CHERNIHIV, THE PRINCELY CITY OF UKRAINE
THE CHERNIHIV BEAST
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       In the 12th c. as the result of interaction of different cultural traditions - Slavic, Ancient, Near-Eastern, Early Christian, "hybrid" Eurasian - in the Chernihiv lands developed a specific artistic style, which resembles Romanesque. The most vivid example of it is the relief, which once decorated the coner-stone of the Cathedral of St.Boris and St.Gleb. It depicts the Chernihiv Beast, a fantastic creature with a canine head, a pair of paws, avian wings and a scaly trunk, which is twined with rod and ends with a snake or a piscine tail.

       The clot of powerful mythopoeic energy of the Chernihiv Beast has no counterparts in the whole Eastern Europe. The forehistory of the image goes back to the depth of milleniums. The ancient Indo-Europeans believed that the Universe consists of three levels: the Heavens, the Earth and the Underworld. The symbols of the Summit were the birds, the messengers of the Sky God. The Midlevel was represented by the Goddess-Mother-Earth, who was related not only with life, but also with death and that is why could have the image of a predatory animal, including a dog. The incarnation of the Bottom was the Serpent, which was also associated with fertility, riches, vitality, inspiration as well as with poverty, illness, death.
       All the three levels were united by the World Tree, which grew in the center of the Universe, reaching the Underworld with its roots and the Heavens with its top. The issue of the World Tree is inherent practically in all World cultures, and is clearly seen in Ukrainian tales, Christmas carols, in the masterpiece of Old Russian literature The Song of Igor's Campaign, in which narrator Boyan "spreads his thoughts along the tree". In the picture of the Chernihiv Beast for the World Tree stands a vine. This way the images of the representatives of all levels of the Universe merge into one creature, which incarnates the Cosmos as a living thing. Such conceptions of the Cosmos, which are known in many mythological systems, were inherited by philosophy and remained actual right up to the modern time.
       In the literature the white stone relief from the Cathedral of St.Boris and St.Gleb is called Semargl (Simargl). If it is true (what is not proved yet) the Chernihiv Beast is the only image of that Slavic God-Dog. A great likeness with the Chernihiv Beast have different carved dragons from the twelfth-century cathedrals in Halych (Ukraine), Krakow (Poland), Hammersleben and Quedlinburg (Germany). However, the Chernihiv Beast incarnates not only strength and power, but also an immediate readiness to enter a battle with the Chaos. In the capacity of a symbol the Chernihiv Beast stands far higher than the traditional heraldic animals. At the same time the plastic beauty, expressiveness and integrity of the image of the "intemperate" Chernihiv Beast evidence the unity and harmony of our ancestors' world.


A MYTHOPOEIC GLOSSARY


mythopoeic - what relates to creation of myths. Mythopoeic can be an age, a society, an attitude, a creative work of a man .
the Cosmos - the integral, harmonious universe, the stay in which gave pleasure to the ancients. It seemed to be finite, closed, regulated, beautiful and fitted to human life. The Cosmos is surrounded by the Chaos and at times runs the danger of being absorbed by it. To save the Cosmos the epic and fairy-tale heroes of all nations accomplished feats.
the Chaos - in opinion of the ancients it is the origin of all the essence, a filled emptiness, naught and endlessness at the same time. At times it seemed to be the world monster, which gave birth to everything and with indifference devoured everything, it threatens to the Cosmos, which is inside it.

 

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© Sergie & Elena Kolesnyk, Alex Liubenko, Svetlana Kokorina
July, 2002