Baikal Irkutsk Trans Siberian

The Old Believers of Siberia 

The Old Believers or “semeiskie” as they are called in Siberia make up a unique regional ethnographic group. They were founded more than 300 years ago by a group of religious dissenters unwilling to accept the liturgical reforms of the seventeenth century Russian Orthodox Church. In 1650 Old Believers broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church and then were cruelly persecuted for their actions by the church.

Eventually, the Old Believers divided into sects, some sects fleeing to the borderlands, others exiled to Siberia and many resided in the remote wilds of Transbaikalia which is now the Buryat Republic. Scattered across the region they lived in isolation and preserved their beliefs including their sacred two finger cross sign.

Music is particularly important to Old Believer culture. The great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov notes that their songs are an example of “ancient pure Russian melody”. Even today in Buryatia Semeiskie villages have gifted singers who follow the traditional singing styles and transfer this gift of music to their sons and daughters.

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