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Monday, 31 March 2014
A Russian Moment No 34 - Peterhof
Topic: A Russian Moment

Aerial view of the palaces and churches of Peterhof. Photo © Amos Chapple
This stunning aerial view of Peterhof showcases some of the city’s most beautiful architectural monuments, all set in a beautiful fairytale like winter scene. In the foreground is the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral - a superb example of Russian Revival architecture. Construction of the cathedral began in 1894, a year after the plans were approved by Emperor Alexander III himself. 

In the background is the expansive Grand Palace (upper left) flanked by the Church of Saints Peter and Paul or Grand Palace Church. The single golden dome on the left or Western wing of the palace is known as the Double-Headed Eagle Pavilion. Today, it houses the Special Treasury, a museum of jewels and imperial treasures from Peter the Great to Nicholas II. The Special Treasury contains over 800 priceless objects, including a special section recreating a workshop of the House of Faberge, displaying some of the fabulous creations of this famous jewellery firm.

The long building (upper right) is the Benois Family Museum-House. Built in 1854, the palace is now a museum (opened in 1988) offering a unique exposition which presents the diverse phenomena of Russian and world artistic life of the second half of the 19th - early 20th centuries. It consists of beautiful, sculptural and graphic works, theatrical-decorative art objects, architectural projects, rare photographs and original items belonging to the most famous representatives of several generations of the Benois dynasty. Among those are such names as the talented painter and theatrical designer, creator of works on the history of Russian and world art, Alexander Benois, the watercolor virtuoso Albert Benoit, and the architect Leonti Benois. 

The street that the Benois Family Museum-House is situated leads to the Alexandria Park nearby. The park contains the Gothic Chapel, the Farm Palace, the Alexandria Dacha, and the ruins of the Lower Dacha. Visitors are required to pay admission to the park, as well as the respective museums. 

In the background one can see the Gulf of Finland. During the summer months, one can journey from St. Petersburg to Peterhof by hydrofoil, arriving at the pier which jets out into the water. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 31 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 10:54 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 31 March 2014 11:16 AM EDT
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Sunday, 30 March 2014
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Cossacks' Century of Struggle
Topic: Cossacks

Russian Cossacks on the march, 1914
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the March 29th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Georgy Manaev, owns the copyright of the article presented below.

The 20th century was a tragic period in the history of the Cossack people, during which they found themselves on both sides, cast in the role of both victims and aggressors. Split by wars and revolutions, the Cossacks performed many heroic deeds but were also responsible for many atrocities. RBTH traces the Cossacks' history since 1914, in Russia and abroad.

One hot summer’s day in 1914, the alarm was raised in all Cossack villages across Russia. Cossacks with a small red flag in their hands, a signal to mobilization, were dispatched on the fastest horses to reach every remote part of nearby areas. Seeing them, people dropped whatever work they were doing in the fields and hurried home, to prepare to march off to battle in the First World War, which would change Russia's destiny forever.
"We don't want to protect landowners"
Cossacks, a class of Eastern Slavic people that by the start of the 20th century numbered about 4 million, emerged in the 14th-15th centuries, forming democratic communities in the great river basins of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine.
Since their early days they had maintained the traditions of military training in their families, were excellent horse riders and brave and skilful soldiers. By 1914, their loyalty to the authorities had been boosted by a preferential tax regime (they paid practically no taxes or levies), free education and health care. Yet the majority of ordinary Cossacks were rather poor. Their only source of income was land, which they either worked themselves or leased. However, land was often unfairly distributed by Cossack chieftains.

