St. Anna of Novgorod, wife of Yaroslav I

The Holy Princess Anna of Novgorod, who before becoming a nun was called Ingigerd, was the eldest daughter of the Swedish king Saint Olof Shotkonung (994-1022), nicknamed “the most Christian king,” and Estrid of the Obotrites. In 1008, the king, his family and friends received Holy Baptism. Ingigerd received an exceptional education for a woman of that time: she studied scripture, literature, and history. She was a true daughter of the Scandinavian Viking Age and therefore from an early age enjoyed great freedom, participated in the public life of her homeland, traveled, received guests, and had a good command of weapons. Historical sources especially note her intelligence, courage, and great influence on others.

King Olof subsequently arranged for the marriage of Princess Ingegerd to the powerful Grand Prince Yaroslav I the Wise of Novgorod with whom Sweden had a flourishing trade relationship. The marriage took place in 1019. Once in Kiev, Ingegerd had her name changed to the Greek name Irene. According to several sagas, she received as a marriage gift Ladoga and adjacent lands, which later became known as Ingria, arguably a corruption of Ingegerd’s name. She arranged for her father’s cousin, jarl Ragnvald Ulfsson, to rule in her stead. Together Ingegerd and Yaroslav had six sons and four daughters; three of the latter becoming Queens of France, Hungary, and Norway. The whole family is depicted in one of the frescoes of the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Kiev.

Irene had a great influence and good relations with the northern countries of Europe. She sheltered in Kiev the exiled sons of the English king Edmund, Edwin and Edward, as well as Prince Magnus of Norway. He did not return to his homeland until the Grand Duchess was convinced that the Norwegians would give him his father’s throne and respect his rights. The Russian state at that time played a significant role in the life of Europe, its authority and influence were more than ever, and the great merit of the Grand Duchess was in this.

King Yaroslav decided to build Kiev as the capital and make it into a city of God, an earthly reflection of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Irene initiated the building of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev (foundation laid in 1037) to be the center of the capital. Hilarion, Metropolitan of Kiev († 1053, Oct. 21), wrote in his famous “Words of Law and Grace”, addressing the already deceased Saint Vladimir the Enlightener of Russia († 1015, July 15): “Look at your daughter-in-law Irene, look at your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, how they live, how God keeps them, how they keep the faith that you bequeathed to them, how they praise the name of Christ!”

St. Anna and her three daughters

It is known that the Grand Duchess founded a monastery in Kiev in the name of her patroness – the Holy Great Martyr Irene and, according to the custom of that time, had to not only take care of it, but also manage it. In 1045, she went to Novgorod with her son Vladimir to initiate the construction of Cathedral of St. Sophia in Novgorod (built between 1045 and 1050). In Novgorod, Grand Duchess Irene took monastic tonsure with the name Anna. This was the first tonsure in a grand ducal house; it began the tradition of tonsuring Russian princes and princesses after they performed the duty of the rulers of the people. Here, in Novgorod, the Holy Princess Anna died on February 10, 1051 and was buried in Saint Sophia Cathedral. Soon next to her, the body of her son, Prince Vladimir of Novgorod, also rested.

The Holy Princess Anna and her son Vladimir were canonized by Archbishop Euthymius of Novgorod in 1439.

Stichera in the First Tone

O joy of the Swedish people, thou didst gladden the Russian realm, filling it with grace and purity, adorning its throne with majesty, lustrous in piety like a priceless gem set in a splendid royal crown.

Named Ingegerd in the baptismal waters, O venerable one, thou wast called Irene by thy Russian subjects, who perceived in thee the divine and ineffable peace; but when thou didst submit to monastic obedience, thou didst take the new name, Anna, after the honoured ancestor of Christ, the King of kings.

Wed in honourable matrimony, O holy Anna, thou didst live in concord with thy royal spouse, the right-believing and most wise Prince Yaroslav; and having born him holy offspring, after his repose thou didst betroth thyself unto the Lord as thy heavenly Bridegroom.

Disdaining all the allurements of vanity and donning the coarse robes of a monastic, O wondrous and sacred Anna, thou gavest thyself over to fasting and prayer, ever entreating Christ thy Master, that He deliver thy people from the all want and misfortune.