other denominations [mainly catholicism and later lutheranism], or parts of their doctrine, and believers who [cast] doubt [upon] aspects of the one true Orthodox faith’. As in Western Europe, Rock points out, ‘medieval clerics were more concerned with pastoral matters and ecclesiastical discipline than with fighting obdurate paganism’.12

In addition to perpetuating myths about peasants’ spirituality, the separation out of supposedly ‘pure’ indigenous peasant practices from other influences, including high culture, obscures the dramatic changes of the nineteenth century. Peasant migration was fairly widespread already in the late stages of serfdom and development of capitalist relationships. As Boris Gorshkov reminds us, ‘many scholars remain unaware that observers of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth century often portrayed Russia’s peasants as habitually on the move’. These ‘observers, [both] Russian and foreign, described roads jammed at various times of the year with peasants heading in all directions for trade and work’.13 They were day-labourers, entrepreneurs, and middle men and women engaged in a variety of cottage industries, including wet-nursing. Rural communities of coachmen and women were established as early as the fifteenth century and existed late in the nineteenth century to deliver government officials and information from community to community.14 Travel on Russia’s roads only increased after emancipation, as did the growing interconnectivity between urban centres and the rural hinterlands. Peasant families increasingly supplemented agricultural and domestic industry with trades associated with outmigration, and the steamboat and railroad made travel to distant religious sites, as well as urban centres, cheaper and safer, although groups of peasants still made the trek on foot. By the end of the nineteenth century, as Barbara Alpern Engel has demonstrated, women’s migration to the cities increased considerably, in response to a surplus rural population and as urban job opportunities, especially in the service industries, expanded.15 Increasing literacy (even if at a lower rate among peasant women than among men) and an exploding print culture facilitated peasants’ mobility for religious and labour reasons. They also created a bridge between urban and rural cultures.16 Even an illiterate person could profit from information read out loud in the home or tavern.

In the current scholarship, whilst far more sensitive to the religiosity of the Russian peasantry in daily life than the social histories written prior to the late 1990s, there is nonetheless a tendency to separate out religious from the economic and social history.17 In spite of the demand for ever growing interdisciplinarity, scholars of religion and scholars of the Russian peasantry are trained differently and focus on different things. Social historians, for example, are far more sensitive to class divisions than scholars of religion, when discussing lived religion or religion as practiced among a variety of classes.18 It is the rare person who crosses all the disciplines, yet cross we must if we are to obtain a holistic sense of Russian peasant culture and the influences upon it.

Finding women’s voices among the nineteenth-century Russian peasantry remains the historian’s goal to this day, a goal that is made exceedingly difficult by the fact that peasant women did not leave memoirs, and that too much time has passed for scholars to carry out oral histories for generations born before the 1917 revolutions.19 Peasant women’s biographical details still have to be teased out of sources that they did not create entirely on their own and that were mediated by others, be they miracle tales recording the healing of various diseases and bodily afflictions through the intercession of saints and the Mother of God; be they medical or, by the late nineteenth- and early twentieth century, psychiatric case studies; or be they lengthy trial depositions and divorce narratives, sources that have only recently become the subject of analysis.20

At least now, however, secular and magical folkloric materials, the provenance of which is not always known, are being supplemented by these other types of sources, some of them religious in nature. As David Ransel has pointed out in his oral histories of peasant women’s childbearing and rearing practices in the twentieth century, women have insisted upon their infants’ baptism for the religious safety it accorded the children. In the case of a difficult birth, ‘if the women did not shout “Ours!” then the “evil spirit” would take it’. Because Russian ethnographers usually exclude non-canonical folk beliefs from the classification ‘religious’, Ransel argues, ‘they misread this behaviour as something other than baptism – and baptism, in turn, as something other than this decisive claim of a child for the faith’.21 Furthermore, there is a growing realization among scholars that beliefs in magic and the sacred could and did ‘coexist’ in believers’ minds and that the line between the two was often blurred.22 A study of practices and rituals among Russian peasant women has accordingly to be sensitive not only to folkloric elements, but also to canonical and non-canonical beliefs. Thus, for example, Andrei Toporkov has demonstrated the ways in which Russian ‘charms reside at the intersection of [the] Christian church and folkloric knowledge’. There are ‘canonical and non-canonical prayers [apocrypha]’ on one end of the continuum and ‘folkloric-magical texts on the other’. Charms that fall in the middle of the two extremes, Toporkov argues, reflect influences of both.23 Furthermore, Alla Astakhova notes that ‘canonical prayers always accompany the charms intoned in the process of curing’, and the charms themselves may be akin to prayers if they are founded upon ‘spiritual verse’ and invoke ‘Christian personae’. Even the charms’ recitation on the part of women healers follows clerical practice.24 Such recognition of the potency of Christian beliefs among peasant women in spite of occasional nineteenth-century clerical pronouncements to the contrary, and absence from most ethnographic records, can only move our research on Russian peasant women forward.

An extremely rare source – correspondence by three literate Russian peasant women of two generations – has come to light through the perseverance of linguist Professor Olga T. Yokoyama, who found in the Tiumen’ branch of the Russian State Archive an unusual set of letters written between 1881 and 1896 mainly by members of the Zhernokov family. The correspondents, Elizaveta Dmitr’evna Zhernokova (née Bekhtereva, 1839–1918), her sister Liubov’ Dmitr’evna Rodigina (née Bekhtereva, 1845–1926), and her daughter Tat’iana Lavrovna (b. 1876; married name Stefanova) were Russian Orthodox believers residing in the southern part of Viatka province in the northeast corner of European Russia. The Zhernokovs, Bekhterevs, and Rodigins had all been state peasants prior to emancipation, which meant that they had not experienced serfdom. The three women and their menfolk sent letters to Elizaveta’s son Vasilii, who worked in the Western Siberian town of Tiumen’, located on the Tura River.25 Although the three women cannot be representative of all peasant women, their letters’ content illuminates a rapidly changing socio-economic world and a broader culture than one that is distinctly peasant, some of the contours of which are familiar to scholars and some of which are less familiar.

