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Religious Fables, Folklore, Legends, and Stories
Saints and Hares

Submitted by Yuri Klitsenko, Russia

Did I tell you I established "Saints and Hares" museum in Kovrov, Vladimir area, Russia?

The attitude of people towards "saints and hares" stories deal not with realism but with the cultures. Russians see things differently than do the French or English or German etc. That is why my materials about saints and hares had been rejected in UK as "paranoic". Russian adults and children like hares exposition in Kovrov.

Traditional iconography of Blessed Giacomo of Bitetto depicts Beato praying before the icon of Virgin Mary and Child. The Angel below the icon holds a hare saved from hunters.

See "Il beato salva la lepre" below - unfortunately the picture of a hare in the left corner below is not quite clear.

"Il beato salva la lepre" story ends with the words "The world became less Christian because Constantinople had fallen into the hands of Muslims but Bitetto was free again like the little hare".

There is rhetorical link between the liberation of Italy from Pagan witch, fall of Constantinople and salvation of a hare.

Aslaf was an example of witch who caused a lot of suffering to Beato Giacomo, because she was the symbol of pagan evil against the faith in Christ.

The episode of the prohibition of eating meat during Lent is interesting. The hunter who met beato Giacomo was simply a young father who had children and wanted to give them the meat of the hare. The scene took place in a chapel, and beato Giacomo's prohibition to kill the hare is a possible allusion to the sacrifice of Christ (who is represented by the hare) in Easter.

Beato Giacomo is very similiar to a Russian holy fool in the strength of the prohibition (his voice, his words, his eyes, etc.) and in the Christian allusion to the killing an innocent (hare/Christ). Beato Giacomo wanted to save the hare, but understood the need of the father hunter to obtain food for their children: so he proposed a change. The freedom of the hare in change of apples and other vegetables (and not meat) for the children. The hunter accepted and went home, while beato Giacomo remained in the chapel and played with the saved hare, with the song of a Psalm which was about the freedom from the hunter thanks to the grace of God. Then the hare run away and beato Giacomo was happy for its liberation.

After that Beato Giacomo wanted to visit Aslaf, but she went away with Alessandro. They went to Constantinople, where Alessandro died during the Muslim conquest of the city. There Aslaf worked again as witch, in a Muslim quarter of the city. Beato Giacomo was a friend of Alessandro and wanted to imagine that Alessandro's voyage to Constantinople with Aslaf was a sort of sacrifice to get freedom to Bitetto from the witch: but this was a suggestion of him, and only God knew the truth.

The episode of hare and the episode of Aslaf are connected because they are two stories of liberation and triumph of Christian faith in
Bitetto: the salvation from the Pagan traditions and from eating meat when it is forbidden.

There is also the idea of Muslim danger - Pagans and Muslims are seen as a common enemy of Christian faith in Bitetto.

Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow.  He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.

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