Alexander Nevsky (1220–1263) In Russian legend, prince-saint who defended Russia against foreign invaders. The heroic personality Alexander Nevsky, the first prince of Novgorod and (after 1252) great prince of Vladimir and all Russia, is one of the heroes of both Imperial and Soviet Russia. His most famous exploit was the Russian defense of Novgorod in 1242 against the invading Knights of the Teutonic Order. Called to save his country, Prince Alexander, through the power of his personality alone, gathered together an enormous army and met the enemy on a frozen lake. There he and his army dealt them a humiliating defeat. When the prince was laid out for burial, the Metropolitan Archbishop Cyril wanted to place in the prince’s hand a “charter with prayers asking for the remission of sins.” Alexander, “as if he were alive, extended his hand and took the charter from the hand of the Metropolitan Archbishop,” according to one Russian legend.
The famous Russian movie director Sergei Eisenstein used the legend of Alexander for his first sound film, Alexander Nevsky. Made one year before the Soviet-Nazi pact, the movie portrays the Germans as complete barbarians. Prokofiev’s music for the film was later adapted by the composer for his cantata Alexander Nevsky for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow – Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante