Faithful to the End: Anna Stepanovna Demidova (1878-1918)

PHOTO: Anna Stepanovna Demidova (1878-1918)

On 27th (O.S. 14th) January 1878, Anna Stepanovna Demidova, a loyal subject of the Russian Imperial family was born into the bourgeois family of Stepan Aleksandrovich Demidov and Maria Efimovna Demidova in Cherepovets, situated in Vologda Oblast, Russia.

Her father was a well-off merchant in Cherepovets, where he also served on the Cherepovets City Duma. The Demidov family made a significant contribution to the development of Cherepovets, its improvement and prosperity.

Anna had four brothers Alexander, Nikolai, Stepan, Sergei and two sisters Apollinaria and Elizabeth, all of whom received an excellent education. For the first two years, Anna Demidova studied at the John the Baptist Leushinsky Monastery, founded by the famous Abbess Taisia, the spiritual daughter of St. Righteous John of Kronstadt.

After graduating from this preparatory school, Anna continued her education for the next six years at the Teachers’ School for Women, a higher educational institution at the same monastery. Abbess Taisia ​​prepared a curriculum for her pupils, which included such subjects as religion, Russian literature, foreign languages, arithmetic, history, natural science, and music. In addition, lessons were conducted in painting, needlework and icon writing [in the Orthodox Christian tradition, icons are said to be written, not painted].

The abbess paid great attention to instilling high moral qualities in her students: deep faith, diligence, striving for good, a sense of responsibility and duty. Her methods prepared Anna’s for her future. After graduating with honours in 1898, Anna Demidova received a certificate of home teacher.

PHOTO: record of the birth of Anna Demidova in the birth register of the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Cherepovets

It should also be mentioned, that it was at this school that Anna’s handicrafts earned her first prize at exhibitions. According to a family legend, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna became interested in Anna’s needlework during a visit to the exhibition of handicrafts at the Leushinsky Monastery in Yaroslavl. The Empress was completely delighted with Anna’s handicradts, since she herself was engaged in needlework. Wishing to meet her, the Empress, after a conversation with the Anna, offered her a place of chambermaid at her Court at Tsarskoye Selo. Officially, Anna Demidova was enrolled on 13th January 1898 and “… assigned to the rooms of H.I.M. Sovereign Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.”

In accordance with her program for the following day, the Empress herself made a list of things which she planned to wear the next day. The chambermaids carefully prepared her clothes. Anna’s duties as chambermaid included caring for the Empress’s wardrobe, which consisted of several dozen oak and ash wardrobes, filled with dresses and accessories. Anna even had an electric iron at her disposal – one of the technical wonders of the time!

In 1901, Anna received an offer to teach embroidery, knitting and other needlework to her four daughters: Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.

The Empress selected Anna not only for her inherent skill, but also for her high moral qualities. She believed that “above all knowledge a person should have a clear conscience and live a righteous life.” Anna fully met these requirements. In addition, Anna was educated, elegant, knew several foreign languages, and played the piano.

Anna Demidova or “Nyuta,” as the Imperial Family called her, was described in adulthood as a “tall, statuesque blonde” and “of a singularly timid and shrinking disposition.” For her many years of devoted service to the Imperial Family, Anna Demidova was granted hereditary nobility.

Those employed at the Alexander Palace all received a rather decent salary. In addition, they could invite family and relatives to visit, who were accommodated in the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum nearby. This allowed Anna’s sister Elizabeth – for whom she was especially close – to live near her for several years. Despite the many privileges enjoyed by the servants of the Imperial Court, there was one – an essential condition – that all chambermaids had to remain maidens [unmarried].

Thus, the Imperial Family became Anna’s family. “Nyuta” was devoted to all the Tsar’s children, but she had special, maternal feelings for the youngest, Grand Duchess Anastasia, and she reciprocated her. There is even a postcard with the image of the Mother of God that Anastasia sent her from Paris in 1906: “Dear Nyuta! I congratulate you on the holidays and wish you to spend as much fun as possible. Although I write a little late, it’s better late than never.”

PHOTO: Anna Stepanovna Demidova (1878-1918)

Following the February revolutionary events of 1917, before going into exile with the Imperial Family, Anna sent some of her personal belongings to her sister Elizabeth in Cherepovets, which included albums with photographs that are to today kept in the personal archive of her grand-niece Nina Alekseevna Demidova.

In August 1917, Anna along with other faithful servants, followed the Tsar and his family into exile to Tobolsk, and then to Ekaterinburg. It was during this time, that the chambermaid began to keep a diary:

“Thursday, 3rd August. After a long while, I slept well for the first time. For the last two weeks, when I learned that they were going to send us “somewhere”, I lived nervously, slept little, worried about the unknown and where they would send us. It was a difficult time. Only on our way did we learn that we are “on our way to the far north”, and to think – “Tobolsk”, my heart aches. Today, at one of the stops (of course, we did not get off), someone at the station asked our carriage conductor: “Who is travelling?” The conductor replied gravely: “American Mission”, as the train read “American Red Cross Mission”. “And why is nobody getting off the train?” “Because everyone is very sick and barely alive.”

