State Hermitage Museum to host OTMAA exhibition this Spring

PHOTO: OTMAA – Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia with Tsesarevich Alexei in Court dress, 1910

A new exhibition The Children of the Last Russian Emperor. OTMA and Alexei is scheduled to open this Spring at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The exhibition which will open on 19th May [Nicholas II’s birthday] in the Manege of the Small Hermitage is a joint project of the State Hermitage Museum, the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum and the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF).

The exhibition will showcase 300 exhibits, which include Court dresses and other accessories worn by the Grand Duchesses from the State Hermitage Museum’s Costume Collection, as well as toys and other personal items of the Imperial Children from the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum. Of particular interest to visitors will be the military uniform of Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, who from childhood wore the uniforms of the regiments under his patronage. Many of these uniforms will be displayed for the first time following the completion of their restoration.

The exhibition will cover the period from the birth of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna’s first child Olga in 1895 to August 1914, and the Imperial Family’s house arrest in the Alexander Palace and their subsequent exile to Siberia.

A richly illustrated catalogue [Russian only] will be published to accompany the exhibition.

“This is a very touching exhibition”, said Mikhail Piotrovsky, general director of the museum. Piotrovsky noted that the exhibition was originally planned to premiere at the Hermitage Amsterdam (Netherlands), however, the exhibit has been cancelled, due to current EU sanctions on Russia.

OTMA was an acronym used by the four daughters – Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia – of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, as a group nickname for themselves, built from the first letter of each girl’s name in the order of their births. It was with this acronym that they signed their letters to their parents. Alexei’s initial is an addition made in the late 20th century.

The Children of the Last Russian Emperor. OTMA and Alexei exhibition will run from 19th May 2023 to 10th September 2023 at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Click HERE to read about other exhibitions dedicated to OTMAA

© Paul Gilbert. 16 January 2023

Lost architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin

During the Soviet years, numerous architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin were lost. Churches, monasteries, and palaces were destroyed because they reminded the Soviet regime under Stalin of Holy Russia and the glorious history of the Russian Empire.

The early 20th century postcard (above) reflects some of the greatest architectural losses in the Moscow Kremlin during the late 1920s to early 1930s – please refer to the numbers and the accompanying images below for additional information about each respective monument . .

1 – The Maly Nikolayevsky Palace or Small Nicholas Palace was a three-storey building located in the Kremlin on the corner of Ivanovskaya Square. Originally built in 1775, it served as the official Moscow residence of Imperial Family up until the construction of the Grand Kremlin Palace in 1838-1849. The palace was a favourite residence of Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich (future Emperor Nicholas I). On 29th (O.S. 17th) April 1818, his son, the future Alexander II, was born in the palace, who considered it the home of his childhood. Between 1891 and 1905, the palace became a residence of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich during his years as Governor-General of Moscow.

During the October armed uprising of 1917 in Moscow, the Small Nicholas Palace became the headquarters of the Junkers [a military rank in the Russian Guard and Army, until 1918] who were supporting the Committee of Public Security. As a result, the building served as a target for the Red Guards and suffered more than other Kremlin buildings.

According to Metropolitan Nestor (1885-1962): “The Small Nicholas Palace… suffered greatly from gunfire. Huge holes in the building’s’ façade are visible from the outside. Inside, too, everything is destroyed, and when I walked around the rooms, I saw a picture of complete destruction. Huge mirrors and other furnishings were barbarously broken and destroyed. The cabinets are broken, books, files and papers are scattered throughout the rooms… The palace church was hit by a shell and destroyed. The iconostasis was broken, the royal gates were forced open by explosions, and the veil of the church was torn in two. Hence, many valuable icons were stolen.”

In 1929, the palace was demolished together with the adjacent Chudov and Ascension monasteries. In 1932-1934 the Kremlin Presidium (aka Building No. 14) was built on the site. It housed, first, the Supreme Soviet, i. e. the supreme legislative body of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, and, second, the offices of the Presidential Administration of Russia until 2011. The Kremlin Presidium was demolished in 2016.

PHOTO: Small Nicholas Palace after the shelling of the Kremlin, 1917

2 – The first Monument to Emperor Alexander II stood above the Kremlin’s Taynitsky Gardens facing the Moskva River. Work on the monuments was begun under Emperor Alexander III in 1893, and was completed five years later under Emperor Nicholas II in 1898.

