Solomonia Saburova

Grand Princess Solomonia Saburova, wife of Grand Prince Basil III, St Sophia of Suzdal
Born: circa 1490
Died: 1542, Suzdal

Solomonia Saburova was the daughter of a nobleman called Yury Saburov, who was descended from the Tatar khans who founded the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma in the early fourteenth century. She was born circa 1490 and married Grand Prince Basil III at the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin in 1505.

Twenty years later, exasperated at her failure to give birth to an heir, Basil III decided that the reason must be that his wife was barren. In 1525, he asked the metropolitan to annul his marriage and ordered Solomonia to become a nun at the Convent of the Nativity of the Virgin in Moscow.

Solomonia violently resisted her enforced incarceration, tearing off her veil and loudly denouncing her husband: “God sees and will take vengeance on my persecutor!” After being flogged by a boyar loyal to Basil III, she was imprisoned at the Convent of the Intercession in Suzdal, where she took the name of Sophia.

Several years after Solomonia was banished to Suzdal, rumours spread that she had given birth to a son called Georgy. There was an official investigation, but all the materials were later confiscated by Ivan the Terrible.

Ivan IV had good reason for doing so – if the story were true, then the boy would have been his elder half-brother and a potential rival to the throne. According to the legend, Solomonia saved the baby by entrusting him to the care of friends, while pretending that he had died.

This story found unexpected credence in 1934, when a tiny white-stoned crypt dating from the sixteenth century was discovered alongside the tomb of Solomonia. Inside the burial vault was a doll dressed in a silken shirt, imitating the grave of a real child.

Solomonia Saburova died on 18 December 1542, but her tragic fate won her great admiration among future generations. Over time, she was worshipped as St Sophia of Suzdal and legends arose of miracles taking place next to her grave.

In 1552, after capturing the city of Kazan, Ivan the Terrible visited Solomonia’s tomb and left an ornamental shroud there embroidered by his first wife Anastasia. St Sophia of Suzdal was officially canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1916.

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