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Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Far from the Fatherland: The Romanovs in Exile
Topic: Paul Gilbert


© Royal Russia. 9 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:44 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 13 March 2013 1:12 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 8 January 2013
Russian Publishing Firm Issues New Editions of Coronation Albums
Topic: Books


The Russian publishing firm of Alfaret in St. Petersburg, have taken on the monumental task of issuing fascimile editions of the coronation albums of the Russian sovereigns.

A total of seven albums have been published of the following Romanov sovereigns: Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich (originally issued in 1856); the Empresses Anna Ivanovna, Elizabeth Petrovna; and the Emperors Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II.

The albums are exquisite collectors editions bound in leather with gilt lettering, complete with original text (Russian and French)  and illustrations. Each album has been published as a limited edition with prices ranging from $5,000 - $15,0000 USD!

Please note that these books are not available for sale through Royal Russia's online bookshop.

© Paul Gilbert. 8 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 2:46 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2013 3:47 PM EST
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Monday, 7 January 2013
Holy Russia - Celebrates the Festival of Christmas
Now Playing: Language: NA. Duration: 58 minutes, 54 seconds
Topic: Russian Church

Today marks Christmas Day according to the Julian Calendar used by Orthodox Christians. This hour-long documentary was produced by Robin Scott and directed by Georges Gachot in 2006. It was filmed in the cathedrals, monasteries and sacred palaces in Moscow, the Golden Ring and New Jerusalem. The accompanying music is sung by the Moscow Chamber Choir and the Choir of Trinity St. Sergius Lavra. This wonderful documentary is presented here to all Orthodox Christians who visit the Royal Russia web site and blog, and to those who share a special interest and passion for all things Russian. It represents the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Saviour. "Christ is Born! Glorify Him!"

The spiritual culture of Russia is reflected in the beauty of churches and monasteries, in the paintings and frescoes that adorn them and - above all - in the sacred music that is sung in them.

The Russian Orthodox Church derives from that of Byzantium, which also inspired the 'onion-dome' style of church architecture. Many of the centers of ancient worship are contained within the high walls of kremlin fortresses, witnesses to a history of resistance to invasion.

The millennium of Christianity in Russia in 1988 coincided with the new age of 'glasnost' and 'perestroika' (openness and reconstruction), marking the beginning of the end for the Soviet state. For seventy years religious belief and practice had been discouraged, and hundreds of places of worship had been either destroyed or allowed to fall into almost hopeless disrepair.

A few of the very finest cathedrals and monasteries were maintained as museums, like those in the Kremlin in Moscow. Some monasteries miraculously survived. The Trinity St Sergius Monastery at Sergiev Posad (formerly Zagorsk) is the prime example.

Since 1988 many places of worship have been given back to the Orthodox Church, the 'established' church until the Revolution and regarded once again as Russia's national church. Massive restoration work has been accompanied by the return of sacred works of art hidden away for decades.

An aging congregation of believers - largely women - helped to keep Russian Orthodox Christianity alive. In recent years more and more young people have turned to the Church, not least for spiritual comfort and uplift. There has been a revival in choral singing and the rediscovery of many glorious works of sacred Russian music.

Even non-believers cannot fail to be moved by the orthodox liturgy in all its beauty; from the apparel of the priests, the pattern of the liturgy, the candle-lit icons, the responses of clergy, congregation and choir - to the devotion of the worshippers. It is this feeling of spiritual oneness in all its most Russian sense which Holy Russia seeks to reveal.

Christmas, (celebrated thirteen days after 'Western' Christmas under the old calendar) is one of the most important of the annual festivals of the Orthodox Church, the other two being the feast of Trinity (Pentecost) and, above all, Easter. The festival begins with the Christmas vigil and midnight liturgy on Christmas night (January 6 - 7) and ends twelve days later with Epiphany and the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus Christ.

