A POET AMONG THE ROMANOVS
- A POET AMONG THE ROMANOVS
The commemoration of the holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia has been
established for the nearest Sunday to January 25th by the old calendar
(February 7th by the new). This year the holiday falls on the Sunday of
February 8th. Among the holy New Martyrs we also commemorate the Royal
Martyr Prince Vladimir Paley, whose life and martyrdom we continue to
publish in the form of excerpts from a wonderful biography of him, "A Poet
Among the Romanovs", written by Professor Jorge Saenz.
MARTYRDOM IN AN ABANDONED MINESHAFT
Prince Vladimir Paley Vladimir and his exile companions spent almost a
month under an unbearable prison regime. There would be no improvement: the
White Army was reaching the Urals, and the Bolsheviks decided to murder
Tsar Nicholas II and all his relatives in the region before they could be
rescued by "counterrevolutionaries." There would be no trial, no charges,
just cold-blooded murders. For the Bolsheviks it didn't matter if the
victims were to be sick children like Tsarevich Alexis, or promising young
men who had never been involved in politics, like Prince Vladimir Paley and
the Konstantinovichi princes.
In the night of July 4/17, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and children, and
their faithful retainers were massacred in the basement of the Ipatyev
house, and buried in a secret grave in the forests near Yekaterinburg. The
Ural Soviet also decided to kill all the Alapayevsk prisoners.
Unaware of the atrocious Yekaterinburg massacre, the prisoners in
Alapayevsk spent the morning of July 4/17, their last one, in their
secluded boredom. At midday, a Chekist by the name of Startsev arrived with
several Bolshevik workers, sent away the guards on duty, took from the
exiles almost all of their remaining money, and told them that they would
be transferred that night to a place about ten miles from Alapayevsk. The
Bolsheviks' real purpose, however, was to take them to an abandoned
half-flooded iron mine near the village of Sinyachikha, which had already
been chosen as the murder site. The mine had a pit called Lower Selimskaya,
almost sixty-five feet deep, where the bodies would not be immediately
Late at night they tied Grand Duchess Elizabeth's and nun Varvara's hands
behind their backs, blindfolded them and took them outside the building,
where several carts were waiting. They made them sit in one of the carts
and sent them off to their destination, since it was decided earlier that
the carts should not leave the town together.
After the Grand Duchess and her faithful companion left, the Bolsheviks did
the same with the men. The Konstantinovichi Princes and Vladimir were taken
out into the corridor and blindfolded, then had their hands tied behind
their backs and were placed in another cart. Only Grand Duke Serge realized
what was going to happen and tried to resist, saying that they were all
going to be killed. The Bolsheviks finally shot at him and wounded him in
the arm, then put him in the last cart and set off.
Shortly after leaving Alapayevsk, all the carts came together. In the
darkness, a group of peasants going to town had a last glimpse of the
Princes and their butchers on the road to Sinyachikha. They met a creepy
silent column of ten or eleven carts, with two people in each. The Princes
were wearing plain civilian clothes. One of the peasants bore witness to
the fact that the column proceeded quietly and calmly; the carts made
absolutely no sound at all. At about one o'clock in the morning the column
approached the mineshaft. It was the 5th/18th of July, which happened to be
Grand Duke Serge's namesday.
Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich
Upon arriving near the mine, the prisoners were taken out of the carts and
made to walk several hundred yards to the chosen mineshaft. The Grand
Duchess Elizabeth sang a hymn as she walked.
As to what happened afterwards, one of the Bolsheviks involved, a certain
Vasily Ryabov, offered the following account of the murders:
"First we led Grand Duchess Elizabeth to the mine. After throwing her down
the shaft, we heard her struggling in the water for some time. We pushed
the nun Varvara down after her. We again heard the splashing of the water
and then the two women's voices. It became clear that, having dragged
herself out of the water, the Grand Duchess had also pulled her sister nun
out. But, having no other alternative, we had to throw in all the men
Blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs, it was very
unlikely that the victims could defend themselves against being hit or try
to escape. However, Grand Duke Serge may have made a last attempt to
resist, because he was shot in the head.
Many months after the murder, autopsies of the bodies showed that despite
their having been beaten, most of the victims were still alive when they
were thrown down the mineshaft. From Ryabov's testimony it seems that the
Bolsheviks expected that the victims, being blindfolded, injured,
unconscious, and with their hands tied, would be quickly drowned in the
pit, and that there was no need to shoot them individually.
The autopsies also gave evidence of severe traumatic injuries to the skull
and brain in all the victims. Prince Vladimir and Prince Igor were almost
certainly unconscious from the time of their injuries, since these were
particularly severe. Grand Duchess Elizabeth, Prince Ioann and Prince
Konstantin may have remained conscious following their injuries, although
this would have been for a short period of time only. The injuries
described in the cases of the three Konstantinovichi brothers must have
been extremely painful and would have made it difficult or impossible to
Grand Duchess Elizabeth
The testimony of the assassin Ryabov is consistent with the belief that
most of the victims remained alive after being thrown down the mineshaft,
and gives an idea of the cruelty of the executors:
"None of them, it seems, drowned or choked in the water, and after a short
time we were able to hear almost all their voices again.
