2019, Volume 16, Issue 4

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Olga V. Belova
Institute of Slavic Studies of the RAS
Moscow, Russia

Ushestie and Avdotki in the Context of the Smolensk Urban Narrative and Traditional Rite

Voprosy onomastiki, 2019, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp. 108–122 (in Russian)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2019.16.4.047

Received 15 November 2019

Abstract: From the middle of the 19th century, the local lore and ethnographic literature concerning Smolensk contains occasional references of an annual pilgrimage to the Spaso-Voznesensky convent made by Belarusian peasant women from the surrounding counties in celebration of the Ascension Day. The name of the holiday — Ushestie, Ushestsie — features in all known publications containing a description of the pilgrimage to Smolensk. In some sources, it takes the form of Umestsie and is subsequently included in dictionaries as an independent chrononym, the “local” name of the Ascension holiday. The present paper looks into the origins of the name based on the textual analysis of sources and aims to establish its phantom nature. The author also considers the term avdotki referring to female pilgrims to the Spaso-Voznesensky convent, with regard to its possible origins, dating, distribution area, and scope of use. The article discusses several stories associated with “avdotki” and shows how traditional beliefs enrooted in the local urban narrative get “materialised” in connection with specific urban objects. In the archival materials of the first half of the 20th century, references to this pilgrimage are lacking, and neither is the term avdotki mentioned in the modern oral tradition. This can be explained by the decline of the Spaso-Voznesensky monastery as a center of spiritual attraction after the closure and destruction of its necropolis. Further research must include studying the practice of religious offerings made to the “holy” places in memory of deceased children, and the popularity of the Spaso-Voznesensky monastery and its rituals outside Smolensk and in Smolensk itself. In the meantime, the study takes to describe a peculiar ethnographic situation when traditional beliefs are “tied” to a specific urban object enriching the local text of Smolensk with “dialect” features.

Keywords: Russian language, chrononyms, dialectal vocabulary, rituals, folk calendar, urban folklore, popular religion, popular beliefs.

The author is grateful to Elena Berezovich, Demyan Valuev, Natalia Savina and Leonid Stepchenkov for their valuable consultations and assistance in finding rare printed sources.


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