The Patriarch Alexei II (1929-2008) leads both of the main liturgies, parts of which are shown in Holy Russia, at the Epiphany (Yelokhovsky) and Assumption cathedrals in Moscow. Whereas the former remained a place of worship in the Soviet years, the latter (holiest of Russian cathedrals where Tsars were crowned) was only reopened for worship in 1989. At the Epiphany Cathedral the Patriarch is seen giving the final blessing (or 'dismissal') at the end of Christmas matins before beginning the midnight liturgy.

At the Cathedral of the Assumption (or Dormition) the Patriarch is seen completing the preparation of the bread and wine, which will be later consecrated for Holy Communion. The bread and the wine are carried then in procession from the offertory table to the altar for consecration. The Patriarch receives them; but before placing them on the altar he blesses the congregation as he offers them symbolically for the needs of the whole world. These are unique pictures never before shown in these surroundings.

Other services include part of the special Epiphany Liturgy at Kazan Cathedral at Kolomenskoye and an ordinary liturgy in the Church of the Resurrection at Kostroma (some three hundred kilometers from Moscow). The program ends with the Epiphany procession at the monastery of New Jerusalem and the great blessing of the waters.

This seventeenth century 'Holy City' was blown up by the retreating German Army in 1943 but is being gradually restored. The recently appointed Archdeacon leads a procession to the nearby - ice-cold - river for the blessing of the cross and symbolic bathing by some of the worshippers. It is the first time this ceremony has taken place since 1917.

The liturgy forms an important part of the program as does the music recorded by two of Russia's leading choirs: the Chamber Choir of Moscow conducted by Vladimir Minin and the Choir of Trinity St Sergius Monastery and Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary conducted by Archimandrite Mattheus. The choral singing is all a cappella (unaccompanied). It embraces a wide range of works, both traditional (for the monastic choir) and more modern for the essentially polyphonic singing of the Moscow Chamber Choir.

© Royal Russia. 7 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:05 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2013 11:42 AM EST
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Sunday, 6 January 2013
Christmas Comes for Orthodox Christians
Topic: Russian Church


Sunday is Christmas Eve according to the Julian calendar used by Orthodox Christians.

It’s a day of strict fasting when nothing except “sochivo”, a special Christmas Eve dish prepared from wheat grains, rice, beans, peas or vegetables, is allowed, hence the name of the day – Sochelnik.

In his Christmas message, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill urged believers to be merciful and tolerant to others and reminded them of the love that God bestows on all his lambs.

The Patriarch will lead a Christmas Eve liturgy at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow tonight.

Celebrating Christmas on January 7th together with the Russian Church will be the Church of Jerusalem and the Serb and Georgian Churches.

Western Christians who use the Gregorian calendar celebrated Christmas on December 25.

© Voice of Russia, Interfax. 06 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:02 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 6 January 2013 11:55 AM EST
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Saturday, 5 January 2013
A Russian Moment No. 3 - Gatchina Palace
Topic: A Russian Moment


Gatchina Palace played host to an elaborate Christmas festival this year. The event was spread over 2 weeks from 25th to 31st December, 2012 and 2nd to 8th January, 2013.

The festival included special tours and programmes within the palace, including Christmas With the Imperial Family, as well as Christmas carols, and a Christmas Market in the courtyard of the palace.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 5 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:53 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 30 March 2013 1:01 PM EDT
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Friday, 4 January 2013
Exhibition of Sculptures Dedicated to the 400th Anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty
Topic: Exhibitions


An exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty has opened in the Governors House in the Russian city of Penza.

The exhibit includes contemporary busts of eight of Russia's most famous rulers: Peter I, Catherine II, Paul I, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II.

The sculptures were all created by created by local artists in the studio of Vladimir Trulova. At first glance they appear to be made of bronze or stone, but are in fact made of fiberglass.

The exhibition of Romanov busts will be on display for the duration of 2013.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia.

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 11:02 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 6 January 2013 11:18 AM EST
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Tuesday, 1 January 2013
How Russians Celebrated New Year Before Revolution
Topic: Imperial Russia

The population of St. Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, consisted of social strata nested within themselves like Indian castes. It was only a few times each year that the tempos of their lives – be they high society, factory workers, servants, students, Germans or paupers – converged.

