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Sunday, 27 October 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 21
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches


The Smolny Cathedral’s stunning blue-and-white building is undoubtedly one of the architectural masterpieces of the Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who also created the Winter Palace, the Grand Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, the Grand Palace in Peterhof and many other major St. Petersburg landmarks. 

The cathedral was built between 1748 and 1762 and served as the centerpiece of a convent, built to house the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, after she was disallowed to take the throne and opted instead to become a nun. However, as soon as her Imperial predecessor was overthrown during a coup, carried out by the royal guards, Elizabeth abandoned the idea of a stern monastic life and happily accepted the offer of the Russian throne. 

When Catherine II assumed the throne, it was found that the new Empress strongly disapproved of the baroque style, and funding that had supported the construction of the convent rapidly ran out. Rastrelli was unable to build the huge bell-tower he had planned and unable to finish the interior of the cathedral. 

On the orders of Emperor Nicholas I in 1832, work began on the final completion of the cathedral. The building was only finished in 1835 by Vasily Stasov with the addition of a neo-classical interior to suit the changed architectural tastes of the time. The Cathedral was consecrated by Metropolitan Seraphim of Novgorod and St Petersburg on 20 July 1835; its main altar was dedicated to the Resurrection and the two side altars were dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene and Righteous Elizabeth. 

In contrast to the light and vibrant exterior, the Smolny Cathedral’s interior strikes one with its unexpected austerity and cold solemnity. It has none of the lavish gilt carvings, so characteristic of baroque, neither does it have bright and vivid paintings, or abundance of fanciful ornaments. The reason for this lies in the cathedral’s construction that lasted nearly 100 years.
 

The cathedral's lavish Baroque exteriors give way to simple Neoclassicism interiors
 
In designing the interior, Stasov faced a number of challenges. It was 80 years since the construction of the cathedral began. The lavish baroque style gave way to neoclassicism. Rastrelli’s design at that time was regarded “old fashioned”, overloaded with decorative details and, on top of all that, costly. Stasov’s adherence to simple forms led him to introduce quite a few alterations in the design in his pursuit for simplicity and austerity. The white colour of the walls and restrained stucco emphasize the perfect proportions of Rastrelli’s architecture. The tall arches seem to carry the sturdy pillars with them, while hoisting the dome drum upward. All along the walls in the hall and in the dome drum are tall windows that make the huge cathedral appear incredibly lightweight and imbued with light.

Unfortunately, the cathedral’s interior has not survived – gone are its carved, white and gilded iconostases, its magnificent balustrades of crystal balusters, glowing in sunshine of a light filled hall, a carved pulpit, and bronze chandeliers. Only images of the Cathedral’s interior dating from the second half of the 19th century came down to us. 

The church was looted by the Soviet authorities in 1922, and in 1923, it was closed down for worship by the Petrograd Council. The iconostasis of the cathedral was dismantled much later in 1972. 

In the 1970-80s, the Smolny Cathedral became a branch of the State Museum of History of Leningrad. It housed a display celebrating Leningrad’s past and present industrial achievements. In January 1990, a concert and exhibition hall was established in the Smolny Cathedral, affiliated with the Museum of the History of Leningrad. In 2004, the Smolny Cathedral became part of the State Museum St Isaac’s Cathedral. 
 
On April 7th, 2010, for the first time in 90 years, a divine liturgy was celebrated in the Smolny Cathedral. 
 


Divine liturgies are held in the Smolny Cathedral throughout the year
 
Today the Smolny Cathedral is still used primarily as a concert hall, with performances by the Smolny Cathedral Chamber Choir. The surrounding convent houses various offices and government institutions. On October 2nd, 2013 the St. Petersburg city authorities voted to return full ownership to the Russian Orthodox Church. 
 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 27 October, 2013
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:05 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 27 October 2013 2:41 AM EDT
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Saturday, 26 October 2013
Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses
Topic: Books

They were the Princess Dianas of their day – perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. And with good reason, for the four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses – Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov – were much talked about and admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.

From an early age they were at the centre of unceasing gossip about the dynastic marriages they might make. But who were they really beyond the saccharine image perpetuated by those now familiar photographs of them as pretty girls in white dresses and big hats?  What were their personal hopes, dreams and aspirations and how did they interact with each other and with their parents?   What was life really like within the highly insular Imperial Family and how did they really feel about their mother’s obsessive and all consuming love for their spoilt brother Alexey? 

Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. They are too often seen merely as set dressing, the beautiful but innocuous background to the bigger, more dramatic story of their parents – Russia’s last Tsar and Tsarina, Nicholas and Alexandra. They are perceived as lovely, desirable and living charmed lives. But the truth is somewhat different.

For most of their short lives the four Romanov sisters were beautiful birds in a gilded cage, shut away at their palaces at Tsarskoe Selo or Livadia as a reaction to the fear of terrorist attacks on the Imperial Family.  In reality the girls had few friends and ever fewer playmates and were largely cut off from the real world outside and the normal life experiences of other girls – that is, until everything changed in 1914. Suddenly, with Russia’s entry into the war, the girls had to grow up fast.

In a deliberate echo of the title of Chekhov’s play, Four Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia. It will aim to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing on previously unseen archival sources, as well as photographic and other material in private collections and opinion drawn from the author’s considerable personal network of royalty experts. 

To be released in the UK on March 27, 2014 under the title, Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses, while it’s US  release on June 3, 2014 will be published under an alternate title, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra. Illustrations will include some new or very rare images and one or two surprises!

A two-part documentary is currently in the works, with filming to take place at the Alexander Palace, Livadia, the Governor's House at Tobolsk, and the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg. Its release is scheduled to coincide simulataneously with the publication of the book.  

© Helen Rappaport. 26 October, 2013


 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:50 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 26 October 2013 8:36 AM EDT
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A Russian Moment 17 - The Ipatiev Monastery, Kostroma
Topic: A Russian Moment


A stunning winter view of the Ipatiev Monastery. Photo © Yuriy Chulkov
  
The Ipatiev Monastery is a male monastery located at the confluence of the Volga and Kostroma Rivers. The city of Kostroma lies 340 km north-east of Moscow and forms part of  the popular Golden Ring of Russia tourist route.

The town was founded around 1330 by a Tatar convert, Prince Chet, whose male-line descendants include Boris Godunov. During the Time of Troubles in Russia, the Ipatiev Monastery was occupied by the supporters of False Dmitriy II in the spring of 1609. In September of that same year, the monastery was captured by the Muscovite army after a long siege. On March 14, 1613, the Zemsky Sobor announced that Mikhail Romanov, who had been in this monastery at that time, would be the Russian tsar. Since then, the monastery is considered the cradle of the Romanov house. Each successive sovereign, after coronation, made it their duty to visit the Ipatiev Monastery with elaborate and expensive gifts.

Most of the monastery buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Trinity Cathedral is famous for its elaborately painted interior. A smaller church was demolished by the Soviet authorities. There are plans to reconstruct it and consecrate it to the New Martyrs of the Romanov family. The main entrance from the riverside was designed by the celebrated Russian architect Konstantin Thon (a favourite of Emperor Nicholas I). A private house of Mikhail Romanov was restored on the orders of Alexander II of Russia, but even Konstantin Pobedonostsev questioned the authenticity of this reconstruction.

Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar, was fond of Kostroma and its Ipatiev Monastery. In fact, Kostroma’s link with the Romanov dynasty is so strong that in 1913, the 300th anniversary of Romanov rule was celebrated in this city. Nicholas II and his family were some of the first visitors to a special museum that opened in honour of this rare event.

The Ipatiev Monastery was disbanded after the October Revolution in 1917. It has been a part of the historical and architectural preservation, but authorities decided to return it to the Russian Orthodox Church several years ago, despite strong opposition from museum officials.
 
 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 26 October, 2013
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:37 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 26 October 2013 7:04 AM EDT
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Friday, 25 October 2013
Lenin Statue Beheaded in Orenburg
Topic: Bolsheviks


The beheaded staute of Lenin in Ponomaryovka is the latest in a series of attacks on monuments to the Bolshevik leader, and another sign of the growing discontent that many Russians have towards his brutal and violent legacy. Photo Credit: VKontakte
 
In just the latest of numerous indignities carried out against his image in the past two decades, a statue of Vladimir Lenin was discovered to be lacking a crucial piece of the historical figure's anatomy in the southern district of Orenburg this week.

"Emergency in Ponomaryovka! Unknown people have sawed off the head of the monument to V.I. Lenin!!!!!" a user posted Wednesday on social networking site VKontakte, attaching a picture of the decapitated statue as proof, Regnum.ru reported. 
 
Unfortunately for the former proletarian leader, this is not the first time that his statue has been defaced.

