skip to content

Nicholas Mayhew

nick mayhew


Jesus College

Contact details:


Over the course of the last decade, Russian parliamentary decrees and government-backed campaigns have inculcated a conservative view of ‘family values’ in which an Orthodox marriage between one man and one woman produces many children. Relatedly, LGBTQ rights have been curtailed and equal access to essential services such as sex education and abortion facilities has been undermined. Centrally propagated, heteronormative ideas about propriety have become widely expressed in Russian media rhetoric and codified in mainstream cultural production.

In protest against the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the USA, one Russian government spokesperson remarked: ‘Russia is a country […] with absolutely wholesome spiritual foundations’.

My research traces the origins of these ‘foundations’ back to Early Modern Russia, reconstructing the process of their cultural codification in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It observes the swift and remarked changes made in church books to rites establishing or blessing kinship ties. Analysing a range of hagiographic and iconographic depictions of paired saints, which are evidently in dialogue with the liturgical sources, I explore the full range of factors prompting changes in depictions of ‘couples’. I reveal when, why and how a stable view of ‘family life’ emerged in Muscovy. Finally, I posit that this view occupies a specific and important place in the system of dynastic power emerging in this period.

Although my project deals with the pre-modern period only, its relevance to broader discussions on the intersections of religion, political power, gender and sexuality – especially in the context of contemporary Russia – are self-evident.

Conference Papers

  • ‘Problematising “Orthodoxy”: Paired Saint Culture in Kievan and Muscovite Rus’ (forthcoming)
  • ‘Constructing Men and Women as Moral Entities in Early Modern Russian Hagiography’ (forthcoming)
  • ‘Exploring Depictions of Eunuchs in Early Rus’ (presented at ‘Gender and Transgression in the Middle Ages’, St. Andrews, 2014)


  • AHRC monetary award for reading group and conference (2015)
  • CEELBAS studentship: full PhD scholarship (2014)
  • AHRC studentship: MPhil scholarship (2012)
  • Mrs Claude Beddington Modern Languages Prize for the highest mark in the MML tripos (2012)
  • Olga Youhotsky and Catherine Matthews Prize for the highest mark in Russian (2012)


I supervise Russian oral and grammar at undergraduate level.

I am holding a session in Lent 2016 on working with Slavonic manuscripts for undergraduate students enrolled on SL2 (‘The History and Culture of Early Rus’).

Other Teaching and Outreach

Founder and co-convener of the ‘Approaching the Medieval’ reading group for undergraduate and postgraduate students. I am organising a panel for a graduate conference to be held by the group in 2016.

Co-convener of the Old Slavonic reading group for postgraduates.

Languages (in addition to English)

Modern: Russian (fluent); French, German (good knowledge); Swedish (learning)

For Further Information Please See:

Keep in touch