Because four-fifths of the city’s population were Orthodox believers, and because Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox holidays were very close together on the calendar, New Year’s and Christmas – the second most important Orthodox holiday after Easter – were celebrated by almost all of St. Petersburg's populace. The advent of Christmas marked the beginning of Christmastide – a season that lasted until Baptism (from Dec. 25 to Jab. 6, according to the old style).


Christmas was a family holiday, mostly for children. On Christmas Eve, every self-respecting newspaper carried Christmas stories and verses in which the hero is miraculously saved from danger on Christmas Day.

Toy shops displayed dolls, drawing-room and sports games, children’s pistols, doll houses, furniture, clothes, carriages, live models of steam and water mills, railways and automobiles. A novel feature in the 1913 season was an English wireless telegraph for children – the latest technology.

Petty officials and clerks snapped up practical jokes, in order to play pranks on their friends, cousins and mothers-in-law: for example, a “bottle of perfume” would turn out to contain plain water that spilled all over the recipient of the gift; matches that lit themselves; little imps jumping out of candy boxes…

Christmas dinner included an ostrich sitting on eggs: its body made from a coconut, its neck from a banana, its head fashioned out of a small apple with holes for eyes and its beak made from an almond… A guidebook wrote that “few inhabitants of the capital celebrate Christmas without a partridge or a traditional goose.”

Until Christmas Day, people practiced religious abstinence (although, in St. Petersburg, very few people followed the full rules of fasting).

Every self-respecting family also put up a Christmas tree. The custom was borrowed from the Germans and became popular in St. Petersburg in the 1830s, before spreading across Russia. The Christmas tree decorations were brought from Germany in huge quantities, ahead of Christmas.

The decorations piled at the foot of the tree were given to all the invited children, and the sweets, tin soldiers, fruits and nuts hanging on the tree were handed out as prizes to winners of trivia, anagrams and countless other games.

Families attended the festive mass and returned to a lavishly spread table. Numerous toys were recovered from under the Christmas tree.

From morning, children from poor neighbourhoods visited the flats of the well-off. They congratulated the owners, gave praise to Christ and accepted gifts – typically small change, a few kopecks per person. Among those who came with Christmas greetings were local constables, chimney sweeps, church-bell ringers, garbage collectors, and attendants from Turkish baths. They were treated with vodka and given some money.

Christmas in the Emperor’s family was very much the same, except for the number of Christmas trees (one per each family member) and the fact that gifts were presented not only by adults to children but also by children to their elders. And, of course, the value of their gifts was different (jewelery, arms, paintings, china).

The New Year

For a long time, the New Year was not a holiday but an ordinary workday. However, rural folk celebrated St. Basil’s Day on Jan. 1. That saint, the Bishop of Caesarea, was the patron of pigs – so, on New Year’s, people all over Russia ate sucking pig.

By the beginning of the 20th century a New Year’s ritual was established in the capital. Jan. 1 was regarded as a time for looking back on the previous year.    

On the other hand, the night of New Year's was the time when unmarried young people in the city let their hair down. It was very pleasant to enter a restaurant or an inn, to escape St. Petersburg's dank weather. Fancy dress balls were staged at the Noble Assembly and the Suvorin Theatre.

Until Baptism

The winter holidays lasted two weeks. During this time, Christmas tree parties were held in all the public spaces for the pupils attending the city’s schools. During the day, they lit up a huge electric fir-tree and children under the age of 10 received free gifts.

After the New Year came time for fortunetelling for young maids. Of course, the rituals were all aimed at attracting bridegrooms: they gave barley grains to roosters, melted wax, dropped slips of paper with the names of potential bridegrooms in a bowl of water and made use of mirrors.

Christmastide ended with religious celebrations for Epiphany Sunday. On Jan. 6, Orthodox believers went in their masses to “Jordan” (places on rivers, canals and lakes where they were baptized in the water). Processions carrying a cross started out from many churches and ended at the water’s edge: holes were cut in the ice for the ritual and chapels were built near these spots. Thus, Christmastide would come to a close.