The monument was the work of sculptor Alexander Opekushin (1838-1923), artist Peter Zhukovsky (1845-1912) and architect Nicholas V. Sultanov (1850-1908). The memorial consisted of a life-size bronze sculpture of Alexander II, set on a square pedestal with the words “To Emperor Alexander II by the love of the people” engraved on it. The sculpture was shaded by a canopy of polished dark red Karelian granite. The top of the canopy was made of specially fitted gilded bronze sheets with green enamel. On three sides, the monument was surrounded by a gallery with arches and openwork. Thirty-three mosaic portraits of Russia’s rulers from Prince Vladimir to Emperor Nicholas II based on sketches by artist Peter Zhukovsky were placed in the gallery’s vaults.

The solemn opening and consecration of the Monument to Emperor Alexander II took place on 16th August 1898. At eight in the morning, five cannon shots were fired from the Tainitskaya Tower. The opening ceremony began at two o’clock in the afternoon with a procession from the Chudov Monastery. After Metropolitan Vladimir of Moscow served a prayer service, the “Transfiguration March” was played and cannons were fired 360 times. The ceremony was closed by a parade of troops commanded by Emperor Nicholas II..

2a –  The decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic [supported by Lenin] dated 12th April 1918 called for all monuments of Russia’s monarchs to be demolished and replaced with statues honouring the leaders of the revolution. The monument of Alexander II was to be one of the first monuments destroyed in this campaign. Lenin planned to install a monument to the writer Leo Tolstoy on the site, however, his plan never came to fruition.

The monument to Alexander II was demolished by the Bolsheviks in the summer of 1918. In June 1918, Russian art historian Nikolai Okunev described this event in his diary: “I saw in the cinema a newsreel on the removal of the monument to Alexander II in the Kremlin. It was terrible to watch! It’s as if they were cutting a living person into pieces, and saying “Look, this is is how it’s done!” It’s not enough to show the shootings on the cinema screen.” The remaining columns and gallery were demolished in 1928.

PHOTO: the dismantled fragments of the monument to Alexander II in the Kremlin after its destruction in 1918. To the left of the Spassky Tower is the Church of St. Catherine of the Ascension Monastery, blown up in 1929

3 – The Voznesensky (Ascension) Convent known as the Starodevichy Convent or Old Maidens’ Convent until 1817, was an Orthodox nunnery in the Moscow Kremlin which contained the tombs of grand princesses, tsarinas, and other noble ladies from the Muscovite royal court. The convent was founded at the beginning of the 15th century near the Kremlin’s Spassky (Saviour’s) Gate.

The convent was also used as a residence for royal fiancée’s prior to their wedding. In 1721, the convent was renovated on behest of Peter the Great. In 1808, by order of Emperor Alexander I, the famous Italian architect Carlo Rossi (1775-1849) began construction of the Church of Saint Catherine, built in the Neo-Gothic design. During Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow in 1812, the French army looted the monastery and expelled the nuns. Most of the property was preserved thanks to Abbess Athanasia, who managed to take the wealth from the sacristy to Vologda. 

By 1907, the monastery had a mother superior, 62 nuns and 45 lay sisters. It was also in 1907, that the monastery celebrated the 500th anniversary of the death of the founder of the monastery St. Euphrosyne of Moscow (1353–1407). After the service, a procession took place, in which Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna participated, and placed a golden lamp and flower garlands on the founder’s tomb.

During the October 1917 Revolution, the ancient buildings were damaged by artillery fire. In 1929, the convent complex – including the majestic 16th-century cathedral – was demolished by the Soviets in order to make room for the Red Commanders School, named after the All-Russian Central Executive Committee.

Some of the icons of Ascension Convent were transferred to the State Tretyakov Gallery and State museums of the Moscow Kremlin. The iconostasis of the Ascension Cathedral (see below) was moved into the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles (also in the Kremlin), while the tombs of the Muscovite royalty were transferred into an annex of the Archangel Cathedral, where they reside to this day.

PHOTO: in 1930 the iconostasis of the Ascension Cathedral was moved into the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles (also in the Kremlin), where it remains to this day

4 – The two chapels at the Spassky Gates (facing Red Square) were built in the “Russian style” in 1866. Both belonged to St Basil’s Cathedral. The left houses the sacred image of Our Lady of Smolensk as a reminder of the city’s return to the Russian lands in the 16th century. The right is renowned for its sacred image of Christ the Saviour, an exact replica of the icon over Spassky Gates. They were both demolished in 1929.

