Cross Kissing: Keeping One’s Word in Twelfth-Century Rus

Cross Kissing: Keeping One’s Word in Twelfth-Century Rus

By Yulia Mikhailova and David K. Prestel

Slavic Review, 70, no. 1 (2011)

Introduction: Jean-Claude Schmitt argues that for most of western medieval society, writing, though prestigious, was inaccessible. Thus, for the majority, gestures had value and power superior to what was found on parchment. There is cause, at least in one case, to apply this description of the power of gesture to medieval Rus as well. In Rus, as in the west, a delicate balance existed between acting out ideas in public and expressing them in written form, but ritual had the advantage of making abstract ideas tangible and therefore readily comprehensible. At all levels of medieval society nonverbal signs, which were primarily bodily actions, acquired legal force and could impose binding obligations on participants. Particularly when made in reference to a higher power, these ritualized gestures were taken very seriously.  The most common gesture recorded in the early Kievan chronicles was cross kissing, krestotselovanie.

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