Prince Igor Konstantinovich and the Iverskaya Chapel

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Prince Igor Konstantinovich, 10 June 1894–18 July 1918

Prince Igor Konstantinovich was the sixth child and fifth son of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich the elder and Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Mavrikiyevna (née Princess Elisabeth Auguste Marie Agnes of Saxe–Altenburg). This large, close-knit family of eventually nine children (of whom eight survived into adulthood) stood in stark, welcome contrast to the decadent, dysfunctional antics of many other members of the extended Imperial Family.

Igor and his siblings were the first to be affected by a new law passed by Tsar Aleksandr III, dictating that, henceforth, only the children and male-line grandchildren of a Tsar merited the titles Grand Duke or Duchess and Imperial Highness. This law was meant to cut down on the amount of people getting salaries from the Imperial Treasury. These great-grandchildren and their descendants, thus, were simply to be known as Prince or Princess and Highness.

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Prince Igor (left of centre) during the war, developing into a rather handsome fellow

Igor and his siblings grew up in Pavlovsk, a St. Petersburg suburb. Like all Romanov males, he entered the Corps des Pages military school at a young age, and was taught at home by tutors. He was closest to his brother Oleg, who was killed in action in 1914. Their father, a man of letters, wrote poems and plays under the initials K.R., and founded several literary societies. Because he was so attracted to the old Russian traditions and customs, he gave his children old-fashioned, folksy names which weren’t in vogue in Imperial society, like Ioann, Tatyana, Oleg, and Igor. They represented a romantic ideal of Russia as it was.

Igor and his brothers Konstantin, Oleg, Ioann, and Gavriil served in the Izmaylovskiy Guards Regiment during the Great War. They served with distinction and became decorated war heroes, well-liked by their fellow soldiers. Igor earned the rank of captain. However, he fell sick with pleurisy and pneumonia in 1915, and still wasn’t well after he returned to the trenches.

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Prince Igor and Tsesarevich Aleksey at Stavka (military HQ) during the war

In April 1918, he fell into Bolshevik hands and was taken to the Urals along with his brothers Konstantin and Ioann; their cousins Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley and Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich; the Tsaritsa’s sister Ella and one of her nuns; and Grand Duke Sergey’s secretary. They initially were held in Yekaterinburg but denied communication with the Tsar’s family, and then taken to nearby Alapayevsk.

On 18 July 1918, a day after the Imperial Family’s murder, the Alapayevsk prisoners were blindfolded, had their hands bound, and were taken to an abandoned mineshaft in wagons. Only Grand Duke Sergey knew they were being taken to be murdered, and tried to resist. They were all thrown alive into the mineshaft, which was full of water. Not everyone died instantly, but they were all dead by the time the White Army reached the area and discovered what had happened.

In my alternative history, the Alapayevsk prisoners are rescued, and Igor becomes Grand Duchess Mariya’s husband.

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19th century view of the Iverskaya Gate and Chapel, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Iverskaya (Iberian) Gate, alternately called Resurrection (Voskresenskiye) Gate, is one of the historic entrances to Moskvá’s Red Square and Kreml. It’s surrounded by Red Square, Manezhnaya Square, Voskresenskaya Square, the State Historical Museum, and City Hall.

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Modern view of Iverskaya Gate and Chapel, Copyright Stoljaroff

Since 1669, Iverskaya Chapel has been home to a copy of the Panagia Portaitissa (Ikon of the Blessèd Virgin of Iveron), which according to legend was created by Saint Luke. The original ikon is resplendent in silver and gold. Tradition dictated everyone visit the chapel to venerate the ikon before entering Red Square, no matter how high or low one’s birth. Prisoners and outlaws could pray right beside the Tsar.

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Iverskaya Gate towers, Copyright Hons084Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0

The day before his coronation, the Tsar came to Iverskaya Chapel to venerate the ikon, just like any other worshipper. Coronations were held in Moskvá, the ancient capital, not St. Petersburg, the modern capital.

