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Princess Olga of Kiev

Also Known as Saint Olga

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Olga of Kiev by Bruni Nikolai Alexandrovich

Olga of Kiev by Bruni Nikolai Alexandrovich (19th century)

Fine Art Images / SuperStock / Getty Images
Monument to Olha (Olga) in front of monastery, Ukraine

Monument to Princess Olha (Olga) at Mykhaylivska Square in front of St. Michael's Monastery, Kiev, Ukraine, Europe

Gavin Hellier / Robert Harding World Imagery / Getty Images

Known for: founder, with her grandson Vladimir, of Russian Christianity; ruler of Kiev as regent for her son; grandmother of St. Vladimir, great-grandmother of Saint Boris and Saint Gleb

Dates: about 890* (?) - July 11, 969 (?)

Also known as: St. Olga, Saint Olga, Saint Helen, Helga (Norse), Olga Piekrasa, Olga the Beauty, Elena Temicheva. Baptismal name Helen (Helene, Yelena, Elena)

About Princess Olga of Kiev

Olga's origins are not known with certainty, but she may have come from Pskov. She was probably of Varangian (Scandinavian) heritage. Olga was married to Prince Igor I of Kiev in about 903*. Igor was the son of Rurik who is considered the founder of Russia. Igor became the ruler of Kiev, a state which included parts of what is now Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Poland.

Ruler

When Igor was murdered in 945, Princess Olga assumed the regency for her son, Svyatoslav. Olga served as regent until her son was of age in 964.  She was known as a ruthless and effective ruler. She resisted marrying Prince Mal of the Drevlians, who had been the killers of Igor, killing their emissaries and then burning their city in revenge for her husband's death. She resisted other offers of marriage and defended Kiev from attacks.

Religion

Princess Olga turned to religion.  She traveled to Constantinopole in 957, where some sources say that she was baptized by the Patriarch Polyeuctus with the Emperor Constantine VII as her god-father. She may have converted to Christianity before her trip to Constantinopole, perhaps in 945.

After Princess Olga returned to Kiev, she was unsuccessful in converting her son or very many others. Bishops appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto were expelled by Svyatoslav's allies, according to several early sources. Her example, however, may have helped to influence her grandson, Vladimir I, who was the third son of Svyatoslav.

Princess Olga died, probably on July 11, 969. She is considered the first saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. Her relics were lost in the 18th century.

Sources

Princess Olga's story is found in several sources, which don't agree in all the details. A hagiography was published to establish her sainthood; her story is told in the 12th century Russian Primary Chronicle; and Emperor Constantine VII describes her reception in Constantinople in De Ceremoniis. Several Latin documents record her trip to visit the Holy Roman Emperor Otto in 959. 

*Dates for Olga's birth and marriage are far from certain.  The Primary Chronicle, gives her birth date is a 879. If her son was born in 942, that date is certainly suspect.

More About Princess Olga of Kiev:

Places: Kiev (or, in various sources, Kiev-Rus, Rus-Kiev, Kievan Rus, Kiev-Ukraine)

Religion: Orthodox Christianity

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