PHOTO: the baptism of Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich [future Tsesarevich and Emperor] on 2nd June (O.S. 20th May) 1868, by Mihály Zichy (1827-1906). The watercolour depicts four baptismal scenes, and two of them show Alexander II holding his grandson in his arms.
Two weeks after his birth, on 19th (O.S. 6th) May 1868, His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich was baptised in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo. The baptism was performed by the Imperial family’s confessor Protopresbyter Vasily Bazhanov (1800-1883).
The infant’s grandfather Emperor Alexander II, took a very active role in this historic ceremony. He clearly understood that not only was this his first grandson, but also that a future Emperor was being baptised. It is noteworthy that during the baptism, both Alexander II and his son, Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich [future Alexander III], acted as assistants to the lady of state. The fact that the father, breaking tradition, took an active part in the baptism, apparently, was due to its historic significance. Two emperors, current and future, held their successor in their arms, strengthening the foundation of the infant’s legitimacy.
As for the mother [future Empress Maria Feodorovna], she did not have the right to be present at the baptism of her baby at all [in accordance with a tradition that originates in the Old Testament]. However, even if Maria Fedorovna wanted to break the custom, she could not do so, due to the fact that her doctors advised her not to walk following the birth of her son, and instructed her to rest on that eventful the day. 
It was Alexander II and Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, who carried the baby to the font for baptism. In addition, Nicholas Alexandrovich’s godparents, his Danish grandmother and uncle, Queen Louise and Crown Prince Friedrich took part.
Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich described the day’s events as follows: “The entrance was magnificent, and there were a lot of people in the palace and also in the garden. The little one was transported in a golden carriage with much pomp and ceremony, accompanied by an escort on horseback. During the ceremonial procession through the halls of the Grand Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, the newborn was carried to the palace church by the lady of state Princess [Alexandra Aleekseevna] Kurakina (1840-1919), supported on the one side by the State Chancellor Prince [Alexander Mikhailovich] Gorchakov (1798-1883), and on the other by Field Marshal Prince Alexander [Ivanovich] Baryatinsky (1815-1879) – both old and lame, but they endured excellently and helped as much as they could. The field marshal walks very decently, although with a cane. Tsarskoye Selo was unrecognizable that day; the streets were full of people and carriages, the whole city is celebrating. At 5 o’clock, a large banquet was held in the Great Hall, which was lit splendidly by the sun. It’s been a very tiring day, and poor Mama [Empress Maria Alexandrovna] is very tired. After the baptism, the entire family gathered at my place [the Alexander Palace] to congratulate Minnie [Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna], and all little ones were there too. An excellent breakfast was served, and then everyone went home.”
Nearly 13 years later, in March 1881, Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich became the Heir Tsesarevich, and in October 1894, he became Russia’s last Emperor and Tsar.
 According to Orthodox tradition at that time, the father was required to leave the church at the time of the baptism of his child, giving way to the godfather. Emperor Nicholas II was not in the church when his son Alexei was baptised in August 1904.
 Zimin, Igor Viktorovich. Children’s world of imperial residences. Life of monarchs and their environment. Baptism of children. 2010
© Paul Gilbert. 2 June 2022