PHOTO: the home church of the Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace in the 1930s
On 9th March (O.S. 24th February) 1897, the first liturgy was performed in the home church of the Alexander Palace. “We went to the service in the red corner living room, where the camp church was set up – it is very convenient and pleasant,” Nicholas II wrote in his diary that day.
Initially, a house church had not been built in the New Palace (as the Alexander Palace was called until 1856), Following the tragic death of his beloved daughter Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna (Adini) on 10th August (29th July) 1844, Emperor Nicholas I, ordered a small chapel (see photo below) to be organized in the western wing of the building, decorated in the Old Russian style.
Russian historian and author Igor Zimin describes the room: “there was a little door in the wall, leading to a tiny dark chapel lighted by hanging lamps, where the Empress [Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Nicholas I] was wont to pray.”
PHOTO: chapel in the west wing of the Alexander Palace [not survived] in the 1930s
Since the wife of Nicholas II, Alexandra Feodorovna, due to poor health, could not always attend the service in the church of the nearby Catherine Palace, the emperor decided to create a comfortable and simple house church in one of the ceremonial halls of the Alexander Palace: the Crimson Drawing Room was redesigned for these needs. The Travelling Iconostasis of Emperor Alexander I, made by Vasily Shebuev, was installed.
The Travelling Iconostasis of Emperor Alexander I was created for the emperor’s use during his travels. Very simple by imperial standards, it reflected simplicity, convenience and ease of use, and adaptable for moving from place to place. It could be quickly and easily disassembled, easily stowed in crates with all accessories and just as quickly reassembled. Nicholas II sometimes took this iconostasis with him on his travels.
PHOTO: Red and “Crimson” Drawing Rooms. Artist: Luigi Premazzi (1814-1891)
From the Collection of the State Hermitage Museum
In the photos, the iconostasis of Alexander I can be seen stretched across the center of the chapel. This screen followed the Emperor from Russia to Paris and back as part of the furnishing of Alexander’s travelling camp church. The iconostasis is now in the General Staff Building [part of the State Hermitage Museum] in St. Petersburg.
In addition, a small prayer room was installed for Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, where a lectern and a sofa were added for her convenience. The church was consecrated in honour of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky.
Divine liturgies were held here for more than 15 years, right up until 1913, when the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was consecrated in Tsarskoye Selo, which from then on served as the family church of Nicholas II and his family.
PHOTOS: View (above) of the Travelling Iconostasis of Emperor Alexander I. 1930s.
The iconostasis (below) is now in the General Staff Building in St. Petersburg. 1930s
On 12th August (O.S. 30th July) 1917, the last divine liturgy was held in the home church of the Alexander Palace. In his diary, Archpriest Alexander Belyaev recalled this day: “After arriving at the palace at 10 o’clock in the morning, we immediately went, under guard, straight to the church. The valet came from the former empress, bringing a small bunch of carnations and said: “Her Majesty asks that you put these flowers on the icon of the Znamensky Mother of God, which will be brought at two o’clock, into the palace church. These flowers are to remain on the icon during the moleben, and then returned to Her Majesty. She wishes to take them with her on her journey <…> The liturgy began at 11 o’clock. Somehow, I could not help but feel that this was the last Divine Liturgy to be served in the former Tsar’s dwelling . . .”,
The home church existed in the Alexander Palace for exactly 20 years. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45), its interiors were damaged, but the iconostasis had been evacuated and after the war it was transferred to the Central repository of museum funds of suburban palaces-museums. In 1956, it was transferred to the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. Today, it is exhibited in the former interiors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the General Staff Building, which is now a branch of the State Hermitage Museum.
PHOTO: the home church of the Imperial Family in the Alexander Palace is circled in RED
© Paul Gilbert. 26 February 2021
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