Wed, 29 Nov 2023

If we are to believe one theory, its origin lies very near to the Moscow Kremlin.

There is an expression in the Russian language that is very colorful and very popular - "U cherta na kulichkakh" ("У чёрта на куличках"). It is used when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, the place you need to get to is very far away and you are annoyed at the prospect of the long journey ahead. At the same time, the literal meaning of the expression is not clear today, even to Russians themselves.

What does it mean?

The expression "u cherta na kulichkakh" translates as "in the middle of nowhere" or "somewhere very far away". 'Kulichki' is a distorted form of the word 'kulizhki', which was used to describe a barren, treeless and flat place, as well as swampy areas. According to one theory, the idiom appeared as a result of a superstitious attitude to swamps - according to popular belief, it was the abode of evil spirits. Hence "u cherta" ("at the devil's abode").

Also, a historical area near the Kitai-Gorod district of Moscow not far from the Kremlin is called 'Kulishki' (Kulizhki). However, this old name is almost never used nowadays and the expression "u cherta na kulichkakh" is not associated with it, despite the fact that, according to a widespread theory, the idiom originates from the Kulishki district.

Alexandra Koroleva

An almshouse in Kulishki

In the 19th century, historian Ivan Snegiryov wrote a book titled 'Moscow: A Detailed Historical and Archeological Description of the City'. In it, he describes an incident that occurred during the reign of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich: The devil allegedly took up residence in an almshouse for orphans and foundlings in Kulishki, not far from the Ivanovsky Convent. He gave the elderly women who worked in the almshouse no peace: He would tip them out of bed, clatter about in corners and on stoves, shout out various nasty things and rock them in children's cradles. Stories of their tribulations reached the ears of the tsar and he ordered members of the clergy to banish the evil spirit from the almshouse. But, in response to their prayers, the devil began accusing the priests themselves of various iniquities and it was not possible to drive him out. Then, one of the tsar's confidants told him about the Venerable Ilarion from the Florishchev Hermitage monastery who could exorcize evil spirits.

Ilarion Metropolitan of Suzdal and Yuryev.

Ilarion Metropolitan of Suzdal and Yuryev.

Public Domain

Ilarion set off for Moscow with two assistant monks and spent seven weeks reciting prayers at the almshouse. Despite the devil's intrigues, Ilarion soon managed to drive him out. According to Snegiryov, it was this incident that gave rise to the phrase "u cherta na kulichkakh".

Ilarion himself later became Metropolitan of Suzdal and Yuryev. And the Ivanovsky Convent, next to which the almshouse once stood, stands in the same place - it was rebuilt in the 19th century.

Ivanovsky Convent in 1882.

Ivanovsky Convent in 1882.

Public Domain

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