In Minsk, on Independence Avenue near the National Library, the monument
to St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1101-1167) attracts the attention of tourists and visitors. She was the first woman to be canonized on the territory of Belarus. She is considered the heavenly patroness of the country. Her sacrificial life earned her the recognition and love of the people.
The statue of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk was created by Belarusian sculptor, A. Artimovich. Surrounded by young birches, the nun holds a famed cross, church manuscripts, and on her shoulders rest two pigeons. The pedestal of the monument is in
the shape of large scale books.
Euphrosyne’s name is inextricably linked with the establishment of the national relic of the Belarusian people — a unique Orthodox cross. This cross is among the ten most valuable works of art in the world, searched for by the most famous of collectors.
The history of the relic is full of drama and mystery. Until this day, the location of the cross remains a mystery. The famous Orthodox relic holds not only artistic value — it is priceless. The cross represents the striving of Belarusian people for peace, prosperity, and creativity.
The cross of Saint Euphrosyne was forged in the second half of the 12th century. According to legend, one day an angel appeared in a dream to the young nun, Euphrosyne of Polotsk (born the princess Predaslava to the world, granddaughter of the Polotsk Prince, Vseslav the Sorcerer), The angel said that she should settle on the banks of the river Polota in the town of Seltse, and found a convent for women. Euphrosyne followed this order.
In 1161, Euphrosyne diligently built the Savior-Transfiguration Church (Savior-Euphrosyne).
The church has stood for centuries and continues to impress parishioners in the 21st century with the elegance of its architectural forms, and ancient paintings.
Icon painting and jewelry workshops were located in the monastery. One of the most skilled craftsmen in Polotsk was Lazarus Bogsch. A master goldsmith, he excelled at the technique of cloisonne enamel, which was very rare in Russia at the time. Most likely, Bogsch learned the fine art in Byzantium. Euphrosyne requested him, namely, to make an altar cross for the Savior-Transfiguration Church.
The cross came out extraordinary. Sixpointed, as was customary in Byzantium, the cross symbolizes the six days of Creation. Its height is 51.8 cm. Made of cypress, the cross is covered with 21 gold and 20 silver plates with images and is decorated with eight priceless stones and pearls. The images on the cross depict the main events of the New Testament.
The top edges of the cross are decorated with images of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, and John the Baptist. The lower end of the cross depicts the archangels Gabriel and Michael. In the center of the cross, likenesses of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, appear.
Lazarus Bogsha’s cross was accepted not only as a local relic, but also as an Orthodox testimonial of the miraculous power worshiped by the congregation. During its many-century history, the Euphrosyne cross repeatedly passed from one owner to another. However, the cross always came back to its home in the temple.
The Savior-Euphrosyne Cross was kept in the monastery for more than 60 years. In 1222, Smolensk Prince, Mstislav Davidovich, overthrew Polotsk and took the relic. The cross remained in Smolensk for almost three centuries. To preserve the relic and not have to use it for baptisms, the first copy of the cross was made in 1495.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the Grand Duke of Moscow, Vasily III, took possession of the artifact. The cross was placed in the royal treasury and brought out on only the most special occasions.
In 1563, a deeply religious Russian Tsar, Ivan IV the Terrible, took the cross on a march to Polotsk. The king had given his word to return the cross to the city, if the Lord would grant him victory. The wellfortified Polotsk lasted just 16 days. The relic was returned to its native church. In 1812, the French captured Polotsk, and local monks hid the cross, walling it up in a niche in the wall of the St. Sophia Cathedral.
In 1841, the cross was taken as an offering of worship to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Along the entire route, the relic was greeted with jubilation by parishioners. The Russian Emperor Nicholas I had the cross brought to the cathedral church of the Winter Palace, hoping to have the cross remain in St. Petersburg.
New challenges for spiritual artifacts appeared with the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia. In 1921, the church cross was confiscated by the Bolsheviks. In 1928, scientific historians were able to transport relics from Polotsk to Minsk, and then to Mogilev. There the ancient cross was exhibited in a historical museum. Visitors worshiped the Orthodox relic. Therefore, authorities seized the “dangerous” artifact and locked it in a metal safe.
In 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, of which Belarus was part. Mogilev became occupied, and the cross disappeared without a trace….
The artifact contains a special feature. Euphrosyne of Polotsk cross ordered the cross to be stored eternally in the Polotsk temple. An omen was carved into the relic. The inscription on the cross says that anyone who dares take the item will meet the wrath of God. This is why even the all-powerful Russian Tsar, Ivan IV the Terrible, and Nicholas I did not dare keep the cross.
In 1992, during the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of Polotsk-Glubokoe diocese, it was decided the relic would be recreated. Brest jeweler and enameller, Nikolai Kuzmich, with the blessing of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Diodorus II, and the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Metropolitan Filaret, produced a replica of the cross of Euphrosyne from surviving 19th century photographs. It took this secular artist five years, he said, to overcome normal human temptations and undergo spiritual cleansing.
The regenerated cross was consecrated in the Cathedral of Simeon Brest and solemnly delivered to the Savior-Euphrosyne monastery. In honor of this event, the Holy Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church in 199 established its highest award — the Order of the Cross of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk.
Every year, on the feast day of St. Euphrosyne, June 5, numerous faithful from all over the Orthodox world come to Polotsk.
The cross is hung in the monastery, prayer is given. The Cross of Saint Euphrosyne is one of the main Orthodox relics of White Russia.
Church officials, diplomats, and scientists continue to try to find the original cross. In the late 1990s, the UN searched private collections in the USA. Interpol was included in the search. Investigations also took place in in Germany, where the cross could have been taken by the Germans who captured Mogilev.
So far, the probe has been unsuccessful. But hope remains that the relic will be found. Infamously, the widely known Bulgarian prophetess of the 20th century, Vanga, answered when questioned about the fate of the Orthodox relic, “The cross will soon be found….”