Witches had been burned at the stake in Medieval Russia, as they were throughout Europe. However by the 18th century the occult had become fashionable and spiritualist groups were common throughout Russia. Mediums and secretive societies were particularly popular during the reign of Catherine the Great. Occultists like Cagliostro ultimately ran afoul of the Empress, leading Catherine to author plays condemning the occult. But such was not the case by the end of the Romanov dynasty, when occultists such as Dr. Philippe and Rasputin wielded enormous influence. Nineteenth century literary figure such as Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoevsky attended séances, while Pushkin shared his own family's belief in ghosts. There was even an occult newsletter called The Rebus that was published for over 40 years.
In The Occult in Tsarist Russia, author Thomas E. Berry offers a fascinating historical expose of this widespread and somewhat forgotten phenomenon; even providing some insight into how the occult might have ultimately influenced the decline of the Tsarist era.
Dr. Thomas E. Berry is a retired Professor of Russian language and literature who lectures in the Odssey Program of Johns Hopkins University, the Smithsonian Institution and the Russian Cultural Center of the Russian Embassy, Washington DC. He was granted a "Gramota," an award for service started by Catherine the Great, by the Russian Government for promoting relations between the US and Russia. He has lectured on many cruise lines and is the author of numerous books, including Memoirs of the Pages to the Tsars (translated and edited by Dr. Berry).
Cossack Community Expands in Australia Topic: Cossacks
A group of Russian Cossacks announced Monday the creation of an Australian branch and four new traditional units there.
A Siberian group of Cossacks, the Zabaikalsky Cossack Host Association, said that the decision to expand the organization was made following a request from Australia-based descendants of the Cossacks who emigrated after the 1917 Russian revolution.
The request was submitted by Australian Cossack ataman Simeon Boikov in light of “the growing number of Cossacks in Australia,” a spokesperson for the organization told RIA Novosti.
Four Australian “stanitsas,” historically villages inside a Cossack host, as a territory of Cossack settlements was known in imperial Russia, will be established in Melbourne, Geelong, Dandenong and on the island of Tasmania.
The first and only Cossack “stanitsa” in Australia was established as a cultural and historic organization in June 2012 in the town of Cabramatta near Sydney.
The local Cossack diaspora then compiled 152 people, some of whom have voiced their intention to move to Siberia’s Zabaikalsky Krai, the Cossack association said.
The Cossacks, who served as a special police force in tsarist Russia, are remembered for their role in fighting against the revolutionary side in the 1917 uprising against the tsar. Many of them fled abroad following the Bolshevik revolution.
Monday’s announcement came amid an ongoing revival of Cossack culture in Russia, though critics have questioned the authenticity of some self-proclaimed Cossacks.
Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St Petersburg Celebrates 300th Anniversary Topic: Russian Church
On April 5, 1713, in St. Petersburg, in the presence of Peter I, the wooden Church of the Annunciation was consecrated. This day is considered the official founding date of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra.
According to legend, Peter I, surveying in 1710 the neighborhood of St. Petersburg, took notice of the place where, it is believed that on July 15, 1240, Prince Alexander scored a famous victory over the combined forces of the Swedes, Norwegians and Finns led by Birger Jarl. This important skirmish became known as the Battle of the Neva, for which Prince Alexander became known as Alexander Nevsky. Peter I ordered that a monastery in honor of the Holy Trinity and St. Alexander Nevsky be built at this site.
In 1714, monastic cells were built here and monastic communal life started. In 1720 under the monastery was opened a printing house, and later – the Theological Academy, which still operates. In 1722, in accordance with the project of Domenico Trezzini the wooden Church of the Annunciation was replaced by the Church of the Annunciation of the Holy Mary – the oldest church of St. Petersburg. On September 10, 1724, the relics of St. Alexander Nevsky were transferred here from Bogolyubski Nativity Monastery in Vladimir. Here they had stayed until 1790, and then were moved to the new Holy Trinity Cathedral, where they remained until 1922.
Construction work at the monastery lasted almost until the end of the 18th century. Metropolitan House, House of Bishops, the new buildings were constructed. In 1776, under the direction of the architect I. E. Starov, started the creation works of a new monumental Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky Lavra. In addition to the Trinity Cathedral, Starov designed a round square at the entrance to the monastery, built the Gate Church, which completes the perspective of Nevsky Prospekt, the stone wall and two corner houses and building of the almshouses at the entrance to the square.
On December 29, 1797, Emperor Paul I ordered the Holy Synod to rename the Alexander Nevsky Monastery “into Lavra with the staff equal to the one of Kiev-Pechersk and Trinity St. Sergius.”
From the very beginning of St. Petersburg’s existence, Alexander Nevsky Lavra became the burial place for outstanding statesmen and public figures, representatives of art and culture. The ensemble of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra contains three cemeteries: Tikhvin, existing from 1823, Nikolsky, founded in 1861, and Lazarevskoye.