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Ikon of the Blessèd Virgin of Iveron

The Grand Cathedral of the Winter Palace and the House of Gagarin

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The Grand Cathedral of the Winter Palace, as painted by Eduard Hau

The beautiful cathedral of the Winter Palace was built from 1753–63, consecrated in 1763, and the site of all Imperial weddings. There were many beautiful churches in the various palaces in Tsarskoye Selo and its environs, but only one grand enough to celebrate the weddings of the Imperial Family. In 1837, a fire broke out in the Winter Palace, and architect Vasiliy Petrovich Stasov was pressed into commission to rebuild the cathedral. Along with the Jordan Staircase, the cathedral was one of the few places in the palace to retain its original rococo decoration scheme.

The wedding of Tsar Nicholas II and Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (November 1894), as painted by Laurits Tuxen. In real life, this was the final Imperial wedding held in the cathedral.

The cathedral has three distinct areas, divided by Corinthian columns and pilasters, with large windows on opposite sides and a big central dome. The walls contain gilded stucco in the abovementioned rococo design, which had originally been devised by pre-fire architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The ceiling depicts Jesus’s ascension into heaven, while the lunettes underneath the dome depict Saints John, Matthew, Luke, and Mark. After its restoration was complete, the cathedral was reconsecrated on 25 March 1839. Until the Revolution, this served as the Imperial Family’s primary house of worship.

The cathedral was closed to worship in May 1918, and today serves as an exhibit hall of the Hermitage Museum. It hasn’t been reconsecrated, sadly.

Coat of arms of the House of Gagarin, Copyright Janvhei

In my alternative history, the unlikely Tsaritsa, Arkadiya, is a morganatic princess from the House of Gagarin, born in 1897 in Yekaterinburg. Her father, Mikhail, is a prince by birth, but her mother is a commoner. This princely family claims descent from Prince Vladimir the Great (ca. 958–15 July 1015), the ruler of Kyivan Rus from 980–1015 and now a saint. He’s the special patron saint of the Konev family in my Russian historicals.


The House of Prince Gagarin on Novinskiy Boulevard in Moskvá, one of the family’s mansions from 1817 until the Revolution. It was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941.

Over the years, many members of the Gagarin family have served in the military and government of Imperial Russia. One of their princes, Grigoriy Grigoriyevich (29 April/11 May 1810–18/30 January 1893), was a painter in addition to an esteemed general. Most of the Gagarins now live in the U.S., though Grigoriy Grigoriyevich’s descendants live in Russia.

In reward for the family’s service to the Motherland, they received fiefdoms, Orders, and numerous other tokens of gratitude. They had many estates, mansions, and palaces all over the Russian Empire.

The Fyodorovskaya Ikon of the Mother of God

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The Fyodorovskaya Ikon of the Mother of God is the patron ikon of the House of Romanov and one of Russia’s most beloved ikons. The feast days are 27 March and 29 August. Like the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Marian ikons, it depicts Mary and Baby Jesus, instead of Mary alone, as is the case with most Catholic Marian ikons. It’s very unusual to find an Orthodox ikon depicting only Mary.

Since it so resembles the famous, widely-venerated Theotokos of Vladimir ikon, many people believe the Fyodorovskaya is merely a copy of that older ikon. (Theotokos, which is Greek for “God-bearer,” is the title frequently given to Mary in Eastern Orthodoxy.) In the wake of the Mongol sack of Gorodets, the Volga town where it was kept, it disappeared and was given up for lost.

As the story goes, on 16 August 1239, Prince Vasiliy of Kostroma got lost while hunting in the woods, and found an ikon among the firs. When he tried to touch it, it rose up into the air. Prince Vasiliy believed it a miracle, and went to get all the townspeople, who followed him back to the forest and fell on their faces in worship. The ikon was taken to Assumption Cathedral, where a fire soon broke out. Once again, the ikon miraculously survived. When the people of Gorodets discovered their ikon had been found, they demanded it back. Kostroma and Gorodets fought over it for a long time, till finally the people of Kostroma painted a copy and sent it to Gorodets.