The monument was beheaded once before in the 1990s, said regional Communist Party head Vladimir Novikov, who noted that monuments in several nearby towns have suffered similar fates.

The statues are generally made of plaster and impossible to repair, so local residents inspired to restore the revolutionary to his former glory must raise enough funds to erect a new one, Novikov said.

The ubiquitous Lenin monuments have faced hard times since the fall of the Soviet Union, with most post-Soviet countries having dismantled or destroyed them as soon as they achieved independence.

Within Russia the statues have come to hold a rather more ambiguous position. While they serve as a rallying point for the country's Communist Party and are looked on fondly by some residents, they are also frequently subject to petty acts of vandalism.

Alexander Kurdyumov, a State Duma deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party, proposed last year to have all monuments to Lenin removed from the centers of Russian cities. The idea received support from some United Russia members but was vociferously opposed by the Communist Party, Izvestia reported.
 
© The Moscow Times. 25 October, 2013 

Editor's Note: There are many people (myself included) who still believe that Lenin gave the order to murder Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918. During my recent visit to Moscow, a colleague of mine told me that a recent Russian made documentary claim to have found documents in the archives which prove that Lenin did in fact order the liquidation of the last Imperial family. I have yet to confirm these findings.  
 
Further, he is responsible for the deaths and suffering of millions of innocent people when he unleashed the Civil War and the Red Terror that followed. His hatred towards religion led to the endless violence against the Russian Orthodox Church. Lenin also signed the shameful Treaty of Bretsk-Litovsk with Germany on March 3, 1918. For these reasons, among many others, his body should be removed from the mausoleum where his memory is glorified on Red Square and interred in a cemetery - Paul Gilbert. 
 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 25 October, 2013
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:33 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 25 October 2013 4:47 AM EDT
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Made in Russia - Imperial Porcelain
Topic: Collectibles


 

Appreciated by kings and presidents, gaining awards in international exhibits in London, Paris and New York, Russian Imperial porcelain is a prestigious brand, proud of its imperial heritage and valued for its solid quality.
 
The enterprise established by the order of Peter the Great’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth, was created to “serve native trade and native art”, and it has been doing so brilliantly for more than two and a half centuries.
 
The Imperial Porcelain Factory (or Manufactory) was established by Russian chemist Dmitry Vinogradov in 1744 in the town of Oranienbaum, currently Lomonosov, 40 kilometers west of the northern capital St. Petersburg. The talented mining engineer studied metallurgy in Freiberg and invented the formula of the Russian porcelain, though the first attempts to reveal the secret of porcelain making were made back in 1718 by Peter the Great during his visit to Saxony.
 
From the very beginning the factory produced wares exclusively for the ruling Romanov family and the Russian Imperial Court. But it is the Golden age of Catherine the Great that is considered the age of prosperity for its production, as it was obliged to produce fine porcelain and to bring profit.
 
After half a century of tough times, the beginning of a new 19th century marked a revival for the factory as by that time it had become one of the leading porcelain factories in Europe.
 
In the 1990s the enterprise started exporting its production to countries unfamiliar with its wares, particularly the US and Japan. In 1999 an American investing firm bought a controlling interest in the factory, which resulted in a long legal battle in Russia and eventually in a legal victory for the American investors. However, three years later they sold it to Nikolai Tsvetkov, president of oil firm Nikoil.
 
Recently the factory started producing hand-made copies of porcelain exhibited in the State Hermitage Museum collection. The pieces are stamped "Imperial Porcelain, 1744, St. Petersburg," along with the double-headed imperial eagle. The pieces made after 2002 held the back stamp with a red or a blue monogram along with the words "Hand Decorated, 1744, St. Petersburg, Russia", while the first post-Soviet export back stamp was a red monogram, saying "Made in Russia". 
 
© Voice of Russia. 25 October, 2013
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:20 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 25 October 2013 4:29 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 23 October 2013
Journey to Moscow, a Short Summary of My Visit
Topic: Royal Russia

 
I have just returned from an 8-day visit to Moscow, my first to the Russian capital in 8 years. The main purposes for my visit were to partake in the wonderful exhibitions marking the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty and to conduct research for the Royal Russia magazine and web site.

The highlights of my October 2013 visit to Moscow include:

The Petrovsky Palace

My personal interest in this palace is based on my fascination with the Coronation ceremonies of the Russian sovereigns. The palace was built during the reign of Catherine the Great, and it was here that all successive Russian monarchs stayed before their official entry into Moscow for their coronation in the Kremlin.