Numerous cultural figures were laid to rest at the monastery, including Alexander Suvorov, Mikhail Glinka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and many others.
After the October Revolution of 1917 the monastery was abolished and its church closed, and countless relics and works of art were transferred to the Russian Museum, State Hermitage Museum and other museums of St. Petersburg.
In 1957, Holy Trinity Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky Lavra was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church as a parish church. June 3, 1989, the cathedral received back the relics of St.. Alexander Nevsky. In 1987, St. Nicholas cemetery church opened. In the summer of 1995 Holy Spirit building was partially returned to the St. Petersburg diocese. The final transfer of all the Lavra buildings to the Diocese took place April 18, 2000.
According to the Russian tradition, each regiment of the imperial guards had its own cathedral. The Trinity Cathedral was the regimental church of the Izmailovsky regiment of Imperial guards, one of the oldest guards regiments in the Russian Army. Named after the village of Izmailovo, near Moscow, the Izmailovsky regiment moved to Saint Petersburg when the city was established as the Russian capital under Empress Anna Ioannovna (1693-1740).
During the reign of Emperor Nicholas I construction of a new church (replacing a wooden church built in 1754-56 damaged during a flood in 1824) began in May 1828, and the cathedral was consecrated in May 1835. The cathedral rises to a height of more than 80 meters, and dominates the skyline of the surrounding area. Memorial plaques to regimental officers killed in battle were mounted on the cathedral's wall. After the cathedral's opening, flags, keys from forts and other trophies that the regiment won in campaigns in 1854–1855 and 1877–1878 were also housed in the cathedral.
Fire engulfs the historic Trinity Cathedral in 2006
The Trinity Cathedral was renowned for its collection of icons. The main section of the cathedral housed the Nativity icon, while the southern section housed the Jesus Christ icon. Empress Elizabeth presented the church with the Beginning of Life Trinity icon in 1742. Other holy objects housed in the cathedral included a large ark made in the form of a cross in 1753 from silver, a large silver cross presented to the cathedral by Nicholas I in 1835, and two large Gospels in valuable bindings.
In 1922, most of the cathedral's valuables were looted, and the thievery continued for several more years until the cathedral was finally closed in 1938. There were rumors of plans to demolish the cathedral and use the remaining material for a district workers' theatre. However, the cathedral was transferred to the Soviet Ministry of Telecommunications, for which it became a warehouse. Only in 1990 did the cathedral return to the hands of the Russian Orthodox Church, when restoration began. By that time, the interior was largely bare, compared to the splendor and majesty of its pre-Revolutionary past.
On August 25, 2006, while under reconstruction, a fire started in which the central dome collapsed and one of four smaller cupolas surrounding it was also destroyed, there were no reports of injuries.
Firefighters battled to save the other three cupolas as emergency workers employees removed icons and other religious articles. A helicopter dumped water on the historic structure. About four hours after the blaze broke out; one of the three remaining cupolas had been damaged but that the fire was contained.
The blaze apparently started on scaffolding on the outside of the church, which was undergoing restoration. The most valuable icons and other items had been saved, and that structural damage beneath the roof area was minor.
Many of the cathedral's beautiful historic interiors have been restored
St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko pledged to restore the cathedral within the shortest time possible, pledging to allocate 30 million rubles ($1.12 million) this year on preparations to rebuild and restore the cathedral to its pre-Revolutionary splendor. Restoration was completed, and the cathedral reopened, in 2010. The cathedral can accommodate up to 3,000 people and has been declared a World Heritage Site.
The 400th Anniversary of the Romanovs Exhibition - Engineers Castle Topic: 400th Anniversary
This exhibition is dedicated to the significant event of the Russian history - the anniversary of the election of Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov as tsar, who was a founder of the new dynasty.
The last time that the anniversary of this historic event was marked was celebrated as a State holiday in 1913. After the October Revolution the significant event, that ended the epoch of the so-called Time of Troubles, as a rule, had been distorted or forgotten.
In 2013 the anniversary of the House of Romanov would once again be celebrated as a significant event in Russian history. The exposition includes about 150 paintings, sculptures, graphic works, applied arts works and coins from the collection of the Russian Museum's collection in St. Petersburg that are connected with the theme of the foundation of the new dynasty.
Among these works are the monumental canvas The Election of Mikhail Romanov as Tsar (1799)that was created by G.Ugryumov for the St. Michael's Castle; graphic works devoted to this event; paintings and sculpture portraits of members of Emperor's family by L.Karavak, G.Odolsky, F.Shubin, S.Torelli, S.Shchukin, G.Dow, M.Antokolsky and other artists of the 18th - beginning of 20th centuries.