Cossack divisions, whose supreme commanders were called atamans, were one of the main pillars of Russia’s ruling regime. They were frequently used to disperse rallies and to suppress peasants and workers during the 1905 revolution. Yet some of the Cossacks refused to go against the people and protect landowners. Frustrated by their never-ending hardship, in some villages Cossacks even dared to rise against the authorities. But the outbreak of World War I changed everything.
Wasted heroism
The name of Cossack Kuzma Kryuchkov was to become known across the whole of Europe during the war. Kryuchkov, together with three fellow soldiers, killed a German cavalry platoon of 27 men, and became the first soldier in World War I to be awarded the Cross of St George, for "undaunted courage". Overall, more than 120,000 Cossacks received different distinctions of St. George in the course of the war.
In the meantime, villages left without a male workforce were slipping deeper into poverty. The authorities had completely lost the support of the Cossacks by the time the February 1917 revolution took place. A number of Cossack units that were sent to disperse the protesters not only refused to obey the command but joined in the uprising. In October 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky, and many Cossack units in St Petersburg went over to their side.
The revolution divided the Cossack people. Many poor Cossacks welcomed the first decrees of the new authorities: The Bolsheviks announced that Russia was quitting the war, promising land to the Cossacks and not to interfere in their affairs so long as they did not oppose Soviet rule. And yet it was in the very heart of Cossack Russia that the main hotbed of resistance to the new Soviet authorities was to emerge, on the banks of the river Don.
In 1918, General Pyotr Krasnov, who came from a generations-old Cossack family, became the Ataman, or commander, of the Don Cossack Host, a formidable independent Cossack army fighting on the side of “White Russia” against the Bolshevik authorities. Krasnov cancelled Bolshevik decrees and declared the lands of the host an independent state with himself a dictator. From 25,000 to 40,000 "red" Cossacks were executed and another 30,000 exiled.

Krasnov sent a telegram to Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German emperor, with an offer of cooperation in exchange for recognition of his "state". Berlin sent Krasnov trainloads of weapons, but after Germany retreated, Krasnov's "tsardom" broke up and he was forced to flee to Germany. By 1920, Cossack resistance was over.
The Bolsheviks began to exterminate Cossacks, seeing them as a class hostile to the Soviet authorities. Many were executed, while whole families were banished from their land and exiled to other territories in order to "dilute" the Cossacks' social unity. In 1922, the lands belonging to Cossack hosts were absorbed into the Soviet republics of Russia and Ukraine. However, this was far from the end of the Cossacks.
Enemy within
In the late 1930s, the USSR began to prepare for the war that it anticipated was to come. Restrictions on Cossacks' rights to serve in the Red Army were lifted, and they were allowed to wear Cossack uniform. When World War II started, many impoverished Cossacks rode into battle on scrawny collective farm horses armed with just swords and knives. However, that in no way diminished their courage: They would jump from the saddle onto tank armor, cover observation slits with their coats and set tanks on fire with petrol bombs. Some cavalry divisions were renamed Cossack divisions before World War II, even though Cossacks formed just a small part of them: The enemy was terrified of the very word "Cossack".
However, the truth is that Cossacks fought not only on the side of the USSR. German propaganda tempted them with the idea of revenge for their losses in the Civil War and with the promise of setting up an independent Cossack state under the name of Cossackia. Émigré Cossacks and the Cossack population of the occupied territories joined German forces. Furthermore, General Krasnov agreed to ally himself with the Nazis and serve at the head of Cossack units made up of White Russian émigrés and Cossack prisoners of war.
Cossacks served as guards on occupied territories, fought with the Red Army, with Yugoslav and Italian resistance fighters. Sadly, the war years broke not only the spirit but also the honor of many Cossacks. Under the command of German General Helmuth von Pannwitz, Cossacks took part in war crimes against the populations of Eastern Europe, including mass murder and plunder.
In May 1945, Germany capitulated. The Cossack Corps was ordered to cross the Alps into Austria to surrender to the British. Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt agreed that former Soviet citizens who had fought on the enemy side and had been captured by the Allies should be handed over to Soviet forces.