The correspondence, as we shall see, documents a culture that mixes the sacred and profane. As was typical of the formal writing of Orthodox believers of other classes, religious salutations and references to God are ubiquitous. Elizaveta was a devout woman who often went on pilgrimage, but when she gave one of her sons marital advice she quoted the text of a popular nineteenth-century Russian poem and song. Her daughter Tat’iana was well-educated for a peasant girl. Being of marrying age, she was more preoccupied by the figure that she cut in society, the clothes that she wore, and her dowry’s content. However, she too made religious references and eventually married a cleric. The single letter of Elizaveta’s sister Liubov’ reflects only a pious nature, befitting a woman who, after her husband’s death, founded a women’s religious community.

Through an analysis of these letters, I would like to demonstrate ways in which peasant women’s culture needs to be investigated further. We need to eschew our older searches for the ‘authentic’ peasant and arguments about whether traditionalism, individualism, or collectivism characterized the Russian peasantry. We may even have to abandon our notion that there is such a thing as a ‘peasant culture’ or a ‘peasant world view’. So many influences were at play on peasant villages. These localities were never the isolated oases that we have sometimes imagined them to be. There was always a great deal of peasant movement, which manifested itself either in travel outside the village for work, to markets and on pilgrimages to religious sites both near and far, or in movement from one occupational status to another in the social hierarchy.

In the Zhernokovs we see a family that experienced economic hardship as well as upward mobility, so even in peripheral places near and in Western Siberia, there was incredible dynamism. Capitalist consumerism had certainly penetrated Tiumen’ and raised expectations among peasants of an upwardly mobile life. The Zhernokovs lived in the modest fishing and agricultural village of Pazdery in the south of Viatka province, a village that had previously ‘belonged to the royal household’. By 1914 it had a population of over 1,000 and had had a zemstvo (secular elementary) school for several decades. The town of Sarapul, 50 versts (about 50 kilometres) away, and its ‘leather dressing industry’ served as a magnet for migrant labourers (II, 407–08). When we meet the Zhernokovs in the early 1880s, Elizaveta and her husband Lavr Andreevich (1836–1909) had moved down the social ladder. Shortly after their marriage in 1863, Lavr had a certificate identifying him as a temporary merchant. However, by the early 1880s Elizaveta and Lavr were extremely poor farmers, and had started up a supplementary business transporting goods by river (I, 16). According to Lavr, writing on 16 February 1882, ‘We live not wealthily. We have no horse… The delivery [business] brings little profit, there isn’t even enough for household expenses’. He had to ask his itinerant second son Vasilii (1864–1936) for ‘money by Easter, because we must buy seeds of wheat, oats, and various other seeds for sowing’ (II, 230, 231). That business would, nevertheless, result in the family’s growing prosperity, the opening of a village dry-goods store in 1883 and the purchase and renting of steamboats in the late 1880s to transport liquor and potatoes (I, 16, 18). By the mid-1880s the eldest son Aleksei, who had returned from Tiumen’, was increasingly in charge of the family business as his father developed a drinking problem. Even with these changes, the parents’ economic circumstances were precarious enough that they were dependent on their second son for spending money (II, 285). In another upward move in 1892 the Zhernokovs were able to open their own liquor store and pub in Pazdery. Shortly thereafter, Aleksei moved his nuclear family (wife and seven children) to Sarapul, the base of the family’s expanding transportation business. By 1894 the family’s enterprises in Pazdery were shut down and their agricultural land and horses sold, leaving the parents Elizaveta and Lavr renting land and ‘almost completely dependent on their children’ for money and management of their household economy (I, 20, 22).

In 1881, the beginning of the extant correspondence, Elizaveta and Lavr’s household was of the extended variety, a not uncommon structure for peasants whose aging parents were widowed. It continued to grow for several years. Apart from two older sons living in Tiumen’, they had three younger sons ranging between the ages of nine and fourteen and a daughter, aged four, as well as Lavr’s sixty-six-year-old mother, Praskov’ia Vasil’evna Stefanova (d. 1889), who had had Lavr out of wedlock and had never married, living with them. The three-generational family expanded again in 1882 when Lavr’s elderly stepmother Tat’iana Grigor’evna Zhernokova (family name at birth unknown) joined them. That same year Elizaveta gave birth to a baby girl, but the child did not survive.26 Finally, Elizaveta and Lavr’s son Aleksei returned to Pazdery in 1883, soon brought a wife from Perm’ into the household and yet another son was born to Elizaveta and Lavr in 1884 (I, 15, 16). Eventually, Aleksei and his wife had seven children, all of whom found a place in the patrilocal extended household. By 1889, the family’s significant growth required the expansion and renovation of the house so that it had two stories. The more spacious home still, however, required Aleksei and his nuclear family to sleep in one room.

Both Elizaveta and Lavr identified themselves in the 1897 all-national census as ‘self-taught [and] literate’, although in their correspondence they generally relied on peasant relatives as scribes (I, 2). Most of their letters were addressed to their second son, Vasilii, who by the early twentieth century was an entrepreneur and Hereditary Honourary Citizen in Tiumen’ (I, 2–3). Elizaveta’s language indicates that she had familiarity with, if not mastery of, the liturgical language, Church Slavonic and biblical passages (II, 21, 163, 165). In this respect, she was more typical of peasant believers than historians have assumed. Familiarity with liturgical language and the Bible was not confined to Old Believers and evangelical groups within Imperial Russia. All of Elizaveta’s sons had secular primary education, while the daughter Tat’iana had finished all but the highest class in the Sarapul gymnasium, as well as the teacher preparation programme, which tended to attract women from the middle and upper rather than peasant classes.27 In the end, Tat’iana did not teach but moved back and forth ‘between Pazdery and Sarapul, helping her parents run the household and her sister-in-law take care of the children’ (I, 22). She wrote rather than dictated her letters.

In all the correspondence from various family members, references to God and use of pious language are commonplace. Some of these salutations and comments exemplify the more formal language that Orthodox believers of all classes believed was necessary in this type of communication, but others are a reminder that on a daily basis oral greetings, many sayings and references to time were religiously based. In April 1894 Tat’iana, for example, sent her brother Vasilii and her sister-in-law Evdokiia Prokop’evna a commercial Easter card, which contained the following printed message: ‘I have the honour of greeting you with the high and solemn holiday of Christ’s luminous resurrection, and I wish you to celebrate it and many future ones in good health and in perfect well-being’ (II, 339). In a letter received by the same recipients on 20 April 1894, Tania (the diminutive of Tat’iana) modified and personalized the card’s greeting, after providing the requisite Paschal greeting ‘Khristos voskrese’ (‘Christ is risen’) by saying: ‘I congratulate you with the high and solemn holiday of Christ’s luminous resurrection and from my soul I wish you good health and all the best in this life’. Asking after their health, she informs them in common everyday speech, ‘We are, thank God, healthy’ (II, 337). In similar but more extensive pious language, Elizaveta’s sister and Tania’s maternal aunt, Liubov’ sent her nephew and godson Alesha (the diminutive of Aleksei) greetings on 14 July 1881 connected to a family gathering in Sarapul to celebrate ‘the feast of Our Lady of Kazan’ (celebrated on 8 July). She extended to him her ‘blessing and wish you wholeheartedly from my whole soul salvation for your soul and health for your body, as well as success in your soul-saving undertakings’. Before wishing him ‘from God, all the best’ and signing her name, she asks that he not ‘forget me in your prayers’ (II, 215, 216–17). Prayers were clearly important for not only Liubov’, but also her sister Elizaveta. On 16 February 1882, the day after Elizaveta gave birth to a daughter, being vulnerable to complications associated with childbirth and perhaps worried about the baby’s survival, Elizaveta dictated three prayers she wanted her son Vasilii to say ‘at least once every day’. The first prayer in Church Slavonic was addressed to Jesus Christ, asking that ‘our world’ be saved ‘from great disaster’, while the second, more popular one to the Mother of God beseeched her to ‘save us from sudden death’. Finally, Elizaveta, undoubtedly due to anxiety that her son was climbing the social ladder too quickly, added a ‘prayer to get rid of arrogance’. The latter (‘I denounce you, O Satan, [with] all your arrogance. I united with you, O Christ. Amen’) was ‘closely related to the pledge recited by a person undergoing the sacrament of baptism’ (II, 231; I, 21–22).

Elizaveta expresses her understanding of her son’s obligations to his parents and to God because of his financial success as a merchant in a series of letters written almost a decade later, in the latter half of 1891 and early 1892. On 23 July Elizaveta mentions that ‘when I was sick I made a pledge to go to Kazan’ to pray’ and in this connection requests twenty-five roubles ‘for good deeds’. She goes on to report the poor nature of their crops, as well as lack of money, noting, too, that ‘father drinks on and off, but thank God, less now. […] It would be good to send money to some monastery […] to ask that they pray for him’ (II, 284, 285). It is only in the third letter, dated 1 January 1892, when no money had been forthcoming, that the mother identifies the exact nature of her illness, ‘a mild stroke’. This time she adds that she made an additional pledge ‘on my own behalf, as well as on behalf of all of you, to send to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem an affordable donation’ (II, 289). In the second letter of 3 December 1891, Elizaveta reminds her son that money for religious purposes will do him ‘good, too, in the sense that your labour will be used for good deeds and the Church. I’m confident that you will not begrudge satisfying your mother’s request with what comes from your labour, for which God will reward you threefold’ (II, 288).

Elizaveta’s letters exemplify a number of Russian Orthodox practices that believers of all classes shared. It was customary for ill men and women, regardless of class, to make vows to God that they would visit a particular holy site to give thanks for their recovery. In Elizaveta’s case, she had made her first pilgrimage in fulfillment of a pledge in the summer of 1889 to the popular Sviato-Nikolaevskii monastery in Verkhotur’e in northern Perm’ province where she paid respects to the relics of St Simeon.28 The correspondence does not indicate whether she had made that vow in the midst of her own illness, or whether Lavr’s drinking had already prompted her to seek spiritual help for him. Given the saint’s reputation for healing alcoholism, it is possible that Elizaveta was acting on behalf of her spouse (II, 273).29 Often pilgrims timed their visits to saints’ shrines in coordination with their feast days, times when their relics were believed to have the highest efficacy in terms of healing properties. Elizaveta did not do so on this occasion, as St Simeon’s feast days are celebrated on 12 September and 18 December. Later in 1892 she did, however, make a pilgrimage to Sviiazhsk (just west of Kazan’) to participate in the solemn celebration of the translation of St German’s relics on 26 September (II, 307). In 1894, this time in connection with her own health, she embarked on an ambitious pilgrimage circuit to major holy sites, some at a distance from Pazdery. According to her own description, she went to ‘Kazan’, and from Kazan’ to Raifa, and Raifa to Sviiazhsk, and from Sviiazhsk to Nizhnii Novgorod and to Murom, to Sarov, and Diveevo, and Ponetaevka’ (II, 349). Elizaveta did not go into any detail about the relics and miracle-working icons housed at these sites, presumably because she did not need to. These were popular pilgrimage destinations that were described in the religious pamphlet literature and pilgrimage magazine Russkii palomnik (The Russian Pilgrim). We do not know if Elizaveta had companions on these occasions but, given concerns of safety, she in all likelihood would have travelled in the company of either family members or neighbours, or a combination of the two. In summer 1895, we learn, her month-long pilgrimage to Kazan’, Sviiazhsk, and the Raifa monastery included one of her grandchildren and members of her sister’s family (II, 362). If Elizaveta and her companion pilgrims went by foot rather than rail and cart on any of these trips, they would have been consciously strengthening the sincerity of their pledge. If they did travel by rail, they would have joined peasant migrants in crammed third-class carriages.