Also on display at the exhibition is a working on-line catalogue which allows visitors an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Album of Drawings, created by the artists during the Sacred Coronation in 1896.
The exhibition runs until July 15th, 2013 at the Engineers Castle (St. Michael's Castle) in St. Petersburg.
Photo: Portrait of Tsesarevich Alexei (1911) by Sergei Yegornov
Mathilde Kschessinska Exhibition Opens in St. Petersburg Topic: Exhibitions
An exhibition dedicated to one of the most well-known dancers of the 19th century - the prominent Russian ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska (1872-1971) – has opened in St. Petersburg.
Specially for opening of the exposition the organizers have prepared a movie, in which an actress playing the ballerina communicate with visitors to the museum. She tells about the house and about Kschessinska's private life. Her mansion recognized as a unique monument of the modernist style period, was often visited by Feodor Chaliapin, Sergei Diaghilev, Carl Faberge and several Romanov grand dukes. The museum display cases are full of documents and photographs, which remained in Kschessinska’s house after her emigration to Paris.
A special place among them belongs to her love correspondence with the Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich (the future Emperor Nicholas II). However, it is very difficult to read what the ballerina wrote in these letters, because her handwriting was microscopic. Mathilde’s ballet dress and her home interior decorations recreate the atmosphere of that epoch.
The exhibition takes place in the State Museum of Political History of Russia (the former mansion of Mathilde Kschessinska), located at Ulitsa 2-4 Kuibisheva, St. Petersburg. The exhitibion runs until December 31st, 2013.
American Professor Awarded Commemorative Medal by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna Topic: Russian Imperial House
"The Anniversary of the Ending of the Time of Troubles" medal is awarded to Dr. Russell Martin by the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, Head of the Russian Imperial House.
Dr. Russell Martin, Westminster College professor of history, spent a week in Moscow during March and was awarded a medal by the Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria of Russia.
Martin attended "The Imperial House of Romanov: 400 Years of Service to Russia" conference. It was organized by the Russian Nobility Association and the Russian social organization "For Faith and Fatherland" at the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Foundation. The Grand Duchess attended the opening session of the conference and awarded Martin the new commemorative medal, "The Anniversary of the Ending of the Time of Troubles, 1613-2013."
"I was quite surprised to be given this medal and to have it pinned on me personally by Her Imperial Highness. I am deeply grateful to her," Martin said.
He also received copies of a book he translated titled By the Grace of God: The 400th Anniversary of the Ending of the Time of Troubles, The Reestablishment of the Russian State, and the Ascension of the House of Romanov (1613-2013).
"It was a great honor to work on the book, especially because the Grand Duchess is now presenting it as a gift to important figures in society and government that she meets during her tours of Russia and other places in connection with the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, which is being celebrated this year," Martin said.
Martin attended the official church celebration of the 400th anniversary of the House of Romanov, a patriarchal service held in the Dormiton Cathedral in the Kremlin, served not only by Patriarch Krill I of Moscow and all of Russia, but also by six other metropolitans and archbishops and more than two dozen priests and deacons.
"It was a majestic service - easily the most amazing church service I've ever attended - and made even more meaningful by the fact that the patriarch read off the names of all the tsars and emperors of the House of Romanov, offering prayers for the repose of their souls," Martin said.
That same afternoon, Martin presented a paper in Russian during the plenary session of the conference "Four Centuries of the House of Romanov, A Global Social-Cultural Perspective: A Historical, Documentary, and Biographical Discussion." The conference was held at the Russian State University of the Humanities (RGGU) in Moscow. Martin's paper examined the customs and practices of commemoration of the dead by the Romanov family before and after they became tsars in 1613.
"The evidence I examined, all from archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg, reveals how the dynasty was able to use remembrance of ancestors as a means for strengthening and solidifying their legitimacy as the new royal dynasty in Russia," Martin said.
After the plenary session concluded, Martin was interviewed for Voice of Russia, and then attended the first-ever presentation by the Grand Duchess of the new Romanov Prize at the Russian National Library. The prize is given to leading figures of Russian art and culture. Martin was also able to speak with the Grand Duchess about on-going projects he is working on for the Russian Imperial House and for its official website. Martin was previously awarded the Imperial Order of St. Anna, second class, by the Grand Duchess for his work on behalf of the House of Romanov.
While in Russia, Martin also spent the week conducting research for his upcoming book at the Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts. The book will examine the laws of succession from 1613 to the present.
Martin, who has been with Westminster since 1996, earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree and Ph.D. from Harvard University.
He appeared on A&E Biography in a broadcast on Ivan the Terrible as an expert on the controversial ruler. He is the co-founder of the Muscovite Biographical Database, a Russian-American computerized register based in Moscow of early modern Russian notables. The Neville Island, Pa., native is not only fluent in Russian, but also reads Old Church Slavonic/Russian, French, German, Latin, and Polish.