Note: Russian New Year is on Jan. 1, but Russia has always dated Christmas as Jan. 7, in common with the rest of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

© Ogoniok Magazine. 1 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:04 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 1 January 2013 6:11 PM EST
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Moscow Icon House Marks 400th Anniversary of Romanov Dynasty
Topic: 400th Anniversary


A unique exhibition dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty has been opened in the Icon House in  Moscow.

The exhibition, The Romanovs. Fall of Dynasty presents personal belongings, works of art, and archival documents of the members of the imperial family.

The life of the Romanovs is recreated at the exhibition by means of unique exhibits:  the throne and cane of Tsarevich Alexey Nikolaevich; portraits of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, painted by court artist Alexander Makovsky, and the like.  Up until the end of 2011 these portraits were kept in Sweden, in the house of the maid of honor of Grand Duchess Olga.

Visitors of the exhibition can also see toys of the children of Tsar Nicholas II, and jewelry that one of the court ladies took out from the Winter Palace in a pillowcase of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna. In a show-window under glass there is Grigory Rasputin's letter.

Another exhibition opened also in the icon House is The Russian Modernist Style recreating the epoch in which the family of Nicholas II used to live. The exposition has included art works by M. Vrubel, M. Nesterov, V. Vasnetsov, V. Kotarbinsky, I.Bilibin, P. Corin and other great masters of the era of the Russian art nouveau.

Besides, the exposition has included works of iconography, jewelry art, sculpture, interior decorations, suits, archival documents, works by suppliers of the imperial court and glorified masters of gold and silver business K.Konov, D. Smirnov, S. Zharov and others.

For the unique exposition The Icon House has completely reconstructed its showrooms, i.e. nearly 1 000 square meters. The exhibitions will take place in the museum halls till December, 2013.

© Russia Info-Centre. 01 January, 2013

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:14 AM EST
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Monday, 31 December 2012
Kremlin: August 1 to be Russia's WWI Remembrance Day
Topic: Russian History


Tsar Nicholas II blessing his troops during World War I 

August 1 will be the date on which, each year, Russia remembers its soldiers who fell during the First World War, the Kremlin Press Service announced on Monday.

“The following changes are introduced to the Federal Law on Days of Military Glory and Remembrance Days in Russia, adding the date of August 1 as a Day of Remembrance for the Russian soldiers who fell in the First World War of 1914-1918,” the press release says.

President Putin suggested creating a memorial to the Russian soldiers who fought in World War I (WWI) during his state of the nation address of December 12.

Allied to Britain and France in WWI, Russia is thought to have lost about 1.5 million soldiers at the front, with about 5 million wounded – according to the history site, although some historians question these figures.

Russia’s participation in WWI was downplayed in the Soviet Union, largely due to the Bolshevik view of it as an “imperialist war” that paved the way for revolution.

Speaking with young Russians at the Seliger youth camp in July 2013, President Putin raised the issue of Russia's role in WWI, and blamed the Bolsheviks for how Russia left the war. "It is also known that the Bolsheviks wished for the defeat of their own nation in World War I. And overall, I must say that their input in Russia’s defeat was commensurate."

The Treaty of Brest Litovsk, signed between Bolshevik Russia, the German Empire, Austria Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire on March 3, 1918, officially terminated Russia's involvement in WWI.

"This was an astonishing situation, wherein Germany surrendered to the Allies, but Russia lost to the defeated nation, Germany, and with such grave consequences – losing enormous territories and suffering other truly severe ramifications. This is truly a unique large-scale example of national treachery!" Putin said.

© RIA Novosti. 31 December, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:48 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 31 December 2012 7:04 AM EST
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The Mysterious Disappearance of the Russian Crown Jewels
Topic: Jewels


After the 1917 revolution, Russia's new rulers debated what to do with the crown jewels. This 1925 photo shows the collection. However, a 1922 album at the USGS includes photos of four items that are missing from the 1925 photo.