The 16th-century icon was bricked over during the 1930s, and restored to its original in 2010.

5 – The Church of Konstantin and Elena in the lower section of the Kremlin Garden was built in 1692 by Tsarina Natalia Naryshkina, mother of Peter I. It was demolished in 1928. It became the first church demolished on the territory of the Kremlin since the Bolsheviks came to power and the first in a large series of losses of architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin in 1928-1930. Today the site is home to government buildings and a helipad for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In addition, were the Chudov Monastery and the Monument to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich:

6 – The Chudov Monastery (more formally known as Alexius’ Archangel Michael Monastery) was founded in 1358 by Metropolitan Alexius of Moscow. The monastery was dedicated to the miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae on 19th September (O.S. 6th September). It was traditionally used for baptising the royal children, including future Tsars Feodor I, Aleksey I and Peter the Great.

The Chudov Monastery was demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1928, and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was built on the site. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich’s body was buried in a crypt of the Chudov Monastery. The burial crypt was located underneath a courtyard of that building, which was later used as a parking lot during the Soviet years. In 1990, building workers in the Kremlin discovered the blocked up entrance of the burial vault. The coffin was examined and found to contain the Grand Duke’s remains, covered with the military greatcoat of the Kiev regiment, decorations, and an icon. He had left written instructions that he was to be buried in the Preobrazhensky Lifeguard regiment uniform, but as his body was so badly mutilated this proved impossible.

In 1995, the coffin was officially exhumed, and after a Panikhida in the Kremlin Cathedral of the Archangel, it was reburied in a vault of the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow on 17 September 1995.

7 – The Memorial Cross to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was consecrated on 2nd April 1908 on the spot where Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was assassinated. The original bronze monument, set on a stepped pedestal of dark green labrador marble, was an example of ‘Church Art Nouveau’. After the October 1917 Revolution, the cross was destroyed on 1st May 1918 by Bolshevik thugs with the personal participation of Vladimir Lenin.

On 4th May 2017, the memorial cross was restored in a ceremony that was attended by President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

8 – The Church of the Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour on Boru was located in the courtyard of the Grand Kremlin Palace [seen in behind the church in the photo above]. The name “on Boru” came from the coniferous forests which once surrounded the church, that once stood on Borovitsky Hill.

In 1767, when Catherine II began the reconstruction of the Kremlin, the church was revived in brick and required major repairs.

The Church of the Savior-on-Boru was demolished on 1st May 1933 by order of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU, despite the protests of prominent restorers. The church’s ancient bells were transferred to the funds of the Moscow Kremlin Museums. Upon demolition of the church, a 5-storey service building was built on the site of the cathedral. Plans to restore one of the oldest churches in Moscow have not yet been considered.

In 2014 President Vladimir Putin proposed the restoration of the former Chudov Monastery, Ascension Convent, and Small Nicholas Palace. Opposition from UNESCO ended any hope of reconstructing these architectural gems. The proposal, had it been approved, would have restored the historical vista of Ivanovskaya Square. Instead, it has become park space for tourists visiting the Kremlin museums and churches.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2023

Toys of Nicholas II’s children transferred to museum in Sergiev Posad in 1930s

PHOTO: Overview of some of the Imperial Children’s toys from the collection of the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum in Sergiev Posad, including a collection of porcelain dolls, once owned by the grand duchesses.

Situated 74 km [45 miles] northeast of Moscow is Sergiev Posad[1] the spiritual centre of Russia with its famous Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra[2], and home to over 300 monks. In 1993, the Trinity-Sergius Lavra which comprises a unique ensemble of more than 50 buildings was inscribed on the UN World Heritage List. In 2002 the monastery was recognized as a Cultural Heritage Site of the Russian Federation.

Sergiev Posad also has a long history of toy-making, the matryoshka doll known all over the world was born here. It seems only fitting that the town should claim to its fame the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum, which is situated opposite the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. The museum is a unique repository of more than 150 thousand toys from Russia, Europe, Asia and America. The museum was founded in 1918 by Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram (1873-1931)[3].

Bertram was a Russian illustrator, poster designer, art historian, and collector, who also studied the history of toys in Russia. From 1900 to 1903, he travelled throughout Europe; visiting toy shops and returning with suitcases of dolls, toy soldiers, and toy animals.

