Historic link between Nicholas II and St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York

PHOTO: St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral was built in the Moscow Baroque style in 1902

This month marks the 120th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City. The cathedral serves as the administrative center of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America, and houses the representation of the Moscow Patriarchate in the United States.

On 25th August 1899, a plot of land of about 700 m² was purchased on 97th Street, between Madison and 5th Avenue, on which it was planned to build a cathedral that could accommodate 900 worshipers, as well as premises for a Sunday school, festive meetings and an apartment for clergy.

The cathedral was constructed in the Moscow Baroque style by the architect Ivan Viktorovich Bergezen. In 1900, permission to raise funds for the construction of the church was issued by Emperor Nicholas II, who on his own behalf donated 7,500 gold rubles to the project.

PHOTO: the iconostasis of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral

The foundation stone of the church was laid by Bishop Tikhon, the head of the Russian Church in the Aleutian Islands and North America – the future Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Tikhon (1865-1925) on 22nd May 1901.

On 23rd November 1902, a consecration service, the first to be held in the completed church, was led by Bishop Tikhon. Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton, representing the Episcopal Church, participated in the service. The Russian Holy Synod elevated St. Nicholas Church to Cathedral status in December 1903, and the Diocesan Seat of North America was transferred from San Francisco to New York in 1905. Restoration work was carried out on the Cathedral between 1954 and 1960.

Today St. Nicholas Cathedral continues to serve the needs of the Russian Orthodox Church in this country as it has since its founding.

© Paul Gilbert. 4 May 2021

Memories of Nicholas and Alexandra’s love that have transcended time

PHOTO: aerial view of Schloss Wolfsgarten, near Darmstadt

Hidden away from the eyes of most visitors to Wolfgarten in Germany and the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, are two haunting mementoes etched into simple window panes of each of the two former royal residences. Despite revolution, two world wars and palace renovations, these glass windows with inscriptions written by Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna have miraculously survived to this day.

Wolfsgarten, Germany

Schloss Wolfsgarten is a former hunting seat of the ruling family of Hesse-Darmstadt, located in the German state of Hessen, situated 15 kilometers south of Frankfurt. The hunting lodge was established between 1722 and 1724 by Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1768, Wolfsgarten was abandoned until the 1830s when the grand ducal family began to restore and expand the property. From 1879, Wolfsgarten became a favourite country retreat for Grand Dukes Ludwig IV and his son Ernst Ludwig, brother of Princess Alix, the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

PHOTO: the years marking visits by Nicholas and Alexandra are etched in a window at Schloss Wolfsgarten

In November 1903 Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna visited the *divorced and not yet remarried Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig. It was on this occasion, that the couple updated the record of their visits to Wolfsgarten, by carving the year on a glass window, as they had done on prior visits in 1896 and 1899 respectively. The Imperial couple returned to Wolfsgarten in 1910.

*On 19th April 1894 Ernst Ludwig married his cousin Victoria Melita von Edinburgh, among the European royals and nobility in Coburg. Ernst and Victoria divorced on 21st November 1901. Victoria married Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich on 8th October 1905.

On 9th October 1937, Ernest Louis died after a long illness at Schloß Wolfsgarten. He received what amounted to a state funeral on 16 November 1937 and was buried next to his daughter, Elisabeth, in a new open air burial ground next to the New Mausoleum he had built in the Rosenhöhe park in Darmstadt.

PHOTO: contemporary view of the Winter Palace (State Hermitage Museum)

Winter Palace, St. Petersburg

From December 1895, Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, resided for periods during the winter in the Winter Palace. They extended and redesigned the rooms which had been prepared for Nicholas, as Tsesarevich two years earlier. The architect Alexander Krasovsky was commissioned to redecorate a suite of rooms in the northwest corner of the palace.

Following the events of Bloody Sunday in 1905, Nicholas II and his family abandoned the Winter Palace in favour of the more private Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. From this date until the fall of the monarchy, the Winter Palace was used only for formal state occasions.

PHOTO: Alexandra records a memory from March 1902 on a window in her Study

On 25th October 1917, following the Provisional Government’s arrest in the Small Dining Room of the Winter Palace, an eyewitness account records a systematic destruction of the Imperial apartments by the Bolsheviks. The only original interior to have survived to the present is Nicholas II’s Gothic Library. The remainder of the Imperial couple’s private apartments including the bulk of their contents have been lost.

One tiny memento, however, has survived. Hidden from view by a lace curtain in the former Study of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, a memory was recorded by Alexandra. On 7th March 1902, taking her diamond ring, she etched the following in one of the windows: “Nicky 1902 looking at the Hussars. 7 March”.

In 1926 the former living quarters of the Imperial couple were handed over to the State Hermitage Museum for use as exhibition halls. The same year the décor of the Study was destroyed: the yellow damask wall covering was removed and the vault painting with flowers and garlands was painted over (it has since been restored). The viewing platform in the corner was dismantled, from which the Imperial couple liked to look at the Neva River at different times of the year from “Alix’s window” as Nicholas II used to call it in his diary.

Today, Room 185 houses the exhibition dedicated to the work of the famous St Petersburg furniture maker Heinrich Gambs. On view here are pieces of furniture and objects of decorative and applied art executed in the Classicism style.