Having crossed the Alps under Krasnov's command, the Cossacks surrendered their arms and were placed in prisoner-of-war camps near the town of Lienz. The "handover" began on May 28. During a church service, British troops attacked Cossacks and, brutally beating them, started pushing them into trucks, which then transported the prisoners to the territory under Soviet control. The operation lasted two weeks. According to different accounts, from 40,000 to 60,000 people were thus handed over. These included first-wave émigrés who just happened to be near Lienz at the time, who were not Cossacks at all and had never been Soviet citizens. Over 1,000 people were killed for attempting to resist capture.
The leaders of the Cossack divisions which had fought on Germany's side – Krasnov, Lieutenant General Andrei Shkuro, German general Helmuth von Pannwitz and others – were hanged in Moscow in 1947. The other prisoners, including women, were sent to Soviet labor camps. In 1955, those of them who survived were amnestied. They continued to live and work in the USSR, keeping their past a secret. 
© Georgy Manaev @ Russia Beyond the Headlines. 30 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:53 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 30 March 2014 5:00 PM EDT
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Saturday, 29 March 2014
Tsarskoye Selo Launches World War I Electronic Book
Topic: Tsarskoye Selo

The e-book about Russia’s role in the First World War, a special project developed by Tsarskoye Selo and designers of Mantrastudio, is now available in English and Russian on the ITunes AppStore.

At the 2013 Museum Olympus Awards, the project won in the nomination Museum Book of the Year and was the first e-book ever nominated for the award.

It is now available at the the iTunes App Store, paving a way for our museum Russia in the Great War which is expected to open for the war’s centenary on August 1st, 2014.

Click Here to Download Your Copy 

© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve. 29 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:15 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 29 March 2014 6:22 AM EDT
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New Catalogue of Tsarskoye Selo Photograph Collection
Topic: Tsarskoye Selo

The first volume of a scientific catalogue of photographs from the Tsarkoye Selo collection has been released.

It opens a series of scientific catalogues of the Museum’s collections and includes 561 black and white and colour images. The earliest ones date from the 1850s, the most recent ones (colour autochromes) are from 1917. Most of the images have never been published before.

This 400-page edition has a limited circulation of only 75 copies, which almost immediately makes it a rarity. In the future, this and all subsequent catalogues of the series will appear in electronic form.

Deputy Director for Research and Education Iraida K. Bott of Tsarskoye Selo says, ‘Several years ago, our researchers and curators began work on a comprehensive catalogue of all the Tsarskoye Selo collections. No need to explain it’s a lot of work, designed for many years. This publication – the first in this series – was prepared by Victoria Plaude, our senior researcher and curator of the photograph collection. We are very glad that we have managed to include the coloured autochromes with views of the Catherine and Alexander Palaces, which the Museum acquired last year at an auction in Paris.’

The catalogue is divided into five thematic chapters (Portraits, Events, Tsarskoye Selo, Albums, Palace Interior in 1917) and equipped with extensive reference material, such as a glossary, an index of photographers, photo studios, specialty shops and firms, and indices of persons, palaces, interiors, parks and city buildings in the photos. The book gives a detailed description of the images, most of which were neither exhibited nor published earlier.

Included among the rarest photos in the catalogue are 27 pictures from the photo book Views of Tsarskoye Selo (Scherer, Nabholz & Co. photo studio, Moscow, 1870), pictures of Prince Baryatinsky’s Tsarskoye Selo mansion’s interiors destroyed during WWII (Ivan Bianchi, 1870), and St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Karl Bulla, 1900s).

This publication is designed for professionals, collectors, antique dealers, and anyone interested in the history of Tsarskoye Selo. You can purchase the catalogue in the museum bookshop at the Catherine Palace, the price 4800 Rubles ($135.00 USD).
Note: this book is NOT for sale from Royal Russia
© Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve. 29 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:29 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 29 March 2014 6:06 AM EDT
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Friday, 28 March 2014
A Life of Servitude: Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna of Oldenburg
Topic: Books

Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna was born on 2 June 1838, in St. Petersburg as Duchess Alexandra Frederika Wilhelmina of Oldenburg. She was the eldest of the eight children of Duke Peter Georgievich of Oldenburg and his wife Princess Therese of Nassau-Weilburg, half-sister of Sofia of Nassau, queen consort of Oscar II of Sweden, and a great granddaughter of Emperor Paul I of Russia. She married the Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich, Senior (1831-1891), and the mother of the Grand Dukes Nicholas Nikolayevich, Junior (1856-1929), and Peter Nikolayevich (1864-1931). After the break-up of her marriage, she retired from Court life to become a nun in 1889. 