Romanov Women: Style and Character Topic: Exhibitions
An exhibition named Russian Empresses: Fashion and Style has opened at the Exhibition Hall of Federal State Archives in Moscow (4 April – 13 June). The exhibition coincides with the 400th anniversary of the House of the Romanovs. Visitors can see the outfits of the women from the Russian Imperial Court and also learn about their hobbies and favourite occupations that reveal those women’s rich inner world.
In the Romanovs’ anniversary year Russian museums have already offered over 20 exhibition projects dedicated to the Imperial family. Interest in this topic is natural but women on the Russian throne seem to raise much more excitement than their crown-bearing husbands. They determined the mood in the court and became fashion leaders in Russia. Looking at the outfits and personal effects of Russian czarinas we understand that what mattered was the nature and interests of each of them, rather than fashion. The display is arranged so as to give visitors an idea of the czarinas’ private lives, curator of the exhibition Sergey Balan said in his interview with The Voice of Russia.
“It is rather difficult to make an exhibition about women who were the wives of the country’s rulers. They had comfortable lives, though they did charity of course. For example, not a single dress remained after the death of Empress Maria. One reason was that she was very economical like all Germans. Secondly, after Russia was efeated in the Crimean War and suffered considerable losses the empress donated all the money allocated for her clothes to the veterans of the Crimean War.”
The war was in the 1870s. Alexander II’s wife Empress Maria was practical and romantic at the same time. The exhibition displays her notebook with charades, poetic improvisations and epigrammes. Next to it visitors can see a pretty wreath of dry flowers from her album. All women from the royal house were interested in botanizing, Sergey Balan says.
“That was the influence of the epoch of sentimentalism and romanticism of the early 19th century. This is the showcase of Empress Elisabeth, the wife of Alexander I, who came to Russia when she was very young. She was an absolutely ethereal beauty, as French painter Vigee Le Brun used to describe her. Everyone called her Psyche. She was exquisite and sentimental. She loved reading ladies’ editions of books by Laurence Stern during her walks in the park. On the other hand, she was a friend of historian Karamzin who gave her a course of lectures in Russian history. A volume of one of his books published during his lifetime is displayed at the exhibition.”
One can see what Russian empresses enjoyed doing, with whom they corresponded and what drawings they made in their letters.
In her letter to Alexander III Empress Maria calls him ‘My dear Sasha”. She begins the letter in Russian and continues in French. Her favourite flowers were violas.
They decorate her letters and her hat. Next to them visitors can see her exquisite dresses. Maria was an empress to the marrow of her bones. She used to reprimand her daughter-in-law for avoiding ceremonies and receptions and disliking corsets.
However, the daughter-in-law adopted Empress Maria’s interest in photography, Sergey Balan says.
“Empress Maria was interested in photography and was a member of the European royal photographic society. She sent her photos to a photography magazine. Her interest in photography affected the last Russian Imperial family. All of them had cameras and put their photographs in albums. They were also interested in bicycles that appeared in the 20th century. It was a new fashion, a new style.”
There were many signs of new times. Empress Alexandra wrote in her diary that she played tennis between 3 and 5 p.m. Empress Alexandra was a beautiful woman, the mother of five children and the last Russian empress.
Romanov Dynasty Museum Theater Opened in Verkhnyaya Sinyachikha Topic: Exhibitions
For the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Romanovs’ House a unique cultural object dedicated to the imperial dynasty has been opened in the Sverdlovsk Region.
The opening ceremony of the permanent exposition in the Verkhnyaya Sinyachikha Museum of Local Lore took place last Friday. The exhibition is titled The Romanovs Princes – Alapaevsk Prisoners. It is designed like a theatrical stage with scenery in the form of ancient photos. The heroes of action are also photographs, which start moving thanks to mechanisms.
The Romanovs’ (Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, Princes Ioann, Konstantin and Igor Konstantinovich, along with Prince Vladimir Paley) were imprisoned at Alapaevsk in May-July, 1918, shortly before their murders. The Sverdlovsk government developed a plan of events timed to the 400th anniversary since restoration of the Russian statehood and historical heritage of the Romanovs’s House in the Urals.
The lives of the tsars and their subjects from 1855 to 1918, told through rare archival photographs.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty, and the world's fascination with Russia’s royal family and the lost world of Tsarist Russia has only increased. Now a new book, Twilight of the Romanovs: A Photographic Odyssey Across Imperial Russia, by historians Philipp Blom and Veronica Buckley, features the vast panorama of the final configuration of the Russian empire before and at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. The aim of its authors, was to find photos that had never been published before. The arresting photos taken between 1855 to 1918, were selected from "thousands and thousands" according to the authors, with some of the best images published in colour.
Large hard cover with 248 pages, 360 photographs, 114 in full colour.