Then I threw in a grenade. It exploded and everything was quiet? We decided
to wait a little, to check whether they had all perished. After a short
while we heard talking and a barely audible groan. I threw another grenade.
And what do you think ? from beneath the ground we heard singing! I was
seized with horror. They were singing the prayer: 'Lord, save your people!'
We had no more grenades, yet it was impossible to leave the deed
unfinished. We decided to fill the shaft with dry brushwood and set it
alight. Their hymns still rose through the thick smoke for some time yet."
According to Ryabov, some guards were posted by the mine, while most of the
murderers went back to Alapayevsk, where they sounded the alarm from the
cathedral bell tower and told the people that the Princes had been taken
away by unknown persons. Apparently some people then hinted at what had
really happened, but the guards who were watching over the mine prevented
them from trying to help the Princes. Other testimonies refer to the
continued survival of the victims at the dark bottom of the pit: some
peasants who crept to the edge of the pit heard the sound of singing rising
from the bottom; others revealed that the Grand Duchess Elizabeth had used
a piece of her head scarf to bandage a wound on Prince Ioann's broken
Although the martyrs died primarily as a result of their terrible injuries,
it is also possible that hunger and thirst added to their suffering, after
hours or even days at the bottom of the mineshaft.
Prince Ioann Konstantinovich
A White army officer wrote that although the circumstances of the murder of
Tsar Nicholas II and his family were terrible, they paled in comparison to
the crime of Alapaevsk. Some sources said that two of the Alapayevsk
executioners became insane due to the hideous nature of the massacre.
After the murder, the Bolsheviks cynically announced that the Princes had
been abducted from Alapayevsk by a group of unknown men. News about the
"escape" was published in the Bolshevik press in Petrograd, and for about a
year the victims' families believed that the Princes were alive somewhere
in Siberia, and fervently waited to hear from them.
But Prince Vladimir Paley and his companions were gone forever, victims of
the holocaust that was beginning to spread all through Russia and which
would kill millions of people through the remaining decades of the gloomy
twentieth century. On July 18, 1918, Russian literature had also lost one
of its most promising poets. At the early age of twenty-one, the final
verses of one of Vladimir's poems, Inscription on a grave, became a
"His soul with tired wings
will fly up, murdered, to the Creator."
Prince Igor Konstantinovich
Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich
On November 1, 1981, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
canonized Tsar Nicholas II and his family, along with all the New Martyrs
who have been killed during the Revolution or under the Soviet regime,
including the victims of the Alapayevsk massacre. Accordingly, Prince
Vladimir Paley was depicted in the icon of the New Martyrs of Russia,
painted at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. He appears
at the left edge of the Imperial family, next to the Konstantinovichi
princes, in military uniform and with a roll in his hand.
A hymn from an akathist dedicated to the Alapayevsk victims contains the
"Rejoice, O venerable martyr Elizabeth, true model of Christian sacrifice!
Rejoice, O Barbara, devoted daughter of thy spiritual mother;
Rejoice, ye who intercede for your compatriots who find themselves amid
suffering and exile!
Rejoice, O Sergius, valiant confessor of the true Faith;
Rejoice, O brethren, equal in number to the Trinity!
Rejoice, O Princes John, Igor and Constantine, who were like unto the
holy youths in the fiery furnace;
Rejoice, O Vladimir, prince and martyr, who foresaw thine own suffering and
Rejoice, ye who have washed your souls clean in the streams of your blood;
Rejoice, ye who stand before the Saviour in the ranks of the new martyrs
After the Communist regime collapsed, the mineshaft near Sinyachikha became
the site of religious pilgrimage, and an Orthodox chapel was built there.
There, in the middle of the Siberian forest, believers arrive to pay
tribute and to show their respect and devotion to the innocent sufferers
sacrificed in that terrible summer night of 1918.
The author, Jorge Saenz, was born in San Jose, Costa Rica. He is a
professor of the History of Law in the University of Costa Rica, and also
teaches Diplomatic History of Costa Rica in the Costa Rican Foreign Service
Institute. He has published several books in Spanish, mainly about Costa
Rican juridical, diplomatic and political history. The author first became
interested in Prince Vladimir after reading an autobiography written by the
latter's half-sister, the Grand Duchess Maria. Later, coming across further
material on the Prince, he became fascinated by the life and work of the
young martyr, his strong faith, his talent, as well as terribly shocked by
the way he and his relatives were murdered in Alapayevsk. Being deeply
moved by the Prince's writings, the author felt a desire to let more people
know what a talented writer and marvelous human being he was, which led to
the writing of this exemplary biography.
The author has most kindly given us his permission to use excerpts from his
book to compose a saint's life of the Royal Martyr Prince Vladimir Paley.
The chapter on the final martyric journey and death of the New Martyrs of
Alapayevsk will be presented almost fully.
The gloaming has already deepened,
But in the sky, above the weary earth,
The crimson gleam of sunlight glitters,
Reflected on the golden domes;
And summoning to dreams and prayer
All those who orphaned are and poor,
The crosses on the high bell towers
Continue shining here and there,
As though the sun's delay in resting
On every church's golden dome
Strives to remind us of the One
Who promised us the resurrection.
- Prince Vladimir Paley
Petrograd. February 1917.
Translated by Natalia Sheniloff