Saturday, August 07, 2010

Tsars & Saints: History Redux

The more things change...

The city of Yekaterinburg was known as Sverdlovsk from 1924 to 1991 after Yakov Sverdlov, a close confident of Lenin, a leader of the Communist Revolution....

...and the man responsible for ordering the massacre of Tsar Nicholas II and his his family on the night of July 16/17 1918.

Today the huge, ornate Church on the Blood, finished in 2003, stands at the very spot where the Romanov’s were executed. In 1981, the Russian Orthodox Church abroad recognized the family as saints - Nicholas, also known as "Bloody Nicholas" because of Bloody Sunday and the anti-Semitic pogroms that took place during his reign, is now worshiped as "Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer". A few blocks away a statue of Sverdlov still stands, a testament to the schizophrenia that makes up modern Russia.

After the Romanov family was executed in the basement of Ipatiev House the guards collected the bodies and drove them about 20 kilometers outside of the city to a forested plot near the village of Ganina Yama. The soldiers didn’t have a clue as to what to do to dispose of them so they tried to burn them, but stopped when they realized it would takes hours, if not days, to complete the work. Instead, they hacked up the remains and dumped them down a mine shaft.

Some remains were eventually discovered in a place known by locals as "Pig's Meadow." The Orthodox Church declared the area hallowed ground and in 2001 built the Monastery of the Holy Tsarist Passion-Bearers, a series of beautiful chapels and memorials in honor of the family.

It's been absolutely surreal traveling across Russia this summer - history is as malleable as putty and once grand narratives are reduced to fairytales or in this case, a despot is transfigured into a saint. At least in Canada we try to separate and have made referendums a national sport...