Alexandra became a nun as 'Sister Anastasia' taking Holy Orders on 3 November 1889 in Kiev, while her husband was still alive. She founded the Pokrov of Our Lady Monastery in Kiev, a convent of nursing nuns with its own hospitals, asylums and dispensary to provide free treatment for the poor. She dedicated her life to the work, which had always been her priority. She remained close to her sons, who had taken her side in the family break up. Afflicted with stomach cancer, Alexandra Petrovna died peacefully at Kiev on 25 April [O.S. 13 April] 1900, at the age of 61. She was buried within the monastery graveyard in a plain white coffin, wearing her monastic habit. On the day of her burial, Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna attended a memorial service held in the Moscow Kremlin palace church.

In the 1950s, her remains were moved to the Lukianovskoe Cemetery. On November 2, 2009 Alexandra Petrovna’s remains were put to rest in the garden at the St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Pokrov Monastery. She was canonized the same year on November 24 as the locally venerated Reverend Grand Duchess Anastasia of Kiev, patron saint of all divorced men and women. Today her grave in the convent garden is again tended by nuns and her works continues.

Irene W. Galaktionova takes an in-depth look into the life of Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna, in the latest issue of Royal Russia Annual No. 5. Her article, A Life of Servitude is the cover story of this issue and contains 19 pages with 14 photographs. The author used Russian sources to research her biographical sketch of this little known member of the Russian Imperial family, including an interview with Russian historian and Oldenburg biographer Emma A. Annenkova.

Click Here for More Information or to Order Your Copy

© Royal Russia. 28 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:15 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 28 March 2014 4:31 AM EDT
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400th Anniversary House of Romanov Commemoration Stamp
Topic: 400th Anniversary

Dear Friends,

I am writing on behalf of a Committee formed to celebrate the Four- Hundredth anniversary of the House of Romanov, including its relationship with the USA and the world.

We invite you to participate in this historic celebration by purchasing US Postal stamps specifically dedicated to this theme. Such stamps are equivalent to 48 cent US stamps, and may be used in their place. You may wish to retain some as collector's items. Our cost for such specially designed stamps is one dollar each, and you may order them at such price per stamp.

Events commemorating the Four-Hundredth Anniversary of the House of Romanov have been
organized worldwide. These include festive meetings, exhibitions, concerts and other ways of celebrating the significance of the Romanov dynasty to Russia and the world. We cannot all attend such events, but we Americans of Russian descent and our friends can help celebrate, which is the reason for the formation of our Committee.

The stamp which we have commissioned, and which we now offer to you, is our first project. It is itself an historic event, as the first stamp commemorating a long and harmonious relationship between the US and Imperial Russia.

We encourage you to purchase the stamps offered, and to make every effort to disseminate them. Use them on Christmas and Birthday Cards, and notes to friends. Use them in your business correspondence. 

Point them out to your friends. We hope you agree with us that this is a wonderful opportunity to help celebrate the anniversary.

To create the stamp we have provided historical research, professional design, printing and funding. The rest is up to you.

We look forward to receiving your order.

Peter N. Koltypin
Planning Committee to Commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the House of Romanov

Click Here to Print an Order Form 


© Planning Committee to Commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the House of Romanov. 28 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 3:31 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 28 March 2014 3:39 AM EDT
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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Tens of Thousands Sign Petition to Reunite Alaska With Russia
Topic: Russian History

According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, over *22,000 people have signed a petition calling for the secession of Alaska from the United States to seek reunification with Russia. *The Post-Standard reports this morning that the number of signatures has surpassed 28,000

The petition, available on the White House website, opened on March 21. If the motion attracts 100,000 signatures within a month, the Obama administration is obliged to respond according to its guidelines.

The petition, entitled "Alaska Back to Russia," encourages a vote on secession, citing historic travels of Russian explorers to Alaska, as far back as the crossing of native Siberians across the Bering land bridge over 10 thousand years ago.