The palace is not open to the public, therefore I was very fortunate to receive a special VIP tour of the palace last Thursday. My three hour tour with the director of the palace included the grounds, the ground floor, which hosts a small museum on the history of the palace, one room of which contains items from the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896, and a scale model of the palace. A vestibule is dominated with majestic pillars and busts of all the Romanov monarchs who stayed in the palace, from Catherine the Great to Nicholas II.

The second floor includes a suite of rooms, all decorated with furniture reproduced from the original. I saw the room in which Napoleon stayed during his unwelcome visit in 1812, as well as the balcony in which he stood while watching Moscow burn.

I will be writing an extensive article on the history of the Petrovsky Palace, which will appear in the No. 5 (Winter 2014) issue of Royal Russia Annual, to be published in January 2014. The article will include my personal notes and photographs taken during my visit to the palace. 

The Martha and Mary Convent 

A beautiful spot that most visitors to Moscow are unaware. The secluded convent of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna hides behind a stone wall with latticed gates on Ulitsa Bolshaya Ordynka. Passing through an iron gate, one is transported into an island of peace and tranquility. The grounds are beautifully maintained, and a life-size monument to Saint Elizabeth is surrounded by flowers, left by Orthodox Christians who come to pray in the church.

The Holy Protection Cathedral has been restored, and inside, one can still see the wonderful frescoes by the renowned Russian artist Mikhail Nesterov. I purchased a candle from one of the sisters and went into a side chapel which contains icons of Saint Elizabeth and the Holy Royal Martyrs. It was here that I lit the candle and prayed, also taking time to reflect on the the grand duchess and her work among Moscow's less fortunate, which, by the way, continues to this day.

The convent also includes several other buildings including an interesting museum dedicated to the life and work of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. In 2009, the Convent published a blue leatherbound pictorial album, which contains beautiful high quality photographs of Ella, with text in Russian and English.

The Romanovs: Portrait of a Dynasty

The venue for this exhibition is the new War of 1812 Museum (the former City Duma in Tsarist days, and the Lenin Museum in Soviet times) on Red Square, and now part of the State Historical Museum.

The exhibition offers more than 400 works, including colour portraits, busts, miniatures, drawings and photographs of members of the Romanov dynasty. Arranged in chronological order, the exhibit tells the story of the portrait genre in Russia—from the early “parsuna” (secular portraits) of the 1670–80s (represented by a portrait of Tsars Mikhail Fedorovich and Alexei Mikhailovich), up to 70 original pre-revolutionary photographs of members of the Russian Imperial family (mostly the grand dukes and grand duchesses). This exhibition was beautifully presented, with descriptions in both Russian and English. An enormous hard cover exhibition catalogue (in Russian only) compliments this exhibit at 2500 Rubles! 

The Coronations and Anointing of Russian Tsars and Emperors at the Moscow Kremlin

This large scale exhibition is spread over three floors in two separate buildings within the Kremlin. The 16th-17th centuries on the ground floor of the Assumption Belfry, the 18th-19th centuries on the ground and upper floor of the Patriarch Palace.

The exhibit is composed of almost 400 historical relics of high artistic merit, from pieces of state regalia to rarely seen archival documents, photographs and etchings, the exhibition is intended to reveal the atmosphere of coronations and consecration ceremonies in Russia as well as to explore the evolution of these solemn rituals throughout several centuries.
 
Of particular interest are the numerous coronation uniforms and dresses of Russian Emperors and Empresses. Also, the ceremonial uniforms of Cossacks, heralds, senators, etc. The sheer number of exhibits are both exhaustive and breathtaking, I spent an entire afternoon here!  

For me personally, this exhibition is the most interesting and beautiful of all the Romanov themed exhibitions that I have attended over the years. The 2-volume catalogue is simply magnificent!   

My visit to Moscow would not be complete without a visit to the Christ the Saviour Cathedral to see its stunning interiors, and the Tretyakov Gallery, my favourite art gallery in Russia, and the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world.  

During my stay, I did a tremendous amount of research, compiling pages of notes, and more than 300 photographs, some of which are shown above. I look forward to sharing them with Royal Russia subscribers on my web site and blog, as well as the pages of Royal Russia Annual in the coming weeks and months ahead. 
 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 23 October, 2013
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:56 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 23 October 2013 12:34 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Orthodox Russia. The Romanovs Exhibition Forum to Open in Moscow
Topic: Exhibitions


On November 4, 2013, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, a unique interactive exhibition-forum Orthodox Russia. The Romanovs, dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the Russian dynasty monarchs will open in the Central Exhibition Hall of the Manege in Moscow.