The pilgrimages would have given Elizaveta respite from her alcoholic husband and her domestic duties. They would have also allowed her to communicate with other female pilgrims (from various classes) who sought relief from their own or their children’s and spouses’ illnesses, or sought spiritual counselling. Through their prayers for the intercession of the Mother of God, Christ, saints and other holy persons, and through vows to visit saints’ graves, the ill, handicapped and sick at heart could hope to attain God’s mercy and grace. Even if their physical illnesses were not cured, they came away renewed from having entered holy space and having shared in the miraculous, i.e. the spiritual presence of a saint and the Mother of God. Although men also went on pilgrimages, late nineteenth-century observers’ descriptions suggest that women, particularly from the peasantry, predominated among these worshippers. Indeed, Lavr’s spiritual journeys pale in number in comparison to those of his wife Elizaveta: he did seek out the spiritual help of the charismatic priest Ioann of Kronshtadt in mid-1894, and in summer 1895 he headed off to a monastery in Tobolsk, but these were the extent of his forays (II, 344, 362). Elizaveta did not travel with her husband on these occasions, for what reasons we do not know. It appears that Elizaveta herself travelled to Kronshtadt earlier in spring 1893, since she asked Vasilii to finance such a trip in her letter dated 19 September 1892 (II, 307).30

The money that Elizaveta requested from her children for her pilgrimages would have been used for any transportation she might have used, food and lodging along the way, although sleeping under the open sky was not uncommon for peasants. She would also have made cash donations as well as offerings of ribbons, towels and cloth at the monastic sites in exchange for candles and special prayer services. She probably purchased holy water, holy oil, religious pamphlets and other paraphernalia from peddlers who set up stalls outside the monastery gates. Such donations represented pilgrims’ sincerity, while the souvenirs functioned as an indispensable part of the rituals of thanksgiving and remembrance. The monastic institutions would have provided basic tea and bread and possibly a night’s accommodation (if they were not inundated with pilgrims).

Elizaveta’s request of her son Vasilii in January 1895 that he provide her with money so that she could ‘go to Kiev to pray’ indicated not only her concern with her health (‘I am constantly ill’), but also with her mortality. Her desire to visit the most ancient Orthodox city in the empire was part of her quest for salvation (II, 348). Her monetary donations to holy sites in Jerusalem and Mount Athos in lieu of physical pilgrimages sought additional intercessional prayers for herself and her family members (II, 321). Women were not allowed, of course, on Mount Athos, so an actual trip there was out of the question for Elizaveta. A voyage from Odessa to Jerusalem would have been not only costly but time-consuming for this devout woman. Elizaveta was also clearly unable to follow the example of those pious single women who, free from family responsibilities, became full-time pilgrims. For example, in 1897 an elderly, illiterate, and impoverished noblewoman described herself to an observer as a pilgrim by profession. As a teenager she had fled an unconsummated marriage forced upon her by her mother, dedicating her life to wandering from one religious site to another. For the next thirty-three years she supported her travels to such far away places as Solovki (in the White Sea region) and Jerusalem by selling lace that she had made herself.31 In the mid-nineteenth century the keleinitsa (self-proclaimed religious person) Anis’ia Romanova of the sloboda (large settlement) Dedilovskaia, Tula province, went on numerous pilgrimages. She travelled several times to holy sites in Kiev, Moscow and Voronezh. She also ventured out to monasteries in Zadonsk and Solovki in 1852, and again in 1858, to Jerusalem. In all of these places she studied the contemplative way of life and purchased icons, as well as books recounting the lives of the saints and containing prayer cycles. Upon her return to Russia from a year in Jerusalem, Romanova attracted people of all ranks to her with her tales of the Holy Land and the mementos – candles that she had burned in Christ’s tomb at Easter, crosses and other religious paraphernalia from the Holy Land – that she was prepared to sell them.32 Scores of other professional women pilgrims, some of them peasants, traversed the Russian countryside, bringing communion bread, candles, holy water and oil, and other material items from monasteries to the rural and urban faithful and carrying the donations, ribbons, cloth and requests of these same faithful, who themselves could not go on pilgrimage, to monastic shrines. Elizaveta’s husband Lavr makes a reference to such a pilgrim in a letter of 22 September 1889, noting that the woman had stayed with Lavr and Elizaveta in Pazdery, a week after having stayed with Vasilii in Tiumen’ for a similar length of time (II, 275).

Elizaveta outlived the dates of the saved correspondence, as a result of which we do not know what type of preparations she made for her death. However, we can assume from her concern for her salvation and her remark that ‘you know that however old you are you must be preparing to go to our heavenly homeland’ that she would have asked her sons to set aside donations to at least one monastic institution to say eternal prayers for her (II, 348). Her husband Lavr gives us a detailed report of his own mother’s bequests. Never having married, and having had Lavr out of wedlock, Praskov’ia Vasil’evna had saved substantial sums for eternal prayers. Lavr informs Vasilii on 25 September 1889 that his grandmother ‘was properly administered the Eucharist and underwent a chrisming […] in Pazdery village, 40-day memorial prayers for her soul were commissioned for 50 rubles, 60 rubles were sent to Mount Athos, and 182 rubles of her own money were left for her funeral’ (II, 273–74).33 Similarly, a childless peasant widow of Podcherkov township, Dmitrov district, Moscow province, left her ‘net capital […] to be placed in one of the credit institutions in the name of the holy Church servants of the parish Chernogriazh for the eternal memory of my and my husband’s souls’. She also bequeathed ‘two pieces of linen to the poor and miserable’ to pave her way to a peaceful death. And finally, she left ‘ten measures of rye to the Nikolopestush monastery for the remembrance of my and my husband’s souls’.34 In imitation of medieval princesses and noblewomen known for their charitable works, the former serf Praskov’ia Ivanovna Kovaleva (1768–1803), who eventually married Count Nikolai Petrovich Sheremetev (1751–1809), was insistent on her deathbed that charitable work be conducted in her name, in this instance ‘to help poor and orphaned girls and to see that the hospital at Sukharev Tower be finished’.35

