Every year at the end of May France celebrates its queen, Anne of Kiev, one of the most well-educated women of the XI century who was the wife of Henry I and the daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kiev. Ukrainians from all around the world gather in St. Vincent’s Abbey in the town of Senlis near Paris to honor her legacy. This year the number of delegates from Ukraine attending the event was greater than during previous years, and I was fortunate to be one of them.
During the flower-laying ceremony at the queen Anne’s monument I was watching the people around me who were standing patiently in the rain – patriots of Ukraine, representatives of the Canadian Diaspora, local clergy – and a thought came to me. We tend to pay more attention to our failures, our memory stores the names of our offenders and enemies while what we should do is celebrate our victories and remember happy moments in our present and past.
We dream of European future for our country. Our present is an attempt to wash away the Soviet dirt and to grow out of Russia’s murderously regressive control. While our past that we often forget was, indeed, European already.
Henry I, the King of France, has twice sent his ambassadors to Kiev to ask for Anna’s hand in marriage and thus to receive the support of her father Yaroslav the Wise who was considered a powerful ally. At that time European monarchs would often marry their children in order to establish political alliances. But when Anne was given to Henry in marriage, she was not just a woman coming from one of the most influential European dynasties. She was one of the most well-educated persons of her period. Not only could she read and write, which alone made her the first literate queen of France, but she also knew Greek and Latin.
In 1065 in the town of Senlis queen Anne founded St. Vincent’s Abbey which today is home to a school for boys. And in the near future the town will have another institution associated with the queen’s name – cultural center of Anne of Kiev. Ukrainians from all around the globe hold meetings every May to raise the money needed to open the center.
In 2013 Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Eparchy used the money donated by Ukrainians from different countries to acquire a church in Senlis where the cultural center will be opened. The church of Saints Borys and Hlib has since become a center of cultural life. It has hosted a choir concert conducted by Kirill Karabits, a globally-renowned Ukrainian conductor, and a fashion show by Ukrainian designer Oksana Karavanska. In 2015 the church was visited by Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, the legend of modern Ukrainian music.
The cultural center requires proper infrastructure which will cost more than €2 million to build including accompanying expenses. The center will make cultural representation of our country in France more comfortable and distinguished, will attract attention of diplomatic officials and common people.
According to Borys Gudziak, the first Bishop of the UGCC Eparchy of St. Volodymyr in Paris and president of the Ukrainian Catholic University, the center can become a place for diplomatic meetings between representatives of Ukraine and western countries. The European center of Ukraine – I think it sounds nice. Who knows, maybe this centre will become a stepping stone for our return to Europe.