In 1912, he married the artist and collector, Yevdokia Ivanovna Loseva (1880-1936), who shared his interest in toys. In October 1918, as World War I was winding down, he and Yevdokia founded the Moscow Toy Museum, comprising of toys from his own private collection; although it was not opened to the general public until 1921. 

His collection was further enriched with toys from the Stroganov School in Moscow, as well as those from the noble estates, private collections and specialty shops, all of which had been nationalized by the Bolsheviks.

In the early 1930s toys that once belonged to the children of Emperor Nicholas II from the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo and the Livadia Palace in Crimea, were transferred to the museum’s collection.

The museum was first located in Bartram’s four-room apartment on Smolensky Boulevard in Moscow The one-storey mansion with a mezzanine, consisted of 250 square meters, 200 meters of which was allocated for his toy collection.

PHOTO: view of the Toy Museum (above), situated opposite the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad. The glass showcases (below) contain toys transferred from the Alexander Palace and Livadia Palace in the 1930s.

Officially founded on 17th October 1918, the museum was opened to visitors only in 1921, and three years later, in 1924, it moved to a new location – the former Khrushchev-Seleznevs mansion[4] on Kropotkinskaya Street in Moscow. It was here, that the Toy Museum was opened on 5th January 1921, expanding its exhibition space to 5 halls and 600 square meters to accommodate Bartram’s growing collection. Today the building is occupied by the Literary Museum of A. S. Pushkin.

In terms of attendance, the Museum of Toys was surpassed only by the Tretyakov Gallery. Nikolai Bartram remained at the head of the museum until his death in 1931.

In 1931, the Toy Museum was transferred from Moscow to Zagorsk[1] opposite – the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra.

PHOTO: Toy Museum founder Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram among his collection

The current Chief Curator of the Toy Museum Tamara Atyusheva explains the fate of the toys of the Tsar’s children, and how some of them came into the hands of the museum:

-“From 1918 to 1931 the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo was a museum, which included a permanent exhibition dedicated to the “Children’s Half”, which included the rooms of the Grand Duchesses and the Tsesarevich. These rooms were filled with the Imperial Children’s toys which were left after the Tsar and his family were sent into exile in August 1917.

“After 1931, the subject of everything Tsarist became a bone of contention among the Stalinists, one which did not fit into Soviet life. As a result the “Children’s Half” exhibition in the Alexander Palace was closed. Many of the toys and personal items of the Tsar’s children were distributed to orphanages and shelters. No records were kept of where the toys were distributed, and all traces of these toys have since been lost. The toys which were not lost, were transferred to our museum in in 1932. They were stored in the storerooms of the Research Institute of Toys in Zagorsk[1] located in the museum of the Lavra. They were stored without any indication that these items had any special significance. For instance, the Grand Duchesses collection of porcelain dolls were simply labeled “Nineteenth Century Dolls” and that’s it.

“It was during holidays – birthdays, name days, and Christmas – that the Imperial Children received expensive toys, many of which had been imported from Europe and Britain as gifts. In addition they received board games, which also acted as learning aids: for studying languages, geography, and royal dynasties, including one with “portraits of the Sovereigns of the Russian Land”.

“Interesting among the toys were those of Tsesarevich Alexei, who was brought up primarily as the future heir to the throne, and head of the Russian Imperial Army. He had everything a little warrior should have: a toy three-line Mosin rifle, toy sabers, a toy ship (“Battleship Sevastopol”), signal flags, a triangular red pennant with a white cross, and a collection of toy soldiers.

In addition the Heir had an electric train, which consisted of a huge steam locomotive, complete with stations and tunnels.

One of the highlights of the Imperial Children’s toys, was a collection of European made dolls of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia in national costumes, in addition to children’s furniture, dishes, books, sporting goods and portraits.

Today the Art and Pedagogical Toy Museum welcomes more than 30,000 visitors each year. Exhibits from their collection are routinely loaned out to other museums throughout Russia, the toys of the children of Emperor Nicholas II being the most popular. In 2011, some of the toys from the museum’s collection were put on display in former Children’s Half located on the second floor of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.

© Paul Gilbert. 10 January 2023


[1] Sergiev Posad was founded on 22nd March 1782, by decree of Empress Catherine II. The name is associated with the name of Sergius of Radonezh (1314-1392), the founder of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, around which the posad was formed. In 1919, Sergiev Posad was renamed Sergiev. On 6th March 1930, the city was renamed Zagorsk, in honor of the Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Mikhailovich Zagorsky, who died in 1919.