While Elizaveta became more preoccupied with things spiritual as she aged, she was prone to secular influences as well. In the 1 January 1892 letter to Vasilii in which she asked a third time for money to fulfil her spiritual vow of sending money to Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre, she also gave him motherly advice about choosing a bride. In fact, in other letters we learn a good deal about matchmaking and expectations regarding the choice of spouse. After several failures in matchmaking, Elizaveta was concerned that her son would remain a bachelor: ‘It won’t be forever, I think, that you intend to remain and live as such, and perhaps you may be thinking of selecting for yourself a helpmeet and uniting [with her] in the ties of holy matrimony’. The advice she gives him comes from a poem by A. V. Timofeev, entitled ‘Vybor zheny’ (‘Choosing a Wife’), which was also the text of several popular songs (I, 87 n. 24):

Don’t marry a clever woman, you will lose your mind; if you marry a widow, the old husband will come. Don’t marry gold, the father-in-law’s fortune! Don’t marry status, the wife’s relatives! If you marry gold, you will be selling yourself; if you marry status, forget about your wife! There are many songbirds in God’s woods; there are many pretty maidens in the tsar’s towns. Chase a nightingale into your cage; pick from among the maidens a little birdie wife (II, 290).

In order to underscore the fact that she was worried about her son’s upward mobility and the arrogance that she felt came with prosperity, Elizaveta added: ‘This is wonderful advice from a poet, and mine is the same, [just] so that the chosen birdie be religious and modest, even if [she is] not rich’ (II, 290). The mother could have heard the song at a local or regional fair or had a copy of the text in ‘a cheap lubok [popular print] version’.36

As Robert Rothstein has pointed out, the influence of literary poetry led to more regular metrical schemes and the increasing use of rhyme in folk songs, and the sway of the urban ballad brought to peasants’ vocabulary new words associated with ready-to-wear clothing and other consumer products such as ‘sports coat’, ‘galoshes’, ‘blouse’, ‘dress’, ‘card table’, and ‘factory-made napkin’. Songs, he concludes, reflected not only changes in rural culture, ‘but were also a force for change’ as they ‘spread subversive ideas like greater sexual equality, more independence for youth, or even criticism of the mistreatment of workers’.37 Even as a member of an older generation, Elizaveta could not but be affected by urban culture. She often travelled to the market town of Sharkan (where her sister lived) and Sarapul. A portrait photograph of her taken in 1905 shows a matronly woman dressed in a dark, ready-to-wear dress with puffed sleeves, lacework on the bodice and a high collar with covered buttons. Her hair is parted in the middle and partially covered with a cap, from which lace is cascading downward, rather than with a kerchief (II, 487). Although her dress is not of the latest fashion and not likely borrowed from the photographer’s studio, Elizaveta definitely shows off an urban appearance. While her lack of a smile was indicative of the seriousness of having one’s picture taken, it may also have been a result of the uncomfortable dentures with which she had been fitted (II, 364). Elizaveta, too, was not immune from the influences of upward mobility.

Consumer goods were, nonetheless, far more important to Elizaveta’s children. Her son Ivan wrote to his brother Vasilii in February 1891 about an unsuccessful betrothal to a literate village girl whose upwardly mobile father is described as ‘a Gogoli peasant’, ‘a Sarapul burger’ and ‘an Osa temporary second-guild merchant’. In order to impress the potential bride from this ‘thrifty village-style household’, whom Ivan describes somewhat tellingly as ‘not very pretty […], but not ugly either’, he and his cousins visited her several times, having rented several pairs of troikas. He noted that they bought the bride’s various dowry items at N. I. Osipov’s in Sarapul, including ‘gold, silver, copper and dishes, mirrors and a dressing table’. Ivan also reported that they had their photograph, a copy of which he included with the letter, taken at the Virpsha Studio (II, 275, 277–78). Material objects and photographs demonstrated a new sensibility of individual success and independence, a blending-in with lower-middle-class society.

Elizaveta’s daughter Tania was very conscious of her appearance and complained about the lack of clothing, of an allowance for clothing and of a suitable dowry. Already at the age of fifteen, she dismissively announces in a letter to her brother Vasia (the diminutive for Vasilii) that her parents ‘probably already think that it’s time to get me ready for marriage. So, well, now all that’s left to me is to remain in this stupid state, i.e. to be fattening my body and my dowry. Isn’t this disgusting, isn’t my situation ridiculous!’ (II, 291–92). At the same time, she uses her new status as a marriageable young woman to claim that she needs to have a room of her own: ‘And aren’t I a maiden, don’t I need a place to sleep or to change clothes?’ (II, 293). Almost two years later, in November 1893, she complains about her brother Aleksei’s and sister-in-law’s miserliness, noting that she ‘needs money for perfume for pomade, and for needles, pins and hairpins, and whatever else may be necessary for a lady’s grooming. It’s simply embarrassing to fall behind others’. She laments that she possesses only one dress, one shawl, and one ‘ninety-kopeck knit hat’, which ‘I have been wearing […] for a second year’. To make her point, she itemizes the numerous scarves and dresses that her sister-in-law Raisa Davidovna Zhernokova (née Kirkkhof) possesses (II, 324, 325). Finally, at the age of nineteen, when Tania expresses the notion that she ‘will soon [be] enroll[ing] among the old maids’, she is able, with her brothers’ help, to buy a suitable dowry chest, a photographic album of ‘very good paper’, a ten-rouble shawl, ‘a fashionable sash’, a silk scarf, ‘tablecloths, napkins, and linen scarves for factory prices’ near Iaroslavl’, ‘a stylish autumn jacket, a very pretty parasol, an autumn hat, a small rug for next to the bed, and in short, some (other) small stuff’ (II, 368). In the same letter she describes the ‘gorgeous dowry’ of a gymnasium friend who was marrying ‘a widowed physician’s assistant’ – ‘all silk and velvet, three seamstresses have been working on it day and night – and some money, and tons of golden jewellery’ (II, 367). The turn in her fortune as a result of her brothers’ willingness to finance her dowry even allowed Tania to consider buying a 200-rouble piano! (II, 354). Long gone were the days when peasant girls embroidered their own trousseaus and when peasant women wove their own cloth and sewed their own clothes. Owning ready-to-wear clothing and other factory- made items represented upward mobility and attracted potential suitors as familiarity with urban goods became common.38