It is interesting to note that the exhibition-forum opens on National Unity Day (November 4th). In 1613 tsar Mikhail Romanov instituted a holiday named Day of Moscow’s Liberation from Polish Invaders, a day which was celebrated in the Russian Empire up until 1917. In 1918, the name was changed to The Day of Great October Socialist Revolution. In 2005, President Vladimir Putin re-established the holiday in order to replace the commemoration of the October Revolution. From 1612 the holiday had been celebrated on October 22nd (Old Style) up until 1917, it has since been marked on November 4th. The day is also the feast day of the Russian Orthodox icon of Our Lady of Kazan.

The wonder-working Feodorovsky Icon of the Mother of God will be brought from the Ipatyev Monastery in Kostroma and put on display for the duration of the exhibition-forum. In 1613, Ksenia Ivanovna, mother of Mikhail Romanov, blessed her son with this icon when he was being crowned tsar. Since then, the Feodorovsky Icon of the Mother of God has been the patron icon of the Romanov dynasty.

The exhibition-forum will mark Russia’s many great events under the Romanovs (1613-1917): the development of Siberia and the Far East, the reunification of Russia and Ukraine, a new capital - St. Petersburg, the victory over Napoleon in 1812, Russia’s expansion into the southern regions of Russia, the abolition of serfdom, the unprecedented cultural, scientific and technical and industrial advances and much more. Aside from the grand achievements of the dynasty, the exhibition-forum will also focus on tragic events, as well as individual studies of the history of each monarch.  

This fascinating account of Russian history will be conducted in 24 halls (4,000 square feet) of the Central Exhibition Hall in the Manege using more than 350 multimedia carriers, including touch screens, 50-inch plasmas, light boxes, tablet computers with interactive quizzes and informative applications designed specifically for the exhibition, and a fascinating film about the milestones of life of the Russian state.

Another objective of the exhibition is to encourage contemporaries to take a new look at the many positive contributions which members of the Romanov dynasty made on Russia, many of which remain to this day. Organisers hope to revive stories of the Romanov legacy, many of which are nearly forgotten today, having been obliterated by the Bolsheviks and later the Soviets. They note that the members of this one-of-a-kind family in Russia, which, by the way, like no other family has been besmirched and blackened over the past century by enemies of the monarchy and Orthodox Christianity. 

Orthodox Russia. The Romanovs will run in the Central Exhibition Hall of the Manege, near the Moscow Kremlin from November 4th to 12th, 2013. Admission is free. 
 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 22 October, 2013
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:45 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 22 October 2013 6:45 AM EDT
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Monday, 21 October 2013
Royal Scots Dragoons Present Another Gift to Tsarskoye Selo
Topic: Tsarskoye Selo

The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards have honoured their former Colonel-in-Chief, Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, by donating their late 1920s uniform boots to Tsarskoye Selo in September 2013.

The Scots DGs earlier added their modern Colonel’s field camouflage uniform to our collection which still suffers the lacunae inflicted by the 1917 revolution, sales of art objects in the 1920s-1930s and the German occupation of Tsarskoye Selo in 1941-44. Although the core of our military costume holdings was saved during World War II, a lot of items like shoulder and waist belts, shoulder boards, epaulettes, accoutrements and footwear, were lost.

Our Museum keeps a 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) Colonel’s uniform set that belonged to Tsar Nicholas II. The set includes dress, everyday and patrol uniforms, several headwear items, breeches, trousers, accoutrements, but unfortunately no footgear – until now! 

We much appreciate the historical ties between Tsarkoye Selo and the Royal Scots Greys, which remain as good as a century ago thanks to the efforts of the regiment’s officers and personally Major RWB Robert Maclean, Curator of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum in the Edinburgh Castle, UK.
 
For more information on Tsar Nicholas II and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, please refer to the following links;

Royal Scots Guards Uniform Presented to Tsarskoye Selo

Tsar Nicholas II, Colonel in Chief, Royal Scots Greys

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve. 21 October, 2013
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:49 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 22 October 2013 6:56 AM EDT
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Was Rasputin's Killer from the Midlands?
Topic: Rasputin


Grigorii Rasputin and Oswald Raynor
 
The following article is from the October 20th, 2013 edition of The Birmingham Mail. The author Paul Cole owns the copyright presented below.  
 