The story of the missing Russian crown jewels begins, as so many great adventures do, in a library.

In this case, it was the U.S. Geological Survey Library in Reston, Va.

Richard Huffine, the director, was looking through the library's rare-book collection when he came upon an oversized volume.

"And there's no markings on the outside, there's no spine label or anything like that," he says. "This one caught our eye, and we pulled it aside to take a further look at it."

Researcher Jenna Nolt was one of those who took a look.

"The title page is completely hand drawn, and it's got this beautiful, elaborate design on it, and it has the date 1922," Nolt says. "When we translated the title, we found out that it was The Russian Diamond Fund."

The Diamond Fund is the name given to the imperial regalia of the Romanov family, the czars of Russia for more than 300 years, from 1613 to 1917.

Huffine knew they were on to something.

"Several of the pictures at the very front of the album are the iconic, known products that you would think of for the Russian Crown Jewels, including the Orlov Diamond in the scepter, and the grand crown, which has the huge stone at the top," he says.

The Orlov Diamond is a 189-carat stone that was famously stolen from the eye of a statue of a Hindu deity in southern India — and that's only one of the stories behind the collection.

These are jewels of almost magical significance, symbols of unbridled power and wealth.

Calling In An Expert

The U.S. Geological Survey librarians called Kristen Regina, the archivist and head of the research collection at the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Hillwood boasts the largest collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia.

"The crown jewels play an important part in the coronation story," Regina says, "because the czar crowns himself in the coronation, and that is the moment when he takes full power."

The Romanov dynasty came to an end in 1917, amid the chaos of a world war, a revolution and a civil war.

Regina says the fate of the crown jewels raised a furious debate among the Bolshevik leadership, which was badly in need of money.

Some of the revolutionaries saw the jewels as symbols of centuries of exploitation — gems that ought to be sold to benefit the workers.

Historian Igor Zimin says much of the collection was preserved by curators at the Kremlin in Moscow, who were able to convince the leaders that the gems had enormous historical significance.

Zimin, the head of the history department at the St. Petersburg State Medical University, says there are records of auctions of some of the lesser pieces from the collection dating from around 1927. There are even memoranda about Soviet agents being caught while traveling with diamonds in their luggage.

Zimin is skeptical, by the way, about the newly rediscovered book, because it's dated 1922, and an official photographic inventory of the crown jewels wasn't published until 1925.

Differences Between The Two Books

The USGS has a copy of that book, too, and researcher Jenna Nolt has compared the two.

She found that the 1922 volume shows four pieces of jewelry that don't appear in the later official book.

Nolt says the researchers learned the fate of one of the pieces, a sapphire brooch.

She says it was sold at auction in London in 1927, "but the three other pieces, the necklace, the diadem and the bracelet, we have no idea what happened to them."

One person who might have known is the man who acquired the 1922 volume in the first place.

He was an American mineralogist and gem expert who worked at various times for the jeweler Tiffany & Co. and the USGS.

His name was George Frederick Kunz, and his adventures took him to Russia in those dangerous years after the revolution and the civil war.

"If you ever have a chance to read his writings," Nolt says, "he's got this wonderful attitude, and he's traveling in carriages in rural Russia to meet 'the peasant queen of amethysts,' and he's talking about how he's traveling with a pistol over his knees because he doesn't trust the driver of the carriage, so I think — an Indiana Jones figure, definitely."

On View At The Kremlin

The jewels of the Russian Diamond Fund are on display in the Kremlin in Moscow — or most of them, anyway.

The officials in charge of the exhibition declined to comment for this story.

The researchers who've uncovered the story thus far say the rest of the mystery is free for anyone — amateur or professional — to try to solve.

Who knows, it might be time to take a look in great-grandma's jewel case.

||| Click Here to View Video of Lost Russian Crown Jewels Found In US Library |||

© National Public Radio. 31 December, 2012

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:44 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 31 December 2012 4:58 AM EST
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