On 23rd September 1991, by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, the historical name was returned to the city – Sergiev Posad. At the walls of the Lavra was erected a monument to Sergius of Radonezh, made of bronze, the work of the sculptor Valentin Chukharkin. The monument was consecrated on 18th March 2000 by Patriarch Alexy II (1929-2008).

[2] After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Soviet government closed the Lavra in 1920. Its buildings were assigned to different civic institutions or declared museums. In 1930, monastery bells, including the Tsar-Bell of 65 tons, were destroyed. Father Pavel Florensky (1882-1937) and his followers prevented the authorities from stealing and selling the sacristy collection but overall many valuables were lost or transferred to other collections.

In 1945, following Joseph Stalin’s temporary tolerance of the church during World War II, the Lavra was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. On 16th April 1946 divine service was renewed at the Assumption Cathedral. The Lavra continued as the seat of the Moscow Patriarchate until 1983, when the patriarch was allowed to settle at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.

[3] Nikolai Dmitrievich Bartram died on 13th July 1931. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

[4] Today the former Khrushchev-Seleznevs mansion houses the A. S. Pushkin State Museum (not to be confused with the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts).

Beautiful winter views of the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent, Ekaterinburg

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

Snow-covered paths, trees covered in hoarfrost, early evening twilight reflect the silent beauty of winter which surrounds the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, depicted in these beautiful photos.

The Novo-Tikhvin Monastery is a community of female monastics. It was founded in the late 18th century, growing out of an alms-house at the cemetery church in Ekaterinburg. It is the home of the icon of the Tikhvin Mother of God. Closed in 1920 by the Bolsheviks, monastic life at the monastery was restored in 1994.

In 1918, when Nicholas II and his family were being held under arrest in the Ipatiev House, the nuns of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent were praying for them, asking God to relieve their sufferings,and to give them the strength to bear everything with Christian humility.

The sisters’ help came not only through prayer but also through deeds: disregarding their own safety, they supported the Tsar and his family by bringing various foods to them through the guards. On 18th June 1918, a month before their murder, Empress Alexandra Feodorvna made the following entry in her diary: “The kind nuns are now sending milk and eggs for Alexei and for us, as well as cream.”

I have spent many hours praying in the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, during my visits to the Ural city in 2012, 2016 and 2018 respectively. It was during my visit to Ekaterinburg in the summer of 2016, that my hotel was situated behind the convent, and I had a clear view of the cathedral from my window. I went every morning to the cathedral to pray, and every afternoon in the beautifully landscaped gardens which surround the Cathedral.

Click HERE to read why Ekaterinburg is my favourite Russian city.

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky in the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent
© Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: I simply could not resist sharing this photo . . . A mother takes a photo of her little one [who looks like a little angel] sitting on a bench in the garden of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent in Ekaterinburg. The magnificent Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky can be seen in the background. The snow simply enhances the beauty of this photo. © Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: the Nativity set against the backdrop of the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky at the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent, Ekaterinburg. © Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

PHOTO: A lovely winters night view of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent in Ekaterinburg. On the left, you can see the new monument to four faithful servants of Emperor Nicholas II, which was installed and consecrated this past summer, on the grounds of the Convent. © Ново-Тихвинский женский монастырь

© Paul Gilbert. 9 January 2023

The Imperial Family’s last Christmas in 1917

This article was written by Kate Baklitskaya, and published in the 7th January 2014 edition of The Siberian Times. I have taken the liberty of making some corrections and adjustments to her text – PG

NOTE: The Russian Orthodox Church observes Christmas Day on 7th January according to the Old Style Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used in the West.

During the winter of 1917-18 Emperor Nicholas II and his family were being held under house arrest in Tobolsk, in western Siberia, before being moved in the spring of 1918 to Yekaterinburg where they were murdered in July 1918. Their last Christmas – since they used the Julian calendar, took place on what most of the world now knows as 6 and 7 January 1918, but for them it was 24 and 25 December 1917 – was still full of joy and hopes for a better future, even though 1917 was the year when the Romanovs were toppled.

In exile the Emperor and his family continued to live as normal life as their situation would allow them, although they were forbidden to go into town or attend church, they were only allowed to leave the house to walk and play in the yard.