Historians believe Smethwick-born British agent Oswald Rayner wielded gun that fired fatal bullet

Popular myth has it that sinister Russian monk Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, shot several times by his rivals and finally drowned in the river.

Not so, say modern historians investigating the mysterious death of the mystic who had the Romanovs under his spell until his murder in 1916.

They believe he was shot dead by a British spy – from Smethwick , in Sandwell, just west of Birmingham

Experts say the fatal shot, from a Webley revolver, was fired by Oswald Rayner, a British Intelligence agent.

The near-supernatural stories spun by the authorities in the aftermath of Raputin’s were to hide Britain’s role in the killing.

“Of all the strange and unlikely claims you will hear, this is the unlikeliest of them all,” says Dr Chris Upton, Reader in Public History at Newman University, Birmingham. “That the man who killed Rasputin – the mad monk and guru of the Russian court – came from Smethwick.

“Yes, I hear you say, and Peter the Great once had a shop in Harborne. But suspend your disbelief and I’ll lay the evidence before you.

“It’s 1916, and the Great War is devouring nations and manpower across Europe. Lined up on the battlefield are the central powers of Germany and Austro-Hungary, and facing them the British, the French and the Russians. 

“But Russia is on the point of political and economic meltdown, and its leaders split over its continued participation in the war.

“On the one side of this debate stands the Tsarina, with her reputed German sympathies; on the other men like Felix Yusupov, flamboyant businessman and nephew to the Tsar, and the Grand Duke Dimitri Romanov, who perhaps has ambitions to be Tsar himself.

“Neither the British nor the German governments could remain entirely impartial in all this. Should Tsar Nicholas pull out of the war, a third of a million Russian soldiers would be removed from the eastern front, tipping the balance towards the Central Powers.”

At the centre of this tangled web, says Dr Upton, was the man British Intelligence called ‘Dark Forces’, the Siberian mystic and faith-healer Grigori Rasputin, who had found favour at the top table.

His apparent ability to treat the Crown Prince Alexei for his haemophilia gave him extraordinary and unbridled influence with the Romanovs. It was said that Rasputin was chief among those who wished for peace with Germany.

“There was a queue of people, then – Russian as well as British – who would like to rid them of this turbulent priest,” says Dr Upton.

“All this might seem a far cry from the young boy who was born the son of a local draper in Soho Street, Smethwick, in 1888. But Oswald Rayner was a bright lad, and in 1907 he won a place at Oriel College, Oxford, to study modern languages.

“By the time he left university Oswald was highly proficient in French, German and Russian. He had also formed a close – some say homosexual – relationship with the same Felix Yusupov, who was at University College, and happened to be a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club.

“Rayner was initially called to the Bar, but his linguistic skills made him much more useful elsewhere, and in 1915 he was recruited by the Army and sent to Petrograd by MI6. 

“Here, he teamed up with a little coterie of British agents, and was also able to renew acquaintances with his old chum, Yusupov.

“Here, too, Rayner would have heard of the plot to kill Rasputin. The monk was lured to Yusupov’s palace in St Petersburg on the night of December 29, 1916, and brutally murdered. According to the popular version of the story, Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, shot several times and finally drowned in the Nevka.

“The reality is that only two of these were correct –he was certainly beaten with a cosh and shot, and then his body dumped in the river. Unfortunately for the plotters, the river ice prevented the body’s disposal, and it was later recovered.

“The Tsar himself was convinced that British agents had a hand in Rasputin’s death, and told the British ambassador as much. Two recent books by Michael Smith and Richard Cullen have come to the same conclusion, arguing that Rayner’s link with Yusupov was the central pivot of the plot.

“Cullen argues that Rasputin’s post-mortem examination showed evidence of three gunshots, from three different firearms. And the final fatal shot, from a Webley revolver, was fired by Oswald Rayner himself.”

As Russia disintegrated into revolution, none of the perpetrators ever faced trial. Rayner continued to work for British Intelligence for the next few years, both in Russia and in Sweden.

And in 1927 the spy collaborated with Yusupov on the translation of his friend’s book, Rasputin: His Malign Influence and Assassination – which failed to mention British involvement.

Rayner went on to become Foreign Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and died in 1961 in the Oxfordshire town of Botley. 
 
© Birmingham Mail. 21 October, 2013
 

 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 1:13 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 21 October 2013 1:23 PM EDT
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Saturday, 12 October 2013
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© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 October, 2013


 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:46 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 12 October 2013 6:49 AM EDT
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