The document tracks the settlement of the region by Russians, including Aleuts colonizing the Aleutian Archipelago, and the expedition of famed explorer Mikhail Gvozdez who first sited Alaska in 1732.

Alaska was a Russian colony until 1867 when Russian Emperor Alexander II sold it to the US for $7.2 million -$120 million in today's money after being adjusted for inflation.

In November 2012, a similar petition sought Texas' withdrawal from the US following the state's dissatisfaction with federal economic policy.

Signatories of that petition called for Texas to declare independence in order to maintain a balanced budget and "to protect its citizens' standard of living."

Similar motions were filed by residents of several other American states, including Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

Yet only Texas garnered enough signatures - over 125,000 - to be reviewed by the Obama administration, which turned the petition down saying that while "no one disputes that our country faces big challenges," Americans needed to work together "to find the best way to move forward."

Despite the value of healthy debate, "we don't let that debate tear us apart," the White House said. 
© RIA Novosti. 27 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:03 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2014 8:13 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Tsarskoye Selo to Restore Chinese Theatre
Topic: Tsarskoye Selo

More good news from Tsarskoye Selo this week! The palace museum preserve have announced plans to restore the Chinese Theatre.

The development of research, surveying and project documentation for the execution of works on the reconstruction of the Chinese Theatre will cost 13.6 million Rubles ($385,000 USD). The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve note that applications will be accepted until April 9, the procedure and evaluation of bids is scheduled for April 14, 2014.

The Chinese Theatre is currently in a terrible state of ruin and disrepair. The roof is completely lost, however, many unique historically elements have been partially preserved, including wall coverings, ceramic floors, and stairs with wrought iron railings.

Fragments of architraves, cornices and capitals (topmost member of a column) have also survived. The once beautiful auditorium and stage are completely lost. The theatre’s facade still retain remnants of metal awnings with wrought iron fragments and cast metal columns.

The scope of work includes research, compiling historical information and album iconography, measurements, technical examination of the building, the development of the concept of restoration.

Adaptation of buildings for modern use involves the creation of an open storage facility (to house furniture, porcelain, bronze items) with a multifunctional exhibition hall for performances, concerts, workshops and festivals. 


The Chinese Theatre (or Masonry Opera, as it was known in Catherine II’s time) is situated to the left of the entrance to the Alexander Park, in one of the squares of the New Garden. Originally it was proposed to build an open-air theatre on this site with turf benches for seating.

The plan for the theatre, which was begun in 1778, was drawn up by the architect Antonio Rinaldi, but construction was supervised by Ilya Neyelov, who made some alterations to the original concept. The building was entirely European in appearance. The theatre’s architectural forms and external decoration were relatively simple: white walls embellished with pilasters, a broad cornice and narrow door and window architraves. The cornice, probably destroyed during a nineteenth-century refurbishment, was multicoloured and had an elaborate design. Only the tall roof with corners upturned in a “Chinese” manner betrayed the architect’s efforts to create an exotic edifice.

The interior decoration of the Chinese Theatre was by contrast opulent. The central box, the proscenium arch and the ceiling painting were all adorned by figures of Chinese people, dragons, shields bearing signs of the zodiac and other elements of oriental décor. The interior was enlivened by little bells, beads and pendants turned from wood and brightly painted, silvered and gilded. The decorations for the boxes were made of painted cardboard mounted with shiny foil. The central imperial box and the two side ones intended for grand dukes and duchesses contained genuine works of Chinese art: decorative lacquer panels, porcelain and furniture. In 1779 the eminent decorative artist Joseph Christ painted the orange silk curtain with scenes and landscapes “in the Chinese taste”. 

The first performance was given in the Chinese Theatre on 13 June 1779. The composer Giovanni Paisiello presented his opera Demetrios for Catherine II.

In 1908–09, under the direction of the court architect Silvio Dagnini, the building was completely refurbished. The eighteenth-century stage was re-equipped with the latest technology to facilitate large opera and ballet productions. An improved heating system made it possible to use the summer theatre throughout the year. In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, the Chinese Theatre ceased working for a long time. Performances were resumed only in the summer of 1930.

