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We are from Belarus: Euphrosyne of Polotsk

Euphrosyne of Polotsk is one of the most revered people in Belarusian culture during the era of the Principality of Polotsk. She is known for her educational activities as well as being the first woman from Belarus to be canonized.

Born around 1104 in the family of Prince Svyatoslav, she was the granddaughter of Vseslav the Sorcerer. Her given name was Predslava. From a very young age, the princess was admired not only for her beauty but also for her love of learning and intelligence, having received a good home education. Though her parents planned for her to marry another royal, they did not rush Predslava with a decision, allowing her to make a free choice. However, the princess chose to walk away from the worldly comforts and at the age of twelve, having rejected yet another proposal, she ran away from home. Predslava took refuge in a monastery, where her aunt was the abbess. After a few days, Predslava managed to convince her aunt of her determination to take monastic vows despite her parents’ wishes. She became a nun and took the name of Euphrosyne.

In the monastery she set up a library. Euphrosyne began copying the scriptures and other religious books, which at that time involved hard physical work, and, it is believed, that she may have translated some of them. The money she earned Euphrosyne distributed amongst the poor.

Around 1128, with the blessing of Bishop Elias, Euphrosyne arranged for the construction of a convent near Polotsk. She opened a school for girls, where she taught young novices and local village girls to read and write, the art of book copying, singing, sewing, and other crafts, thus promoting the development of literacy in the Principality of Polotsk. In all her endeavours, Euphrosyne was assisted by two of her sisters who also became nuns.

As more and more young women wished to join the convent, Euphrosyne set about to expand the monastery and to build a stone cathedral to replace a wooden church.

However, during the period of feudal rivalries between neighbouring principalities, Euphrosyne had to come to the aid of her younger brother Vasilko, who ascended the throne of Polotsk Principality. Her active participation and significant influence in political life are evidenced by the discovery of the Euphrosyne's seal, which was used to validate official documents. During the period of feudal fragmentation, she called on warring principalities to achieve peace and unity. Eventually, after many years of destructive struggles peace returned to Polotsk when the trade resumed, and crafts began to flourish.

By 1159, Eufrosyne had realised her long-standing plan to erect a Savior-Transfiguration Cathedral. It was built in thirty weeks under the supervision of the architect John. The church and its frescoes survive to this day and are considered to be precious monuments of early Belarusian architecture and painting.

In addition to this, Euphrosyne founded a male monastery and built a stone church in honour of the Blessed Virgin.

Euphrosyne of Polotsk’s educational activities also includes the opening of an icon-painting and jewellery workshop. In 1161, she commissioned the local master Lazarus Bogsha to make a cross decorated with precious stones and metals covered by the images of saints and inscriptions. Unfortunately, this artifact, which became a Belarusian national relic and a record of the Old Belarusian text, is considered to have been lost during the evacuation from the Mogilev Museum during WWII.

Towards the end of her life, Euphrosyne went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During her journey, she fell ill and died on 23 May 1173. She was buried near Jerusalem. Subsequently, her remains were reburied in Kyiv, and then at home in Polotsk.

One of the most educated women of her time, known for her progressive views, peacemaking, and educational activities, Euphrosyne of Polotsk left her mark in history as an example of selfless service to people.

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Women political prisoners in Belarus

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