Anna was bitter to see what awaited them at their place of exile. “Oh God! The house is almost empty, no chairs, tables, washbasins, no bed, etc. The window frames have not been exposed since summer and are dirty, there is rubbish everywhere, the walls are filthy. In short, the house was not prepared at all. Now the cleaning is underway … “

In Ekaterinburg, “Nyuta” helped the Empress send letters to her family and friends and taught the grand duchesses needlework, which boiled down to darning and mending bed linen.

On 15th January 1918, Anna Demidova officially ceased to be listed in the service of the Imperial Family. She repeatedly had the opportunity to leave the Imperial Family, but each time, neglecting her well-being, Anna remained faithful to her human and Christian duty. However, she was not alien to the feeling of fear. Once she confessed to the English tutor Charles Sydney Gibbes: “I am so afraid of the Bolsheviks, Mr. Gibbes. I don’t know what they will do with us.”

The last months and days of Anna Demidova passed in an atmosphere of incessant humiliation and bullying. On the night of 16/17 July 1918, Anna Stepanovna Demidova was shot in the basement of the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg together with the Imperial Family and three other faithful servants. Anna’s death was cruel and violent: one of the killers counted the wounds on her body – there were 32 of them.

On the fateful night of 16th July 1918, Anna Stepanovna was awakened by Dr. Botkin and told her about the threat of an attack on the house. She, in turn, woke up the grand duchesses. Despite Yurovsky’s warning not to take any things with them, the prisoners nevertheless took various little things – in case of a “possible journey”. Anna Demidova carried two large pillows down to a room located in the basement of the Ipatiev House. She placed one behind the back of the sick Tsesarevich, who was seated on a chair. The second pillow [filled with precious family gems] remained clutched to her chest.

According to the memoirs of a participant in the regicide of Mikhail Aleksandrovich Medvedev (1891-1964): “The veil of smoke and dust was thinning. Yakov Mikhailovich [Yurovsky] invited [Pyotr Zakharovich] Ermakov and me, as representatives of the Cheka and the Red Army, to witness the death of each member of the Imperial Family. Suddenly, from the right corner of the room, a woman screamed: “Thank God! God saved me!”

“Staggering, the surviving chambermaid rises: she had shielded herself with a pillow, in the fluff of which bullets were stuck. The Latvians have already fired all their cartridges, then two of them with rifles charged at her and bayoneted the maid.”

Another participant in the regicide, Alexey Georgievich Kabanov (1890-1972), also describes the death of Anna Stepanovna with even more gruesome details: “The chambermaid was still alive on the floor. When I ran into the execution room, I shouted to stop firing immediately, and finish those still alive with bayonets. <…> One of my comrades began to thrust the bayonet of his American Winchester rifle into the chambermaid, but the blunt blade did not pierce her chest, and she grabbed the bayonet with both hands and began to scream … “

According to other testimonies, Anna Demidova “kept running back and forth across the room shielding herself with pillows,” . . . “rushing along the left wall,” which is why bullet marks are visible in different parts of this wall and even in the jamb of the front door.

PHOTO: on 17th July 2013, Archbishop Maximilian of Vologda and Veliky Ustyug consecrated a memorial plaque (below) installed on the house where Anna Demidova was born in Cherepovets

On 1st November 1981, Anna Stepanovna Demidova, was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), along with Nicholas II and his family, as well as the three other servants.

At the time of this writing, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, has not yet canonized Anna Demidova.

On 17th July 1998, Anna Demidova’s grand-niece, Natalia Demidova, attended the burial ceremony for the remains of the Imperial Family and their servants in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

On 16th October 2009, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation made a decision on the rehabilitation of 52 close associates of the Imperial Family who had been subjected to repression, including Anna Demidova.

In March 2012, the Cherepovets newspaper «Речь» announced the planned perpetuation of the memory of Anna Demidova, by the installation of a memorial plaque on the house in which she spent her childhood and youth (Sovetsky Prospect, 31 – former Voskresensky Prospect).

The memorial plaque was installed on 17th July 2013, the text of the memorial [translated from Russian] reads:

Here Anna Stepanovna Demidova was born and spent her childhood. The maid of the last Russian Empress Alexandra Feodorovna remained faithful to her convictions, voluntarily stayed with the family of Nicholas II and suffered a martyr’s death along with them on July 17, 1918 in Yekaterinburg. Canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1981“.

The rite of consecration was performed by Archbishop Maximilian of Vologda and Veliky Ustyug. In his speech, Vladyka spoke of the need to remain faithful to God, the Motherland, and duty in difficult times. “Faithful in small things, faithful in great things,” Vladyka quoted Abba Dorotheos and noted that there were many people who betrayed the Emperor. Anna Stepanovna Demidova was one of the few who exemplified loyalty.

On 14th September 2013, by the decree of Archbishop Maximilian of Vologda and Veliky Ustyug, the Sunday school of the Church of the Nativity of Christ was named in honour of Anna Stepanovna Demidova.

Holy Royal Martyrs, pray to God for us!
Святы Царственные мученики, молите Бога о нас!

© Paul Gilbert. 10 June 2021


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