Wednesday, July 14, 2010
St. Stephen of Perm (1349-1396)
This story is combined with another one about St. Stephen's destroying the birch tree specially venerated by pagans and even new converts. The saint decided to cut the tree down and he did it over three days. When he began cutting the birch, various voices were heard screaming and asking him to leave them in peace. As Stephen was unable to complete his project on the first day, in the evening he left his axe in the tree and went away. Next morning, to his surprise, the birch appeared untouched and the axe was next to it on the ground. However, on the third day St. Stephen managed to cut down the tree and he threw it into the water. The fall of the birch was followed by a great storm and even an earthquake....On the place where the birch tree stood, St. Stephen built a church dedicated to Michael the Archangel. When the old wooden church was dismantled in 1787, the stump of the birch tree was discovered. It was used as the altar, probably the idea of St. Stephen himself.The source of this legend is Petr Šestakov, Svjatoj Stefan, pervosvjatitel' Permskij [St. Stephen, the first bishop of Perm] (Kazan: Universitetskaja tipografia, 1868), pp. 38-40, according to Kuznetsova, n. 28 on p. 229.
The Life of St. Stephen of Perm by Epiphanius the Wise (died 1420) apparently also contains some other tree-cutting episodes (Kuznetsova, p. 224, with n. 13 on p. 228).
See also Alexander Chuvyurov, "Trees in Komi (Zyrian) Rituals and Beliefs," Pro Ethnologia 18 (2004) 69-86 (at 69-70, notes omitted):
In the hagiography of St. Stephen of Perm it is mentioned that in Ust-Vym, on the bank of the Vym River, there stood a big birch tree especially worshipped by local people. As the author of the hagiography says, this tree was so big that three people were hardly able to encircle its trunk with their arms (Povest... 1996:68). According to the same source, the Permians (Komi-Zyrians) took sacrificial animals and hides to this tree. The Komi-Zyrians worshipped this tree as a deity, maintaining that any disrespectful act towards itthreatened people with all kinds of troubles (Povest... 1996: 69). Several legends have been passed down describing how St. Stephen of Perm chopped this birch tree down. The aforementioned story, about St.Stephen of Perm, presents a colourful description of this event. According to this source, St. Stephen was chopping this birch for three days, and in the course of this process the birch, like a living creature, uttered cries of pain reminding people of the voices of men, women and children. During chopping, blood streamed out of the tree (Povest... 1996: 69). As the birch was so big, the saint was not able to chop it down on the first day. He drove his axe into the tree and went to have a rest. When morning came and he returned to the tree, he saw that it was standing undamaged, but his axe, which he had left stuck in the trunk, was lying on the ground, next to the birch tree (Povest... 1996: 69). And it was only on the third day that the saint, according to the source, was able to chop down the birch tree, worshipped by the Komi-Zyrians, and it fell on the ground, crying and groaning loudly. The tree was burnt right after it had been chopped down. Later on, St. Stephen of Perm had a church erected on the site of this birch tree in the honour of the holy archistrateges Michael and Gabriel (Gavriil) (Povest... 1996: 70).Unfortunately, I can't find complete translations of primary sources, only these summaries.