CLICK on the VIDEO below, which shows not only the former Study of Alexandra Feodorovna, but also the view from the window, which will give you a better perspective of where the engraved window is exactly:

© Paul Gilbert. 4 May 2021


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If you enjoy my articles, news stories and translations, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG

The fate of Nicholas II’s hunting lodge in the Caucasus

PHOTO: early 20th century postcard of Nicholas II’s hunting lodge in the Caucasus

The history of the village of Krasnaya Polyana is closely connected with the Romanovs. It was here, in 1864, that the Caucasian War ended. A victory parade and solemn prayer service was attended by the commander-in-chief of the Russian army, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich (1832-1909), who served for 20 years as the Governor General of Caucasus (1862–1882).

In 1898, a decision was made to rename the village of Krasnaya Polyana to the city of Romanovsk [named in honour of the Imperial Family]. After the construction of the highway from Adler [Sochi, Krasnodar Territory of Russia], the flat lands were divided into 300 sections, and the slopes of the mountains – into 70. It was at this time, that the development and settlement of Romanovsk began.

In 1902, on the advice of the mayor of St. Petersburg Daniil Vasilyevich Drachevsky (1858-1918), who owned an estate on the shores of the Black Sea and a dacha in the mountains of Krasnaya Polyana, Emperor Nicholas II leased a plot of land for 40 thousand rubles for a period of 15 years. The forests on the slope of Mount Achishkho were declared a protected area, and only members of the Imperial Family and senior government officials were permitted to hunt there.

PHOTO: Nicholas II’s hunting lodge was constructed in the traditional English style

A new hunting lodge for Nicholas II was constructed in the traditional English style. The three-storey lodge was completed in 1903, and contained 50 rooms. A telephone was installed in the lodge, which connected to the post and telegraph office and security. In addition to the main building, a huntsman’s house was built just below the main building, as well as a stone guardhouse and a protective wall. According to one source, the Emperor showed little interest in the project.

In September 1903, the hunting lodge received its first guests. It is known for certain that Nicholas II himself never visited it. However, the Grand Dukes Alexander (1866-1933) and Sergei Mikhailovich (1869-1918) frequently visited the hunting lodge. When members of the Imperial Family were not in residence, the hunting lodge was also open to tourists visiting the region. After the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the lodge was rarely visited by the grand dukes, all of whom had dedicated themselves to the war effort.

In 1920, Nicholas II’s hunting lodge was nationalized, and became the “property of the people”. Initially it housed a sanatorium for the Red Army.

During World War II, the building was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers. They were brought here for the health benefits of the mountain-sea climate of Krasnaya Polyana. By 1945, more than 120 doctors and nurses staffed the hospital.

PHOTO: the abandoned hunting lodge of Nicholas II, as it looked in the mid-1990s

In the post-war period, Joseph Stalin visited Krasnaya Polyana, visiting the former hunting lodge, which by that time had fallen into disrepair. In 1949, Stalin gave the order to restore the building, and to build a path connecting the lodge with the main building of the Red Army sanatorium.

In 1961, the house and the accompanying sanatorium buildings were transferred to the Central House of Sports of the Soviet Army. In 1963, construction began on the buildings of the Krasnaya Polyana military camp site, situated one kilometer from the former tsar’s hunting lodge. In 1965, the building officially became part of the Krasnaya Polyana camp site of the USSR Ministry of Defense.

In 1967, work began on the intensified modernization of the camp site, as a result of which an observation deck, a parking lot, a public toilet, and a restaurant were constructed. The hunting lodge itself became a 4-star hotel with a restaurant. Guest rooms were decorated with Persian carpets, crystal vases and porcelain. The rooms were equipped with modern bathrooms.

Until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the tsar’s hunting lodge was still in good condition. At the decisive stage of Perestroika, the building was transferred into the hands of an anonymous private individual.

PHOTO: the former hunting lodge of Nicholas II, as it looks today

In the first half of the 1990s, the building was privately owned by a legal entity registered in the Cayman Islands. The former hunting lodge itself was used as an ordinary hotel. In 1995, the building was abandoned, as was the restaurant, the latter of which had been very popular in the 1980s. Before abandoning the building, its owners stripped it of all its interior decoration, and also exposed the windows.

In 2008, the lodge fell into the possession of Elena Baturina, the wife of the mayor of Moscow, a billionaire according to Forbes. By 2011-2012, the former tsar’s hunting lodge had fallen into a terrible state of neglect and disrepair, the entrance to the building was completely exposed to the elements as well as vandalism.

In May 2013, work began on the reconstruction of the former lodge, with its completion scheduled by February 2014, for the opening of the Olympic Games in Sochi.

The former hunting lodge of Nicholas II in the village of Krasnaya Polyana did not open its doors to visitors during the Olympic Games. Instead, the building and the adjacent territory were purchased by a private individual. Sadly, almost nothing remained of the historic buildings former appearance, following the reconstruction. Entrance to the territory is now prohibited.

© Paul Gilbert. 1 May 2021


Dear Reader

If you enjoy my articles, news stories and translations, then please help support my research by making a donation in US or Canadian dollars to my project The Truth About Nicholas II – please note that donations can be made by GoFundMePayPal, credit cardpersonal check or money order. Thank you for your consideration – PG