The Tsar was not afraid of simple manual work, spending his time chopping wood with his son Alexey following his example. The former Tsesarevich, then 13, took care of the poultry. 

The children continued their studies and the Emperor taught them a course of Russian history. Their mother Alexandra taught German to the children, perhaps surprisingly since World War One was still underway. As Christmas approached, the former Tsesarevich and his four sisters – the Grand Duchesses – were given a break. 

This is how Grand Duchess Olga described this period: ‘Everything is peaceful and quiet, thank God. We are all healthy and not losing hope. Today my sisters’ and brother’s vacation begun.  There is still not a lot of snow, the frost reaches -20C, and the sun shines almost all the time, it rises and sets bright and beautiful. …It’s so nice to go for walks. Mama works all day or draws and paints, keeps herself busy all the time and the time flies quickly.’

Their hope at the time was to be allowed to go into exile abroad to Britain, but this plan was vetoed in London amid fears their presence would stoke revolutionary sentiments. Ekaterina Schneider, their Russian language teacher, described Christmas Eve in her letters: ‘In the evening today we will go for overnight prayer… After we came home and had breakfast. There I was decorating a Christmas tree with candles – there were no other decorations, so tonight a small Christmas tree will be lit’. 

‘The trees here have a completely different smell, the tree smells of oranges …  Now it’s 4pm, I’ll go into the yard to help to make a snow mountain – tonight there was a lot of snow . It’s -7C degrees. By local standards it’s hot’.

The Empress started preparations for Christmas well in advance. Despite their difficult financial situation she still managed to prepare presents for all the family members, friends and retainers. Most of these presents were handmade.

Alexandra described their Siberian Christmas in her diary: ‘December 24. Sunday. Tobolsk. Christmas Eve. Preparing gifts. Breakfast downstairs. Decorated Christmas tree, laid out the gifts. Tea. Then I went to the guards from the 4th Infantry Regiment, all together 20 people’.

‘I brought them a small Christmas tree and some food, and a Bible each with a bookmark that I hand painted. Sat there with them. 7.30 pm. Had  dinner downstairs with everyone. 9pm Christmas celebration for our servants – for all our people.

‘9.30 pm. Evening service at the church: a large choir sang. The soldiers came as well.’

The Empress did her best to support her family in the difficult times and bring the Christmas spirit into the family celebration. Perhaps thanks to her effort Romanov family enjoyed their last Christmas.

In a letter to her lady in waiting Sophia Karlovna Buxhoeveden, the Empress wrote that love, hope and patience were her guides through these difficult times.

‘I gently kiss you and wish you all the best. May God send you health and peace of mind, which is the greatest gift. We should pray to God for patience, because it is so important for us in this world of suffering (and the greatest madness), for comfort, strength and happiness.

‘Perhaps the word ‘joyful Christmas’ sounds like a joke now, but after all this joy of the birth of our Lord. …. He will manifest His mercy when the time comes, and before that we have to wait patiently. We cannot change what is happening – we can only believe, believe and pray and never lose love for Him.’

© The Siberian Times. 6 January 2023

The Alexander Palace: Then and Now

PHOTO: view of the front and rear facades of the Alexander Palace, Tsarskoye Selo

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve have reissued a series of colour autochromes and photographs which allow us to compare some of the interiors of the Alexander Palace as they looked like in 1917 and how they look today, following a large-scale reconstruction and restoration project that began in the Autumn 2015.

Shortly after Emperor Nicholas II and his family were sent into exile to Tobolsk on 1st (O.S.) August 1917, George Kreskentievich Lukomsky (1884-1952), chairman of the Commission for the Acceptance and Registration of Property of the Tsarskoye Selo Palace Administration, arrived at the Alexander Palace, where he “methodically and consistently photographed” the interiors of the former Imperial residence.

Zehest had been commissioned by the art historian George Loukomski, Head of the Tsarskoye Selo Inventory Commission. A total of 140 colour auto-chromes were taken of the Alexander Palace. A collection of 48 auto-chromes, which were acquired at a Paris auction in 2012 have since proven to be of immense value with the restoration of the interiors of the Alexander Palace.

The Alexander Palace reopened to visitors on 14th (O.S. 1st) August 2021, marking the 104th anniversary since the Imperial Family left the palace for the last time. Visitors can now see thirteen reconstructed and restored interiors of the private apartments of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna located in the eastern wing of the palace.

