PHOTO: Chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Staraya Russa
The Chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in Staraya Russa is inextricably linked with the Imperial Family, in particular, with Emperor Nicholas II, who travelled here in 1904 to bless troops of the Villmanstrand Infantry Regiment, before being sent to fight in the Russo-Japanese War.
Members of the Imperial Court often visited Staraya Russa, celebrated for its mineral springs used for baths, drinking, and inhalations, and medicinal silt mud of nearby lakes and artificial reservoirs.
In 2017, an unknown fact from the life of the last emperor of Russia, was discovered by the Novgorod ethnographer Leonid Kirillov. According to his research, it was on 14th March (O.S. 1 March) 1917, that Nicholas II spent a whole day at the station in Staraya Russa, visiting the station’s chapel. This was the last church in which the Tsar prayed before signing his abdication at Pskov on 15 March (O.S. 2 March) 1917. The last church in which he prayed as “Citizen Romanov” was the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin in Tobolsk.
On the morning of 13 March (O.S. 28 February) 1917, the Imperial Trains left the Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief at Mogilev The following day, the train on which the Emperor was returning to Tsarskoye Selo, was stopped at the Malaya Vishera station, and forced to reroute in order to avoid an encounter with a band of rebellious soldiers, to go in a roundabout way: travelling instead through Valdai and Staraya Russa to Pskov.
At the time, an eyewitness Alexander Rozbaum, wrote in the local newspaper about the Imperial Train stopping in Staraya Russa:
“The Tsar embarked from his carriage and walked along the platform for a long time. The day was calm and clear, the station was crowded with people. A group of nuns stood near the railway station chapel. The mood of the audience, was deeply sympathetic to the Tsar. People did not shout revolutionary slogans, but, taking off their caps, bowed to their sovereign. The Tsar stopped and talked with some of them and then, leaving his retinue outside the door, went to pray in the small station chapel. Who knows, perhaps it was at that very hour in the station chapel at Staraya Russa that he made the most important decision for himself – to relinquish power”.
The chapel was built in 1899, by the Ikolo-Kosinsky Monastery (closed in 1920) at the railway station with an additional house for the sisters. Both the train station and the Chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was completely destroyed during the Great Patriotic War (1941-44).
PHOTO: bust of Nicholas II by Belarusian sculptor Igor Golubev
In 2000, local entrepreneur Nikolai Shirokov at his own expense erected a new chapel, but at a different location – to the left of the station. Governor Andrei Nikitin supports the idea of restoring the chapel to its original, and is working with the regional Ministry of Transport in an effort to get the Russian Railways involved in the project.
In addition, Belarusian sculptor Igor Golubev has proposed to erect a bronze bust of Nicholas II at the Staraya Russa railway station in memory of the “last place where Nicholas II prayed before his abdication”.
© Paul Gilbert. 21 January 2021
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