The history of Russia, like many political histories, has its dark moments and intrigues as “byzantine” as anything in Byzantium. One of the best-known involves the mysterious death of Dmitriy, the youngest son of the tsar known as Ivan Groznuiy, “Ivan the Terrible.”

Upon the death of Tsar Ivan, his son Feodor ascended the throne. But the real power was held by Boris Godunov, Feodor’s brother-in-law. Feodor was weak, sickly, and not mentally competent to be Tsar, though he was said to be very pious.

All of this meant that upon Feodor’s death, he being childless, the next Tsar would be Boris Godunov — except for the obstacle of the younger son of Ivan, Dmitriy, born in 1582.

In 1584 Boris Godunov had Dmitriy and his mother and her brothers packed off to the city of Uglich. In 1591 Dmitriy was dead of a stab wound at the age of eight, and his mother accused Boris Godunov of having sent men to assassinate her son. She was forced to enter a convent and become a nun.

All of this led to much turmoil and confusion.

Just what happened is still unknown. Some believe Boris Godunov did in fact have Dmitriy assassinated so that no son of Ivan could possibly block Godunov’s ascent to the throne. Other historians believe the story that Dmitriy was playing with a knife, and wounded himself during an epileptic seizure. Yet a third story, and one that contributed to a period of great political disturbance called the “Time of Troubles,” said that Dmitriy had managed to escape his assassins. This is the reason why imposters were put forth by Polish factions, claiming the right of such a “false Dmitriy.” to the throne.

Mysteries, assassinations, disappearances — it all sounds like 21st-century Russian politics.

In any case, for Russian Orthodoxy, Dmitriy became a martyred saint.

Here is an icon painted in the Western manner used by the State Church in later years:

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

At left is the “Good-believing Prince Roman [of Uglich]”. Roman was a 13th-century prince who ruled Uglich and was said to be both pious and devoted to the welfare of the people.

“The Holy Good-believing Tsarevich Dmitriy” stands at right, with the cross of martyrdom in his right hand and the knife that was the instrument of his death in his left. He is also called Dmitriy of Uglich

So in this icon, we have two princely saints associated with the city of Uglich. In the clouds above, Christ, holding the Gospels, looks down upon them.


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