PHOTO: copy of the Old Testament with personal notes made by Emperor Nicholas II. On the right, is a small casket containing a milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich
Tucked away in the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Zavelichye (Pskov), is a tiny little known museum. The museum was created by Archpriest Oleg Teor (born 1944), who over the years has collected and preserved numerous items and documents of historic value and significance of the diocese.
The museum’s most interesting item is a copy of the Old Testament belonging to Emperor Nicholas II, found on the Imperial Train in March 1917, which includes notes made in the margins, written in pencil. The sacred text lies in a special wooden box under glass. Sitting next to it, is a small casket containing a milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich.
Recall that it was on on the night of 15th (O.S. 2nd March 1917, in a wagon of the Imperial train, stationed in the ancient Russian city of Pskov, Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, in the forty eighth year of his life and the twenty third of his reign, surrendered the crown that his forebears had held since 1613.
PHOTO: Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Zavelichye (Pskov)
How did the sacred text end up in Pskov?
The Church of St. Alexander Nevsky was built in 1907-1908, for the 96th Omsk Regiment. The church was closed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In 1992, it was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Following an extensive restoration, the church was reconsecrated on 12th June 1995, new bells were consecrated on 2nd December 2008, marking the 100th anniversary of the church.
There are several theories among the parishioners, as to how the copy of the Old Testament ended up in Church of St. Alexander Nevsky. Some say that the Old Testament was donated to the church by an elderly woman from Pskov, while others claim that the donor was a man who wished to remain anonymous. Allegedly, he went into the church, placed the Bible on the table and, saying that it belonged to the Tsar, disappeared in an unknown direction. The most intriguing theory, however, the book was miraculously found in a looted imperial train car and passed to the woman for safekeeping from relatives.
According to Archpriest Oleg Teor, however, the Old Testament was given to him by the nephew of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, who later took the clergy. “I know this man very well, and while still a boy, he came to visit his uncle and asked about the book. His uncle replied that it belonged to Tsar Nicholas II. Either the Emperor himself, who prior to his abdication was on the Imperial Train, or one of his aides handed the book to a relative of his uncle with the words “take it and safeguard it.” The uncle then gave the sacred text to his nephew, who some years later gave me the copy of the Old Testament repeating the words of his uncle “take it and safeguard it“. . .
The Old Testament contains two notes in the margins inscribed in a “sharp-edged graphite pencil” on pages 220 and 237. In addition, it contains many underlined passages. Perhaps the Tsar looked for answers to many of his questions in the Holy Scriptures? Perhaps the Old Testament, helped the Tsar put his thoughts and feelings in order and make the difficult decision to abdicate?
PHOTO: Archpriest Oleg Teor shows the sacred text, which lies in a special wooden box under glass
In February 1997, Archpriest Oleg Teor met with Alexander Bogdanov, a forensic expert of the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Pskov Region, who was instructed to conduct an examination of the Old Testament, and establish whether the notes were indeed made by Nicholas II just before that fateful night in Pskov.
Bogdanov went to the State archives in Moscow, where he sorted through and examined Nicholas II’s documents, including the emperor’s notes, a notebook for playing dominoes and cards, as well as letters and diaries. Many of the documents contained brief alphabetic and digital notes made with a graphite pencil… the same type of pencil used in the margins of the Old Testament.
Bogdanov examined each document meticulously, then made copies with the use of a digital camera. He then took these documents back to the forensic center for further examination. But this was only the beginning of a great work that lasted several months. At the second stage, Valery Ivanov, a leading specialist in the field of handwriting, joined Bogdanov.
“Now the criminalists had to examine and compate the handwriting of the pencil notes found in the margins of the Bible with the handwriting of Emperor Nicholas II,” recalls Yuri Yashin, a colleague of Bogdanov and Ivanov, who oversaw the examination. To do this, it was necessary to identify a certain set of general and particular features of handwriting. As a result of the handwriting examination, a set of matching general and particular features was established.
Researchers of the Pskov State Historical and Architectural Museum-Reserve, who examined the book dated it to the 1870s 1890s. The sacred text shows signs of repairs of the book, probably made in the 20th century by an amateur bookbinder. Putting all the pieces of the puzzle into a single picture, Alexander Bogdanov and Valery Ivanov and their team of forensic experts came to a categorically positive conclusion. “The two handwritten texts found on pages 220 and 237, of the Old Testament were executed by the All-Russian Autocrat Emperor Nicholas II”.
PHOTO: the Old Testament which belonged to Emperor Nicholas II, is today preserved in a special wooden box under glass in the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Zavelichye (Pskov)
NOTE: There remains some speculation that it is highly unlikely that the Emperor himself, of his own free will, parted with his personal Bible. Based on the inventory of icons, shrines and spiritual books left after the regicide, it is clear that the Imperial Family treasured such books and carried them everywhere with them.
Known, for example, is a Bible belonging to Nicholas II, which was presented to him by his mother – Empress Maria Feodorovna, when he was Tsesarevich. It was this Bible that accompanied the Tsar, first to Tobolsk, and then to Ekaterinburg. Following the regicide, it was discovered by the Whites in the deserted Ipatiev House, and then, among with other personal items which belonged to the Imperial family, the Bible was given to the Emperor’s sister, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, who later donated it to the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Job in Uccle, Brussels.
The milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich
The milk tooth of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich was first kept in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, where Nicholas II and his family lived until they moved to Tsarskoye Selo in 1905, then a small apartment in France and, finally, Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Saint-Louis, France [just one kilometer from the Swiss border].
The milk tooth of the innocently murdered Tsesarevich was carefully kept by his nurse-nanny Alexandra Alexandrovna Tegleva [wife of the Imperial children’s tutor Pierre Gilliard]. Both Tegleva and Gilliard accompanied the Imperial family into exile to Tobolsk in August 1917.
When the Empress was transferred to Ekaterinburg in April 1918, she passed her jewellery to the nanny and Alexei’s three milk teeth.
Having miraculously escaped execution, Alexandra Teglina fled Bolshevik Russia, eventually settling in Switzerland. Until her death on 21st March 1955, she carefully kept the precious box with the gifts of the Empress. After her death, her nephew gave the casket containing the Tsesarevich’s milk teeth to the Church of St. Nicholas in Saint-Louis.
The rector of the French parish of St. Nicholas ordered three icons of the Holy Royal Martyrs with three absolutely identical reliquaries for each tooth. A request was made by a member of the Russian clergy, who asked that one of these icons be sent to Russia, so that as many Orthodox as possible could see it.
One of these icons was given to the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg, built on the site of the Ipatiev House, where Nicholas II and his family met their death and martyrdom on 17th July 1918.
Another of these icons was given to Archpriest Oleg Teor by his friend the rector of the Orthodox church in Saint-Louis Vladimir Shibaev. According to Father Oleg, Father Vladimir requested that the milk tooth of the murdered Tsesarevich should be “returned home to Russia“.
To learn more about this sacred text and the Tsar’s alleged abdication, please refer to pages 62-83 of my book Nicholas II: Russia’s Last Orthodox Christian Monarch (2022), available from AMAZON in paperback and eBook editions.
© Paul Gilbert. 10 August 2022