These include the New Study of Nicholas II, Moorish Bathroom of Nicholas II, Working Study of Nicholas II, Reception Room of Nicholas II, the Valet’s Room, PLUS the Maple Drawing Room, Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room, Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir, Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room, the Imperial Bedroom, the Small and Large Libraries, and the Mountain Hall. In addition are the State Halls: the Portrait Hall, the Semi-Circular Hall and the Marble Drawing Room.

Please note that all the photos posted below are courtesy of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum:

Empress Alexandra’s Corner Reception Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Maple Drawing Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Small Library as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Reception Room of Emperor Nicholas II as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

Mauve (Lilac) Boudoir as it looked in 1917 and 2022.
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

The Western wing of the Alexander Palace is scheduled for completion no earlier than 2024. After the completion of the work, the Alexander Palace will become a multifunctional museum complex, which will include exhibition halls, halls for temporary exhibitions, halls for research work and conferences, as well as a library and a children’s center. The basement floor will house a ticket booth, a museum shop, a café, a cloakroom, a tour desk, as well as technical and ancillary facilities.

Please note that I have written more than 60 articles on the history and restoration of the Alexander Palace, which include 100s of photographs, illustrations and videos. Click HERE to review the articles in this category.

© Paul Gilbert. 4 January 2023

Nicholas II Conference cancelled . . . again!

How unfortunate that my first post for 2023 should be a negative one . . . it is with much disappointment that I find myself forced to cancel the Nicholas II Conference which I was planning for September of this year.

Shortly after announcing the event several months back, I began to receive hate-filled messages and emails from “Russophobes” in the UK, who threatened to “disrupt” the Conference. Most of these messages were generously peppered with profanity – which reflected their bigoted and hateful anti-Russian sentiment.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the church – where the Conference was to be held – in Colchester, England had been targeted by anti-Russian thugs. The police even had to get involved!

The Conference had no political agenda, whatsoever, which begs the question “WHY” would thugs target an event dedicated to the study and appreciation of Russia’s last Tsar?

While I understand the anger towards Putin for ordering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I fail to understand any connection between Putin and Nicholas II, especially given that more than a century separates their lives.

After further discussion, Father Andrew Phillips and I have decided to postpone the September Conference for the time being. I was really looking forward to hosting this event, however, we will now have to be patient and wait until such time as it is deemed safe. What a sad world we live.

*Some readers may recall that I was planning a similar Conference to be held at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York in 2020, however, I was forced to cancel this event due to COVID. Father Theophylact (Clapper-DeWell) and I both agreed that the health and safety of those planning to attend should be our priority.

© 3 January 2023

Paul Gilbert reflects on 2022

PHOTO: Paul Gilbert holding a copy of his book The Lost World of Imperial Russia: The Russian Empire During the Reign of Emperor Nicholas II, published in September – I am so proud of this publishing project!

No one will be happier to see this year come to end than myself. Without exaggerating, 2022 has been the worst year of my life. Every month seemed to present a fresh bombshell:

February – Russia’s declaration of war against Ukraine hit me very hard;
March – I was forced to cancel my September trip to Ekaterinburg and Tobolsk;
April – I was diagnosed with Stage-2 Colon Cancer;
May – I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor;
June – post-surgery recovery at home;
July – I began 6-months of chemotherapy;
September – I experienced sadness and grief following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II;
October – the death of my 16-year-old dog and faithful companion ‘Maggie’ was a profound personal loss;
December – I was forced to cancel the Nicholas II Conference (planned for September 2023) following threats from “Russophobes”

Despite the challenges that 2022 brought to my doorstep, I still managed to maintain a positive attitude. I am so very grateful that I had my books and writing to distract me during these challenging months. My commitment to clearing the name of the Russia’s much slandered Tsar gave me something positive to focus on, especially during my recovery and chemotherapy. I was still able to write articles for my blog and posts for my Facebook page from the comfort of my favourite chair.

Much of positive attitude I attribute to my faith. When I was diagnosed with cancer back in April, rather than give in to fear, I placed my health in God’s hands. My faith was empowered even further by the prayers and words of love and support that I received from the thousands of people around the world who follow my posts on Facebook every day.

My chemotherapy will end on January 12th, at which time I look forward to a healthier new year. Not only am I making plans to travel again, I have some very interesting new books planned for publication in 2023, including the revival of my semi-annual periodical SOVEREIGN.