The late-nineteenth-century correspondence of the Zhernokov family thus provides us insights into what was important to upwardly mobile Russian peasant women of the time. Events connected to the life cycle are ever present in the descriptions, including the birth and christening of children, but not the rituals surrounding the events. It would appear, for example, that working bees, where marriageable peasant women did handiwork while suitors entertained them with song, were no longer part of the non-agricultural calendar. Formal betrothals still occurred and parents were very much involved in their children’s matchmaking, although choice lay now with the potential bride and groom. The need to purchase consumer goods to compete in an evolving, more fluid, class marriage market, had displaced rituals and activities that might have once been confined to a rural if not always purely peasant milieu, when gentry and clergy would have participated in some of these events.

Religious sensibilities, at least among the members of the Zhernokov and Rodigin families, especially Elizaveta and her sister, were paramount to their identities and understanding of their world. Elizaveta’s sister, in fact, sometime after her husband’s death took the veil and established a women’s religious community, which became a women’s monastery in late 1917.39 While it was unusual for a peasant woman to have the resources to establish such a community, peasant women dominated among those who decided to take up the contemplative life and did occasionally serve as abbesses. Seeking ‘an alternative to domesticity’, and inspired by the Mother of God, many of these women joined women from other classes in seeking a life of serving God, one that celebrated compassion, humility, intercession on behalf of the poor and social engagement.40 A surfeit of single and widowed women in late nineteenth-century villages that resulted from the economic and social dislocations of increasing male out-migration to the cities, where mortality rates were higher than in the countryside, also contributed to the phenomenal growth of women’s religious communities. Those who did not wish ultimately to take up the rigours of cloistered life could, nonetheless, find employment and shelter in these institutions.41 Interestingly, however, Liubov’’s path was one she shared with her contemporary, the Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fedorovna, sister of the last tsarina Alexandra, who founded the Saints Mary and Martha women’s monastery in Moscow after her husband’s assassination in 1905. Class was not as important as we might think in dictating women’s options and practices. More interdisciplinary work needs to be done on peasant women’s evolving cultural aspirations and the influences that were at work in their lives during the dramatic decades of economic and social change after emancipation. Only then will we have a better sense of the everyday experiences and the choices that these women enjoyed.


The author would like to thank Stella Rock for her perceptive comments on an earlier draft and Christine Ruane for her invaluable advice about peasant women’s clothing in the late Imperial period.

1.See Christine D. Worobec’s revision of her 1984 dissertation Peasant Russia: Family and Community in the Post-Emancipation Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), chapters 4 and 5 and her ‘Death Ritual among Russian and Ukrainian Peasants: Linkages between the Living and the Dead’, in Cultures in Flux: Lower-Class Values, Practices, and Resistance in Late Imperial Russia, ed. by Stephen P. Frank and Mark D. Steinberg (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 11–33; Barbara Alpern Engel, ‘Peasant Morality and Pre-Marital Relations in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia’, Journal of Social History 23.4 (1990), 695–714 and M. M. Gromyko, Mir russkoi derevni (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1991). Even Steven L. Hoch who complained about the unreliability of ethnographic sources found himself utilizing them to explain the practice of brideprice on the Gagarin estate of Petrovskoe. See his Serfdom and Social Control in Russia: Petrovskoe, a Village in Tambov (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 97–103. David L. Ransel eschewed the use of ethnographic sources in his Mothers of Misery: Child Abandonment in Russia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), but eventually did an important edition and translation (with the help of Michael Levine) of the ethnographer Ol’ga Semenova Tian-Shanskaia’s Zhizn’ Ivana: ocherki iz byta krest’ian odnoi iz chernozemnykh gubernii (St Petersburg: Imperatorskoe russkoe geograficheskoe obshchestvo po otdeleniiu etnografii, 1914) together with some of her unpublished writings under the title Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia: An Ethnography by Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993). Ransel found Tian-Shanskaia’s writings more reliable than those of other Russian ethnographers because she provided a fairly bleak description of Russian peasant life.

2.For work on the township courts (which were presided over by peasant judges who were supposed to rule on the basis of both the written law and customary law) and peasant women’s issues, see in particular Jane Burbank, Russian Peasants Go to Court: Legal Culture in the Countryside, 1905–1917 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004); Beatrice Farnsworth, ‘The Litigious Daughter-in-Law: Family Relations in Rural Russia in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century’, Slavic Review 45.1 (1986), 49–64; ‘The Soldatka: Folklore and Court Record’, Slavic Review 49.1 (1990), 58–73; Gareth Popkins, ‘Code vs. Custom? Norms and Tactics in Peasant Volost Court Appeals, 1889–1917’, Russian Review 59.3 (2000), 408–24 and Worobec, Peasant Russia, Chapter 6.

3.Aleksandr N. Afanas’ev’s collection of bawdy tales, Russkie zavetnye skazki, could not be published in Russia, but rather had to be published anonymously in Geneva in 1872. See ‘Translator’s Foreward’, in Afanas’ev’s Erotic Tales of Old Russia, ed. and trans. by Yury Perkov (Oakland: Scythian Books, 1988), p. 13.

