PHOTO: the author [Paul Gilbert] of this article praying at Ganina Yama. A wooden causeway has been built around the edge of the mine shaft, a tall Orthodox cross marks the edge of the mine shaft – visible as a depression in the ground – where the remains of Nicholas II and his family were first discarded by the regicides.
In the pre-dawn hours of 17th July 1918, a crime of the most heinous kind was committed in the basement of the Ipatiev House in the Ural city of Ekaterinburg. It was here that members of the Ural Soviet [Bolsheviks] murdered Russia’s last Tsar, his wife and their five children, as well as the family’s four faithful retainers. The regicide remains one of the darkest pages in 20th Russian history.
Following the murders, the regicides secretly transported their bodies to the abandoned Isetsky mine, located near the Four Brothers tract, situated four kilometres southeast of the village of Koptyaki, and some 15 km (10 miles) north of the Ural city, where their remains were subsequently thrown into a 9 ft. deep pit. The site is today known as Ganina Yama.
Fearing that the burial site was no longer a secret, the regicides returned to the site the night after the first burial, retrieved the bodies from the mine and transported them to a second burial site known as Porosyenkov Log, situated 3.5 km from the original site.
On 20th August 2000, Emperor Nicholas II and his family were glorified as passion bearers by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. On 23rd September 2000, during his visit to the Urals, Patriarch Alexei II (1929-2000) visited the Ganina Yama tract and, having blessed the establishment of the monastic monastery, put his signature on the master plan of the monastery. The first stone of the monastery was laid on 1st October 2000. On 27th December, the Holy Synod officially “blessed the opening of a monastery in the name of the Holy Royal Martyrs in the Ganina Yama tract”. On 28th December, the all-male Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs was established here.
PHOTO: the author [Paul Gilbert] standing next to the monument to Emperor Nicholas II, installed on the grounds of Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs on 19th May 2008, the Sovereign’s birthday
Following their canonization, the Russian Orthodox Church declared the Ganina Yama site holy ground. The grounds were therefore dedicated to honour the family’s humility during their house arrest and their status as political martyrs. With financial assistance from the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company, the Church constructed the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at the site in 2001. A tall cross marks the edge of the mine shaft, visible as a depression in the ground.
Seven wooden chapels were later constructed at the site, one for each member of the Imperial Family. Each chapel is dedicated to a particular saint or relic. The katholikon [the main church of the monastery] is dedicated to the Theotokos Derzhavnaya [Reigning Icon of the Mother of God], an icon particularly revered by the monarchists.
Since the opening of the monastery, Ganina Yama has become not only a place of spiritual pilgrimage, but also a historical and educational center. Up to 10 thousand pilgrims visit Ganina Yama each month. They come mostly from the Ural region, however, increasing numbers from across Russia, and foreign countries as far away as the United States and Australia make the journey to honour the memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs. Most of the pilgrims are Orthodox Christians and monarchists, but Ganina Yama also welcomes the “curious” visitor, those who seek to learn about Russia’s last Tsar and his family. In July of each year, the number of pilgrims swells by the tens of thousands for the events marking Tsar’s Days.
A wooden causeway surrounds the abandoned mine shaft – visible as a depression in the ground – where the remains of Nicholas II and his family were first discarded after their brutal murder. The area is filled with fragrant white lilies. In 2018, seven portraits [colourized by Olga Shirnina aka KLIMBIM] of Nicholas II and his family were installed around the causeway.
On the night of 16/17 July, a night-long service is held at the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg ]built on the site of the Ipatiev House]. At daybreak, tens of thousands of pilgrims take part in a 21 km [13 miles] Cross procession [a four hour journey on foot] from the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg to the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs in Ganina Yama, where a Divine Liturgy is performed at the edge of the abandoned pit. In 2018, an estimated 100,000 people from across Russia and around the world took part.
Once a bastion of Bolshevism, Ekaterinburg has slowly shed its status as the “capital of atheism”. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Urals has experienced a revival of faith, with Ekaterinburg at the into the center of Orthodox Russia in the Urals. Ekaterinburg has done more to honour Nicholas II and his family than any other city in Russia.
For those who wish to honour the memory of Russia’s last Emperor and his family, a pilgrimage “for reflection and prayer” to the Urals is a once in a lifetime experience. If you are planning to visit Ekaterinburg during Tsar’s Days, I highly recommend visits to the places which memorialize the last days of Emperor Nicholas II and his family – in particular the Church on the Blood, Ganina Yama and Porosenkov Log.
Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!
Святы Царственные мученики, молите Бога о нас!
The Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama is open daily from 09:00 to 18:00. Admission is FREE, although a donation box is located in the welcome center, near the entrance.
Visitors should allow approximately 3-4 hours for their visit. The monastery also has a museum and exhibition center – located on the ground floor of the Church of the Reigning Mother of God – which hosts numerous temporary exhibitions throughout the year.
In addition, the monastery offers a small cafe with refreshments and snacks; a gift shop, which offers books, icons and souvenirs, all the proceeds of which help with the maintenance and upkeep of the monastery.
On the weekends believers can attend the evening service on Saturdays, and the Divine Liturgy on Sundays. When visiting the monastery and churches, visitors are required to adhere to the Orthodox dress code: for instance, women must cover their heads – scarves and long aprons are available for tourists at the entrance to the monastery.
In addition, the monastery offers accomodation at the Diocesan Pilgrimage Center, providing pilgrims with a place to pray, rest and eat. The hotel has standard rooms, a conference room, a children’s room and a prayer room, Wi-Fi access and parking.
 Despite their official designation as “passion-bearers” in 2000, by the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, Emperor Nicholas II and his family are referred to as “martyrs” in Church publications, icons, and in popular veneration by the people.
 Emperor Nicholas II and his family were canonized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in 1981, however, it was not until 2000, that they were canonized by the Moscow Patriachate.
 It has come to this author’s attention, that the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama is sometimes referred to by some Westerners as “Romanovland“, a disrespectful comparison to an amusement park.
 White lilies are considered to be a representation of Christ’s purity and divinity, also symbolizing resurrection.
© Paul Gilbert. 11 April 2022