The archaeologist Dmitry Osipov studies medieval Russian footwear. This time he took an interest in ritual footwear that was used at funerals. For a long time already the scientists constantly come across unusual footwear near the dead. But it has not been studied until now, while the problem itself turned out to be most interesting. A couple of specimens are represented at the exhibition of footwear at the Museum of the Archaeology of Moscow.
The shoes of the dead look like shabby slippers without a sole and a heel. They are very soft, without any hard lining. One or two details were cut out of thin leather (1-1.5 mm) and were then sewed together with a thread in such a way that the seam was just along or across the foot. The shoes were not fixed on the foot and obviously were useless for walking. This unpractical footwear was made especially for funerals as a part of the ritual. The people were not inclined to refuse their pagan beliefs, though they did adopt orthodoxy. Footwear for the dead made after one model can very often be found in the burial mounds of the twelfth up to the seventeenth centuries in Moscow, Novgorod, Tver, and Pskov. It does not mean, that until the twelfth century the dead were not buried in slippers, but leather, just like any organic material, preserves very bad in the earth.
Why does a dead man need shoes? It is most difficult to answer this question rationally. Funeral rituals were likely to reflect the ancient beliefs of the people that inhabited medieval Russia, their ideas of the Next World and how to behave there. The funeral ceremony was the ritual, which helped the diseased to pass to the next world. First, those participating in the ceremony, closed the eyes of the dead, for "there" everyone is blind. Then they wrapped and dressed it. The funeral dress is also a part of the ritual. It should be new, made especially for the occasion. The seams were without knots. While sewing, the participants of the ceremony held the needle in the left hand and sewed in the direction towards the dead. The whole of the procedure was to show that the dress was not suitable for every day use, for the Next World is different itself.
The medieval inhabitants of the Russian land could not leave the dead barefoot. They have always been treating feet with great respect. According to the religions of the ancient Indo-Europeans, the foot was a special organ in the human body, for the soul was there. The Slavs believed it to be in the foot bone, which never decays. (There is still a saying in Russian "to have one's heart at one's heels").
Not every medieval burial contains ritual footwear, in some of them there were ordinary, worn out shoes. The scientists cannot yet explain this fact. Probably, funeral rituals were observed not always. The funeral ceremony depended also on that, whether the dead were old or young, rich or poor. For example, a young woman could have been buried in a fur coat, belted with laces with the head covered with a shawl. An unmarried girl was then in a wedding dress, so that she would find her husband in the Other World and the funeral ceremony would turn out in a wedding then.
The scientists do not know yet, when the tradition to bury the dead in shoes turned up and whether there was a special fashion for the footwear for the dead.