4.Stephen P. Frank, ‘Confronting the Domestic Other: Rural Popular Culture and Its Enemies in Fin-de-Siècle Russia’, in Cultures in Flux, pp. 74–107 and Cathy Frierson, Peasant Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), Chapter 8. See also Nathaniel Knight, ‘Science, Empire, and Nationality: Ethnography in the Russian Geographical Society, 1845–1855’, in Imperial Russia: New Histories for the Empire, ed. by Jane Burbank and David L. Ransel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), pp. 108–41 and Christine D. Worobec, ‘Temptress or Virgin? The Precarious Sexual Position of Women in Post-Emancipation Ukrainian Peasant Society’, Slavic Review, 49.2 (1990), 227–38. For a critical analysis of the populist writer Gleb Uspenskii’s writings on Russian peasant women (1843–1902), see Henrietta Mondry, Pure, Strong and Sexless: The Peasant Woman’s Body and Gleb Uspensky (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006) and her comparison of Uspenskii’s and Anton Chekhov’s writings in her ‘Peasant Women’s Sexualities in the Writings of Gleb Uspenskii and Anton Chekhov’, Essays in Poetics, 31 (2006), 258–71. For a pioneering examination of Russian medical doctors’ belief in the sexual purity of Russian peasant women, see Laura Engelstein, ‘Morality and the Wooden Spoon: Russian Doctors View Syphilis, Social Class, and Sexual Behavior, 1890–1905’, Representations, 14 (1986), 169–208.

5.Carlo Ginsburg’s classic The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. by John Tedeschi and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980) demonstrates the ways in which a miller brought before the Inquisition was influenced by written culture.

6.Ironically, revolutionary groups after emancipation were more sympathetic to the religious practices and rituals of Old Believers and sectarians than those of Orthodox peasants, but only insofar as they believed that these peasant groups, by virtue of their being divorced from the official church, were revolutionary by nature and, therefore, more likely to follow calls for the overthrow of the autocracy. See Alexander Etkind, ‘Whirling with the Other: Russian Populism and Religious Sects’, Russian Review 62.4 (2003), 565–99.

7.Stella Rock, Popular Religion in Russia: ‘Double Belief’ and the Making of an Academic Myth (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 1.

8.Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 100–23. For other uncritical readings of nineteenth-century ethnographic materials and acceptance of dual faith as reflective of peasant beliefs, see Linda J. Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1989) and Elizabeth A. Warner, ‘Russian Peasant Beliefs and Practices Concerning Death and the Supernatural Collected in Novosokol’niki Region, Pskov Province, Russia, 1995’, Folklore 111.1–2 (2000), 67–90.

9.Eve Levin, ‘Dvoeverie and Popular Religion’, in Seeking God: The Recovery of Religious Identity in Orthodox Russia, ed. by Stephen K. Batalden (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1993), pp. 29–52. For examples of work that eschew the concept of dvoeverie underlying popular religiosity, see Chris Chulos, Converging Worlds: Religion and Community in Peasant Russia, 1861–1917 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003); Gregory L. Freeze, ‘Institutionalizing Piety: The Church and Popular Religion, 1750–1850’, in Imperial Russia, pp. 210–49; Robert H. Greene, Bodies Like Bright Stars: Saints and Relics in Orthodox Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010); Brenda Meehan, ‘To Save Oneself: Russian Peasant Women and the Development of Women’s Religious Communities in Prerevolutionary Russia’, in Russian Peasant Women, ed. by Beatrice Farnsworth and Lynne Viola (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 121–33; Vera Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) and Christine D. Worobec, Possessed: Women, Witches and Demons in Imperial Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001).

10.Eve Levin, ‘The Christian Sources of the Cult of St Paraskeva’, in Letters from Heaven: Popular Religion in Russia and Ukraine, ed. by John-Paul Himka and Andriy Zayarnyuk (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), pp. 126–45 (126–28).

11.Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy, Chapter 5, pp. 217, 233.

12.On the folklorists’ quest for ‘indigenous’ elements in the post-Soviet period, see Natalie Kononenko, Slavic Folklore: A Handbook (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2007), p. 6. Quotations from Rock: Popular Religion, pp. 85, 140. Elizabeth Warner explains folklorists’ emphasis on ‘the unusual tenacity’ of pagan practices as resulting from ‘the sheer vastness of the Russia that lay beyond the centres of civilisation and the relative lack of missionary zeal of the Orthodox Church’. See her Russian Myths (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002), p. 78. There is a tendency, however, to underestimate the knowledge that believers had of Orthodox principles and the effect of extraliturgical work that Orthodox clerics undertook in the nineteenth-century. For a discussion of extraliturgical activities see Gregory L. Freeze, ‘The Rechristianization of Russia: the Church and Popular Religion, 1750–1850’, Studia Slavica Finlandensia, 7 (1990), 101–36 and Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy, pp. 78–79.

13.Boris B. Gorshkov, ‘Serfs on the Move: Peasant Seasonal Migration in Pre-Reform Russia, 1800–61’, Kritika, 1.4 (2000), 627–56.

14.John Randolph, ‘The Singing Coachman or, The Road and Russia’s Ethnographic Invention in Early Modern Times’, Journal of Early Modern History 11.1–2 (2007), 33–61.

15.Barbara Alpern Engel, Between the Fields and the City: Women, Work, and Family in Russia, 1861–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

16.For works on the impact of literacy see Jeffrey Brooks, When Russia Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular Culture, 1861–1917 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985) and Chulos, Converging Worlds. Peasant women’s literacy rate was approximately one quarter that of men. See David Moon, The Russian Peasantry, 1600–1930: The World the Peasants Made (London: Longman, 1999), p. 348.

