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Natalia Zajac

PhD Student, University of Toronto
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Grounded in inter-disciplinary training in Medieval Studies, my research explores the history of religious-cultural contacts between Eastern and Western Europe, specifically in Kyivan Rus (the ancestor state of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus). It seeks to understand the development of both connections and tensions in this region between the two oldest branches of Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Byzantine Orthodoxy. Since at least the eighteenth century, scholarship has traditionally associated Western Europe with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Europe with Orthodoxy. My research challenges the division of Europe into such mutually exclusive cultural spheres. It is particularly interested in the role of women who through marriage became the facilitators of cultural exchanges. In order to explore these connections my research draws on a multi-lingual variety of written sources, both western (Latin) and eastern (Greek and Old Church Slavonic), as well as evidence from visual sources such as manuscript illustrations and church architecture.

Doctoral Thesis Summary: “Women Between West and East: the inter-rite marriages of the Kyivan Rus Dynasty, ca. 1000-1250”. Talia Zajac (research in progress)

Committee members: Isabelle Cochelin (co-supervisor), Allan Smith (co-supervisor), Martin Dimnik, Mark Meyerson. Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.

Women Between West and East: The Orthodox-Catholic Marriages of the Kyivan Rus Dynasty, ca. 1000-1250 examines all known marriage alliances of the Riurikids, the Orthodox rulers of Kyivan Rus (the ancestor state of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus) with Catholic rulers in England, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, and Austria. While previous studies have addressed this topic mostly from the point of view of “foreign relations” or genealogy, the dissertation draws upon studies of medieval queenship to examine the individual experience of cultural displacement and continuity of such elite women. It thus contributes to analysis of Orthodox-Catholic interaction during a key period of its history (1000-1250).

The dissertation concludes that the evidence of material objects, diplomatic sources, and narrative sources speaks to both the assimilation of women in Orthodox-Catholic inter-marriages into the local ecclesiastical culture of their husbands, and at the same time to an ongoing sense of unity within Christendom where barriers between Orthodoxy and Catholicism remained porous. Relics, devotional objects, and luxury goods circulated from court to court, brought by these women as part of their dowry, or as bribes and rewards to allies. Other objects show evidence of hybridity of artistic tradition and Orthodox-Catholic spirituality.

The thesis is divided into three major parts. Part I, “The Ecclesiastical Context”, treats three major issues: a) Orthodox-Catholic inter-marriage in Western and Rus canon law, b) evidence for the necessity of rebaptism and renaming of the women in these marriages and, finally, c) active participation of clerics in arranging Orthodox-Catholic intermarriage. It shows that legal and narrative sources reveal a range of clerical reactions to Orthodox-Catholic inter-marriage with the Riurikids. Mentions in narrative sources exist of the participation of western clergy in the negotiations surrounding the formation of Orthodox-Catholic marriages and (to a lesser degree) in the ceremonial itself. Such participation suggests active approval of these marriages. Insufficient evidence exists to claim that renaming must be linked to rebaptism. Finally, it argues that although there was also a strong current of disapproval of marriages with “Latins” in polemics written in Rus, it is difficult to know when these texts (originally written in Greek by Greek clerics) were actually translated into Slavic and thus reached a wider lay audience in Rus.

Part II, “Catholic Women in Kyivan Rus”, focuses on one detailed case-study, the devotional life of the Polish princess Gertruda (b. c. 1025-d. 1107/8?), the wife of the Rus prince Iziaslav Yaroslavich (r. 1054-1078) as seen through her prayer-book, known as the Codex Gertrudianus (Cividale, Museo Nazionale Archeologio, cod. 136). It argues that the Codex Gertrudianus is rooted in personal lay devotion of both Eastern and Western tradition, reflecting both Gertrude’s use of the earlier part of the Codex, the tenth-century Psalter, and her environment in Kyivan Rus, especially seen in the manuscript’s Byzantine-style miniatures.

Part III investigates the more abundant source material available on Rus princesses in Western lands and is divided into two chapters, “Queen Consorts” (3.1) and “Regents, Widows, and Repudiated Wives” (3.2). Rus-born queen consorts wholly participated in the cultural and religious environs of their husbands’ families as can be evidenced through their patronage of Latin Church institutions made in conjunction with their husband and children. The arguments made in secondary literature, however, that some Rus princesses adopted the customs of their husbands’ lands so far as to advocate conversion of Rus to Latin Christianity are largely unfounded. Evidence for a princess’ cultural continuity with the Orthodox culture of her native Rus is more difficult to establish. Nonetheless, its sphere seems to have been the household and the court rather than public acts and can be seen in the choice of eastern dynastic names for their children as well as private devotional objects, such as the twelfth-century covers of “Anastasia’s Gospel Book” (Warszawa, Biblioteka Narodwa Sygnatura Rps II. 3307). The dissertation’s conclusion contrasts the more fluid construction of identity seen in the 1000-1250 period with later marriages in the fourteenth century.

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