On 15 September 1941, when the town of Pushkin was being shelled, this unique edifice was almost completely burnt out. - Source: Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 26 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:03 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 10 April 2017 3:59 AM EDT
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Nicholson to Speak on the Jewels of the Romanovs at The Museum Of Russian Icons
Topic: Events

Nicholas Nicholson, authority on Russian fine art (18th C. – 1918) Russian decorative arts, Russian imperial ephemera and Russian furniture, is the guest speaker at the members' and press opening of the upcoming exhibition, The Tsars' Cabinet

Nicholas Nicholson, authority on Russian fine art (18th C. – 1918) Russian decorative arts, Russian imperial ephemera and Russian furniture, is the guest speaker at the members’ and press opening of the upcoming exhibition, The Tsars’ Cabinet on loan from the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary. His lecture is entitled Jewels of the Romanovs. The event is held March 27, 6 p.m., at the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA.

Jewels and jewelled objects  played a major part both in Russian Imperial ceremonials, and in the private lives of the Romanov family. Nicholson examines the art of jewellery and jewellery collecting in Russia from Peter the Great's formation of the "Diamond Chamber" and the organization of the Crown Jewels, to the creations of the vast private collections of the Imperial family, including works by Russian jewellers.

A native New Yorker, Nicholas Nicholson first visited the Soviet Union in the 1980’s where he developed his interest in Russian fine and decorative arts. He studied art history and Slavic studies at Kenyon College and graduated in 1991.

Mr. Nicholson joined Christie's Continental Furniture and Decorative Arts department as a graduate trainee, and was involved in the cataloguing and sale of the property of Alice Tully, Bernheimer & Co., and Rudolf Nureyev, among others. He then joined Christie's New York Russian Department as “Specialist” in 1994 and sold important property from Landsell Christie, Jane Englehardt, and Frank Sinatra, as well as participating in the landmark sale of the Fabergé Imperial 25th Anniversary Clock.

Mr. Nicholson left Christie's to become the American Curator of Jewels of the Romanovs; Treasures from the Russian Imperial Court an exhibition of works from five Russian lending institutions, including a selection of the Imperial Crown Jewels from the State Diamond Fund of the Russian Federation. The exhibition toured the US for two years, during which time the expert became a popular lecturer on Russian topics. In 1999, Mr. Nicholson joined an internet-based art location and advisory services and in 2008 started his own firm, Nicholson Art Advisory.

Mr. Nicholson has been an expert for online auction house Auctionata since 2013, and continues to do appraisals, research, and advisory work for individuals and institutions ranging from the Metropolitan Museum to the Russian Orthodox Church. While Mr. Nicholson is considered an expert on decorative objects from the "almaznii vek" or the Russian "Diamond Age" (1780-1810), his interests and expertise are broad and cover such diverse areas as French furniture, porcelain, Tiffany silver and 20th century jewellery; he is also a published novelist and translator.

The Museum of Russian Icons collection of more than 700 Russian icons and artifacts is the largest of its kind in North America, and one of the largest private collections outside Russia. Spanning six centuries, the compendium includes important historical paintings dating from the earliest periods of icon “writing” to the present. The Museum was founded in 2006 as a non-profit educational institution by Massachusetts industrialist, philanthropist and art collector, Gordon B. Lankton.

There is a fee for the lecture and advance registration recommended: Tickets: $7 for members, $10 for non-members. Advance ticket purchase with credit card is recommended at (978) 598-5000.

Regular Museum Admission: $7 for members, $5 for seniors (59 and over),  $2 for students (with ID) & children (3-17), children under 3 free.

The Museum of Russian Icons is located at 203 Union Street, Clinton, MA. 
© Museum of Russian Icons. 26 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:00 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 26 March 2014 9:00 AM EDT
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Desolate Temples: How to Save Russian Churches
Topic: Russian Church

Reconstruction of the Holy Protection Cathedral at the Martha and Mary Convent in 2008. The cathedral has been completely restored in Moscow
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the March 25th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Daria Alyukova, owns the copyright of the article presented below.