17.For a pioneering book that integrates religious with other aspects of Russian village life, see M. M. Gromyko and A. V. Buganov, O vozzreniiakh russkogo naroda (Moscow: Palomnik, 2000). The historical anthropologist Douglas Rogers has reintegrated religious thinking with social and economic history by focusing on the ethical choices that Old Believers of the town Sepych in Perm’ region made as they confronted major economic and social changes from the founding of the community in the late seventeenth-century until the present day. See his pathbreaking The Old Faith and the Russian Land: A Historical Ethnography of Ethics in the Urals (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

18.Chulos’s Converging Worlds is a model of looking at the changing religious practices of peasants in a dynamic world. Vera Shevzov is sensitive to the rural parish but argues rightly that the ecclesial community embraced more than peasants; it included all believers, including clerics. See her Russian Orthodoxy, p. 10. Nadieszda Kizenko is sensitive to class but notes that in deciphering written confessions, it is often difficult to determine class identity. See her ‘Written Confessions and the Construction of Sacred Narrative’, in Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia, ed. by Mark D. Steinberg and Heather J. Coleman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), pp. 93–118 (104–07).

19.David Ransel’s Village Mothers: Three Generations of Change in Russia and Tataria (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000) is a pioneering oral history of Russian peasant and Tatar women’s experiences of birthing and mothering that can serve as a model for future oral history projects for generations born after 1917. Ransel’s first cohort of interviewees included women born before 1912, while the second and third generational cohorts were born between 1912 and 1930, and after 1930 respectively.

20.For use of these types of sources see Barbara Alpern Engel, ‘Freedom and Its Limitations: A Peasant Wife Seeks to Escape Her Abusive Husband’, in The Human Tradition in Imperial Russia, ed. by Christine D. Worobec (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009), pp. 115–27; Barbara Alpern Engel, ‘In the Name of the Tsar: Competing Legalities and Marital Conflict in Late Imperial Russia’, Journal of Modern History, 77.1 (2005), 70–96; Gregory L. Freeze, ‘Profane Narratives about a Holy Sacrament: Marriage and Divorce in Late Imperial Russia’, in Sacred Stories, pp. 146–78; Christine D. Worobec, ‘Miraculous Healings’, in Sacred Stories, pp. 22–43 and Worobec, Possessed, Chapter 4.

21.Ransel, Village Mothers, p. 177.

22.In describing the content of written confessions of sin, Kizenko subscribes to the notion of the magic and sacred coexisting with one another but would not agree with my premise that the line between magic and the sacred was sometimes blurred: Kizenko, ‘Written Confessions’, 109. For a fuller explanation of my argument with regard to the connection between demonic possession and sorcery, see my Possessed, pp. 64–68, 69–86.

23.A. Toporkov, ‘Russian Love Charms in a Comparative Light’, trans. by Sibelan E. S. Forrester, in Charms, Charmers and Charming: International Research on Verbal Magic, ed. by Jonathan Roper (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009), pp. 121–44 (125).

24.Alla Astakhova, ‘“Sound Shaping” of East Slavic Zagovory’, Oral Tradition, 7.2 (1992), 365–72 (371).

25.Russian Peasant Letters: Texts and Contexts, ed. and trans. by Olga T. Yokoyama, 2 vols (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2008). My analysis of these letters is indebted to the painstaking work of Yokoyama and her assistants. All translations of the letters that I cite are by Yokoyama from this source. Volume and page numbers follow the quotations in the text.

26.Lavr had been adopted by Andrei Iakimovich Zhernokov.

27.Christine Ruane, Gender, Class, and the Professionalization of Russian City Teachers, 1860–1914 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994), p. 66.

28.By the turn of the twentieth century Verkhotur’e attracted up to 120,000 pilgrims annually. See the website of the Novo-Tikhvin women’s monastery, http://www.sestry.ru/church/content/pilgrim/sviat/zss/index_html#verkh [Last accessed 19 January 2010].

29.A posting dated 29 October 2009 on ‘The Byzantine Forum’ connects St Simeon to the healing of alcoholics, http://www.byzcath.org/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/336488/Lives_of_Little%20Known_Saints [Last accessed 21 October 2011].

30.Note that not all letters were saved.

31.Kto pomogaet gorodskiia popechitel’stva? (Moscow: Gorodskaia tipografiia, 1897), pp. 47—18. The pilgrim interpreted the death of her husband six weeks after the wedding as God’s punishment.

32.Gromyko and Buganov, O vozzreniiakh, pp. 149–50.

33.I changed Yokoyama’s use of the word ‘viaticum’ to ‘the Eucharist’ to reflect more clearly Russian Orthodox terminology.

34.Trudy Kommisii, po preobrazovaniiu volostnykh sudov: slovesnye oprosy krest’ian, pis’mennye otzyvy razlichnykh mest i lits i resheniia: volostnykh sudov, s”ezdov mirovykh posrednikov i gubernskikh po krest’ianskim delam prisutstvii, 7 vols (St Petersburg: [Kommisiia po preobrazovaniiu volostnykh sudov], 1873–74), II, 525–26.

35.Douglas Smith, The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great’s Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), p. 233.

36.Laura J. Olson, Performing Russia: Folk Revival and Russian Identity (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 22.

37.Robert A. Rothstein, ‘Death of the Folk Song?’, in Cultures in Flux, pp. 108–20 (112–13).

38.For a discussion of the impact of ready-to-wear clothing on peasant women, see Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700–1917 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 74–80.

39.Liubov’, who took the name Sofiia, financed her community from the estate of her husband and late son Aleksei, as well as donations from her son Panteleimon and one of her nephews, a Tiumen’ merchant (II, 397).

40.Gary Marker, ‘The Enlightenment of Anna Labzina: Gender, Faith, and Public Life in Catherinian and Alexandrian Russia’, Slavic Review 59.2 (2000), 369–90 (369).

41.Brenda Meehan, ‘Popular Piety, Local Initiative, and the Founding of Women’s Religious Communities in Russia, 1764–1907’, in Seeking God, p. 99; William G. Wagner, ‘Parodoxes of Piety: The Nizhegorod Convent of the Exaltation of the Cross, 1807–1935’, in Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice Under the Tsars, ed. by Valerie A. Kivelson and Robert H. Greene (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003), pp. 211–38 (222). Research for this essay was conducted with the generous support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings and conclusions expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.