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In 1613, 16-year-old Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov received a copy of the ikon from his mother Kseniya, who’d been forced into a nunnery by the villainous Boris Fyodorovich Godunov. Kseniya was very frightened when her son was offered the position of Tsar, since things hadn’t gone very well for the last few people on the throne. However, she ultimately blessed Mikhail, and gave him that ikon to protect him and his descendants. The new Tsar Mikhail took the ikon back with him to Moskvá, and thus it became his family’s special protecting ikon. This ikon is the reason so many foreign brides took the patronymic Fyodorovna when converting to Russian Orthodoxy.

Over the years, several other cities requested copies for veneration, some of them quite ornate and fancy. It should be stressed that the Orthodox don’t pray to ikons, but rather venerate them, asking these saints to intercede with God on their behalf.

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During the Romanovs’ tercentenary in 1913, Nicholas II commissioned a copy of the Gorodets original. However, at this point, it was impossible to work from the original, since it had become so badly blackened over the centuries. This was interpreted as a very bad omen for his dynasty.

Since the image has become so corrupted, the ikon hasn’t been donated to a museum like other ikons. Today, it has a home in Epiphany Cathedral in Kostroma, after surviving so many calamities over the centuries.

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Electrotherapy and Easter

My IWSG post is here.

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Nurses administering electrotherapy, circa World War I, Copyright Otis Historical Archives Nat’l Museum of Health & Medicine

Electrotherapy was used as a treatment for hemophilia in the era before breakthrough drugs slowly made the average lifespan a little longer and offered hope during attacks which were often fatal in previous generations. This isn’t to be confused with electroshock “therapy,” since electrotherapy isn’t really supposed to hurt. It’s been described as more of a tickle or warming sensation.

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Unhappily taking a therapeutic mudbath in the Crimea

For obvious reasons, I haven’t been able to find any pictures of Aleksey’s Fohn apparatus. It’s possible there were pictures, but the Bolsheviks destroyed a lot of the Imperial Family’s pictures, representing thousands of rolls of films. In any case, the family took the Fohn apparatus into exile in Siberia. This device got a lot of use after Aleksey’s injury at Tobolsk. It was applied to his joints and muscles, to prevent atrophying during long periods of immobility. It also kept the blood circulating.

Aleksey was only about 15 years away from the first breakthrough drugs. If he’d continued being lucky and bouncing back from the jaws of Death, and had either been rescued or never fallen into Bolshevik hands, it’s entirely plausible to believe he could’ve survived longer than just his early twenties.

Russian Easter eggs, Copyright Loyna

Easter is the grandest, holiest, most anticipated holiday in Russian Orthodoxy. Like Christmas, it’s not just a holiday, but an entire season. It all starts with Maslenitsa (Butter Week), a gluttonous orgy eight weeks before Easter. Maslenitsa corresponds to Carnival, with the obvious exception being the differing dates. Though Russia has long since converted to the Gregorian Calendar, Easter and Christmas are still celebrated by the Julian Calendar.

Traditional Orthodox Christians have a lot of fasts and fasting seasons, and Great Lent is the strictest of all. During Maslenitsa, meat is already off-limits, and this is the final week to eat dairy, eggs, fish, oil, and wine. The trademark food of Maslenitsa is bliny, small, thin, dessert pancakes made with lots of butter, eggs. and milk.

Romanov Tercentenary Fabergé egg, Copyright user:shakko

In addition to beautiful, bright, ornately-decorated Easter eggs, the Imperial Family also commissioned Fabergé eggs from 1885–1917 (excepting 1904 and 1905). There were eggs planned for 1918, but sadly never delivered. The first egg, the Jeweled Hen Egg, was given to Empress Mariya Fyodorovna by Tsar Aleksandr III, and contained three surprises: a golden yolk, a gold hen, and a diamond replica of the Imperial crown, with a suspended ruby. The Empress loved it so much, she received an egg every Easter until the end of the dynasty. Nicholas II continued the tradition after he assumed power, and had an egg made for his wife as well as his mother.