Happy New Year! С Новым Годом!

© 31 December 2022

Nicholas II in the news – Autumn 2022

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II on the deck of the Imperial Yacht Standart

Russia’s last Emperor and Tsar continues to be the subject of news in Western media. For the benefit of those who do not follow me on my Facebook page, I am pleased to present the following 7 full length articles, news stories and videos published by American and British media services, in addition, are several articles about Nicholas II’s family and faithful retainers.

Below, are the articles published in October, November and December 2022. Click on the title [highlighted in red] and follow the link to read each respective article:

The Officers’ Assembly Building in St. Petersburg – FREE Book

Download, print and read a FREE 94-page English-language copy of Officer Assembly Building by S. Kononov (2018), or the Russian-language edition Дом офицеров Санкт-Петербург.
The author has compiled a history of this magnificent building, and richly illustrated with vintage black and white photos, complimented with full colour photos of the building and its interiors, as they look today.

Source: Russia Beyond. 19 November 2022

British royal family and the last Romanovs pictured together + PHOTOS

Nicholas II was almost a “twin” of King George V, while THE two families had very close relative ties.

Source: Russia Beyond. 17 November 2022

‘The Crown’ Season 5 on Netflix: Fact and fiction in the ‘Russian episode’

A key episode in the new season of ‘The Crown’ – ‘Ipatiev House’ – dwells on the centuries-long relations between Britain and Russia. Here is one account of what is true in it and what is simply artistic invention, something the current season is particularly good at.

Source: Russia Beyond. 14 November 2022

Archival Documentary of the Russian Royal Family (VIDEO)

I am pleased to share the following NEW documentary prepared by the Museum in Memory of Emperor Nicholas II’s Family, which features rare footage, made from 98 fragments of film from 1896-1916.

Duration: 43 minutes. ENGLISH with closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

Source: The Romanov Royal Martyrs Project. 16 July 2022

Remembering the Romanov Children (VIDEO)

The Romanov children were extraordinary in their ordinariness. Despite being born in one of the highest and most enviable positions in the world, and having access to all possible worldly goods, they lived and were brought up like ordinary children. They were beautiful not only in their outward appearance, which was striking but primarily in their inner qualities. From their father, they inherited the traits of kindness, modesty, simplicity, an unshakable sense of duty, and an all-consuming love for their homeland. From their mother, they inherited deep faith, straightforwardness, self-discipline, and strength of spirit.

Duration: 37 minutes. ENGLISH with closed captioning for the hearing impaired.

Source: The Romanov Royal Martyrs Project. 27 October 2022

5 urban legends about Rasputin – the ‘wizard’ of the Romanovs

Did Rasputin really predict the death of the Romanov dynasty and the Revolution? And did he really treat the sickly tsesarevich with prayer alone, as well as act as gray eminence to the tsar? We did a fact check on the last Russian Royal Family’s notorious spiritual advisor.

Source: Russia Beyond. 7 October 2022

‘Fear God and Honor the Emperor

Some Thoughts on the Passing of HM Queen Elizabeth, of Blessed Memory’ by the Very Reverend Archpriest Michael Protopopov, the parish priest of the Church of Our Lady’s Dormition, Dandendong, Australia.

“Our beloved Queen of blessed memory, understood that royal power is a gift of God and that her subjects need to be educated before they can understand the deep implications of a government instituted by God and which is a reflection of the Divine Kingdom of God.

“The Queen was a perfect sovereign reigning within the bounds of Christian principles and not on the desire for personal power and authority; and she had the understanding that a true monarchical structure is a divine partnership in which God, the sovereign and the people all have an important role to play.”

Source: Orthodox Christianity. 5 October 2022


For MORE articles, please refer to the following links:

Nicholas II in the news – Summer 2022
12 articles published in July, August and September 2022

Nicholas II in the news – Spring 2022
7 articles published in April, May and June 2022

Nicholas II in the news – Winter 2022
6 articles published in January, February and March 2022

Paul Gilbert’s Romanov Bookshop on AMAZON – UPDATED with NEW titles!!

I have published more than 30 titles to date through AMAZON – featuring one of the largest selections of books on Nicholas II, the Romanov dynasty and the history of Imperial Russia.

Please CLICK on the BANNER or LINK above to review my current selection of titles in hardcover, paperback and ebook editions. Listings provide a full description for each title, pricing and a Look inside feature.

© 31 December 2022