Hundreds of Russian churches are now spending their last days of a centuries-old history. RBTH reports on the difficulties facing restorers of Russian churches.

Moscow is famous for its abundance of Orthodox cathedrals and churches, built in a whole variety of styles during completely different historical periods. However, an inhabitant of pre-revolutionary Russia would gaze up at these cathedrals with tears in his eyes – before 1917, in central Moscow alone, there were about 850 functioning churches. By 1991, after 70 years of Soviet power, there were fewer than 200 churches in the whole city. Churches were either destroyed completely or converted into shops, planetariums, cinemas and warehouses.

The religion which we have not lost

The Bolsheviks fought the Orthodox Church which had unified Russians in an ideological way. But churches are not only religious buildings. They are also outstanding monuments of architecture and art. As Bill Murray once said in an interview to Ogonyok magazine: "War destroys people, but they are born again. But if you destroy their art, then you destroy their souls."

The resurrection of the Russian church began in 1988, when Orthodox Christians celebrated the one thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of Russia. The restoration of destroyed cathedrals is actually a lengthy process. First, you must find out who actually owns the building: the local rural district or the eparchy.

After that you have to obtain the blessing of the priest and to ensure support from the eparchy: until the church opens a parish, the eparchy will not be able to help restore the cathedral. Besides this, to open a parish you must gather a group of at least 20 people. Neither the state nor the Russian Orthodox Church takes on obligations for the restoration of churches and the opening of parishes – all of this is up to the faithful and enthusiastic local historians.

The charity organisation 'Selskaya Serkov' (Village Church) saves dying rural cathedrals: members of this organisation remove trees from the roofs; they clear broken bricks from the building, and conduct accident prevention work. This organisation exists on charitable donations and subsidies.

"During the last 20 years we have conducted a full restoration process in four churches, and accident prevention work in 12 churches, and our hands have touched more than 50 churches,” says Svetlana Melnikova, director of Selskaya Serkov.

“Sometimes while driving through the Tver region I look around and my heart bleeds at the sight of ruined and half destroyed churches. Even though nobody asks us to, we still stop and try to clean the cathedral of all the trees and grass. Often we volunteer to mow cow parsnip, which gradually destroys buildings. And it needs to be mowed three times during the summer! We receive a great amount of letters from all over Russia, many of which are from young people, saying 'help us save this beauty! Help the church!'"

"War destroys people, but they are born again. But if you destroy their art, then you destroy their souls."
Orthodoxy without a mask

In 1961, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, which was built in the18th century in Malye Vsegodichy in the Vladimir region, was targeted by thieves.

The criminals looked for valuables and dug up graves. A few years ago, at the initiative of Alexei Strizhov, a Muscovite, local villagers decided to rebuild the cathedral. The parish includes 15 whole villages which make up the district. However, only some 30-40 people attend services and 10 are involved in the church restoration process. "I believe that there aren’t any actual Orthodox people left, there are only people with Orthodox masks on," says Strizhov.

"Everybody is busy baptizing their children, because they want to be 'good', but in reality their actions differ from this intention. Even when they come to help build and restore churches, people often just hang out and have drinks, instead of helping to build."
Strizhov said that there are now 170,000 people, including 130,000 adults in the area where he has been living since moving from Moscow. If all these people chipped in and donated $100, then "each month we would be able to restore one cathedral in our district".

The restoration process at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin is going very slowly. Five million rubles are needed to reconstruct the church, and Strizhov has only collected 240,000 now, and 150,000 rubles in the past. "Right now the main thing is to stop the destruction of the church," he said.

The destruction of churches in Russia is a real cultural catastrophe. However, many young volunteers have recently begun helping to restore the buildings. They, along with history and architecture enthusiasts offer hope for the best. 
© Daria Alyukova @ Russia Beyond the Headlines. 26 March, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:00 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 26 March 2014 6:31 AM EDT
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