St. Basil the Blessed (died ca. 1557) was a saint, a God’s fool and a Moscow wonderworker.
Little is known about St. Basil before he led the life of God’s fool. He is believed to have been born in the second half of the 15th century during the reign of the Grand Prince Ivan III. According to controversial and half-legendary accounts, St. Basil was born in the village of Yelokhovo near Moscow. At the age of 10, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker. Soon thereafter he displayed a gift of prophesying; at the age of sixteen he moved to Moscow and adopted the exploit of a false madman. Wearing no clothes and footwear in both summer and winter, for which he was nicknamed “Nagoi” (Naked), the saint walked through the streets of Moscow. His favorite places were Red Square and St. Barbara Gate Tower of the Kitai-Gorod wall. For his ascetic life, the saint was respected by both citizens and the Russian Tsar, whom he denounced for his ruthlessness. Having a gift of prophesying, the saint allegorically foretold various events. Stepennaya Kniga says that St. Basil the Blessed foretold the invasion of Moscow by the Khan of Crimea Makhet-Girei in 1521 and the great fire of Moscow in 1547. St. Basil the Blessed died ca. 1557, his funeral ceremony was attended by the Russian Tsar and boyars. His hagiographies contain numerous accounts of the miracles that were performed by the saint’s relics.
The saint was canonized in 1558 during the reign of the Tsar Feodor Ioannovich. St. Basil the Blessed was solemnly glorified on the threshold of introducing the patriarchy in Russia. Giles Fletcher, English ambassador to Russia, in his work Of the Russ Common Wealth, published in 1591, writes about the transfer of the saint’s relics to the Intercession Cathedral on the Moat. A church was erected over the saint’s grave, his hagiography was written, and a liturgy established in his honor.
On the icons St. Basil the Blessed is commonly pictured as a gray-haired man, with a gray curly beard and a naked exhausted body, sometimes covered with a waistcloth. His earliest icons are dated to the late 16th century, such as the icon of St. Basil in prayer to the Theotokos with the Child from the collections of the Sergiev-Posad Museum.
The feast day of St. Basil the Blessed is celebrated on August 15th (August 2nd O.S.).
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
1. Ерусалимский К. Ю., Преображенский А. С. Василий Блаженный // Православная энциклопедия. Том VII. М.: Церковно-научный центр «Православная энциклопедия», 2004. С. 123–131.
2. Флетчер Дж. О государстве Русском // Проезжая по Московии. М., 1991. С. 25–138.
3. Панченко А.М. Житие Василия Блаженного // Словарь книжников и книжности Древней Руси. Интернет-портал Института русской литературы (Пушкинский Дом) РАН: ttp://lib.pushkinskijdom.ru/Default.aspx?tabid=3879