February 20th, 2011 Headsman
Though the primary sources are shaky, at least one chronicle avers that it was on this date in 1570 that the Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible had Hegumen Kornily [Cornelius] of the Pskov-Pechery Monastery put to death.
Having left Novgorod prostrate, Ivan marched westwards towards the edge of Livonia (what is now the Russian-Estonian frontier) to put Pskov in its place.
If Ivan’s depredations here were less extensive than in Novgorod — and they were less extensive — it might be due in no small measure to this date’s victim.
Over a period of four decades, Kornily had overseen the golden age of his priory — agglomerating lands, riches, and brethren. He had also charted a somewhat independent, contra-Moscow political course, and apparently harbored anti-Ivan refugee Andrei Kurbsky.*
[Ivan] came [to Pskov] in great wrath, roaring like a lion, for he wished to torture innocent people and to spill much blood. But the Lord God, all-bountiful and all-merciful lover of mankind … took pity on the human race … when the Grand Duke came before Pskov, he halted near the town and rested at the monastery of St Nicholas. And … when the Grand Duke heard all the bells ringing, his heart was softened and he came to himself, and ordered all his soldiers to blunt their swords with stones and forbade them to commit murder in the town … he was met by the Abbot of the Pechery monastery, Kornily, with all the clergy … and they went into the cathedral church of the Holy Trinity and heard mass.**
Ivan the Terrible begs Kornily for admission to the monastery, by Klavdy Lebedev. (Detail view; click for the full canvas.)
This all sounds friendly enough.
What we may have in the passage foregoing is a conflation of legends about the monk, who is unambiguously attested a martyr to Ivan at the gates of the monastery even as he’s credited with sparing the city as a whole from the tsar’s full fury. (This particular execution — or murder — date is cited in this popular history of Ivan; “February” sometime is generally agreed.)
So maybe it was one of the tyrant’s famous piques of rage — or maybe Kornily didn’t really charm him into altering his plans at all.
Although the particulars are half-obscured in legend, one can still visit at this gorgeous monastery the “Path of Blood”: the route from the gates to the cathedral along which the remorseful tsar allegedly carried his victim’s body. Ivan also made several gifts to the monastery.†
Kornily himself is still venerated on these sacred grounds, thanks not only to his holy martyrdom but to his worldly machinations. A decade after the abbott laid down his life, the walls he had raised around the monastery proved fortification enough to repel the Polish king Stephen Bathory‡ — helping cement Kornily’s reputation as the celestial defender of Pskov.
* See the title of the next footnote? Vassian Muromtsev was a protege of Kornily’s in the Pskov-Pechery monastery; Kurbsky actually had a running correspondence with Muromtsev.
Muromtsev “was put to death together with [Kornily],” reports Kurbsky, although his authority for this claim is doubtful. “They say that they were both crushed together on the same day by some kind of instrument of torture; and their holy martyred corpses were buried together.”
** Quoted in Nikolai Andreyev, “Kurbsky’s Letters to Vas’yan Muromtsev,” The Slavonic and East European Review, June 1955.
† Andreyev, “The Pskov-Pechery Monastery in the 16th Century,” The Slavonic and East European Review, June 1954.
‡ We’ve met Stephen Bathory’s infamous niece in these pages.
Also on this date
- 1961: About fifteen anti-Lumumbists, in Stanleyville
- 1645: Conor Macguire, Lord Baron of Enniskillen
- 1677: Five witches at the Gallowgreen of Paisley
- 1388: Nicholas Brembre, Mayor of London
- 1258: Al-Musta'sim, the last Abbasid Caliph
- 1939: Georgy Nikolayevich Kosenko (aka Kislov), NKVD spy
Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Russia,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates,Wrongful Executions