The Tsesarevich Egg of 1912 (miniature portrait obviously damaged), made to celebrate Aleksey’s miraculous survival in Spała, Copyright Franco aq.

Each egg had at least one surprise, some revealed through pushing a tiny button. They were named after their theme, like Bouquet of Lilies Clock, Gatchina Palace, Shtandart Yacht, Aleksandr Palace, and Napoléonic (celebrating the Battle of Borodino’s centenary). During the Great War, the eggs were much more downscale, and reflected Red Cross and military themes. Sadly, some of the eggs are lost.

Traditional Easter babka, Copyright Silar

Shortly before midnight on Easter Eve, services begin in an almost completely darkened church, and the congregation later proceeds thrice around the church, all carrying candles. When they return to church, all the votive candles are lit by a special spark, the ikonostasis doors are opened, and the priest (or Metropolitan) has changed his dour black robes for silver and white, embroidered with tiny gemstones sparkling in all the candlelight.

Easter kulichi for sale in Kyiv

The Lenten fast is broken with a smorgasbord of all the foods which were forbidden over the last seven weeks. This includes special Easter foods, like kulich, Paskha, babka, and, of course, all those beautiful Easter eggs.

Paskha curd cake

In my alternative history, Aleksey is forbidden from keeping all the Orthodox fasts in the hopes of preserving his life and regaining as much strength as possible. On his first orphaned Easter, Grand Duke Mikhail gives him a Fabergé egg with the surprises of a ruby heart and a miniature picture of his parents, framed by diamonds, with their names and dates lived engraved in silver on the back.

Old Easter postcard

The Cathedral of the Dormition and the Chrysler Imperial Touring

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The Cathedral of the Dormition, Copyright Татьяна Чеп (Tatyana Chep)

The Cathedral of the Dormition, also called Assumption Cathedral (Russian name Uspenskiy Sobor), is on the northern side of Cathedral Square in Moskvá’s Kreml. It’s surrounded on all sides by the Palace of Facets, Ivan the Great Bell Tower, and the Church of the Twelve Apostles. This beautiful, imposing cathedral is Muscovite Russia’s mother church.

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Northern door, Copyright Alvesgaspar

Tsar Ivan III, the Great, the first Russian ruler to call himself Tsar, ordered its construction in the 15th century. Architect Aristotele Fioravanti built it from 1475–79. Under the reign of Ivan I (Ivan Kalita [Moneybag]), a cathedral dedicated to Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) had been built and dedicated, but this cathedral had fallen into disrepair by the end of the 15th century. A new cathedral was built from 1472–74, but as it neared completion, the placement of the drum of the main cupola caused it to collapse, and they had to start all over again. The new cathedral combined Russian traditions with Renaissance style.

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Copyright user:shakko

In 1547, the coronation of Tsar Ivan IV (Ivan Grozniy, whose title truly translates as “fearsome,” “awe-inspiring,” and “dreadsome,” NOT “terrible”) took place in the cathedral. Starting in 1721, with Peter the Great, it became the location for all coronations. The installation of patriarchs and metropolitans of the Russian Orthodox Church also took place here, and this is where most of those religious leaders’ tombs are.

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Copyright Elenak1211

Sadly, this beautiful cathedral has suffered much through the ages, with fires in 1518, 1547, 1682, and 1737; looting by Polish–Lithuanian forces during the Smutnoye Vremya (Time of Troubles) in 1612; and more looting and being used as a stable by the occupying French in 1812. In 1894–95, it underwent a thorough restoration. Its final religious service was held on Easter 1918, with special permission from Lenin. Following this, it became a museum. A story claims Stalin held a secret service here in the winter of 1941, when the Nazis were at the threshold of Moskvá, to pray for the country’s salvation.

It underwent repairs in 1949–50, 1960, and 1978. In 1990, it reopened for sporadic religious services, and since 1991, has been fully restored to the Russian Orthodox Church.

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Holy Doors and part of the ikonostasis, Copyright user:shakko

During the coronation ceremony, the Tsar would enter the Holy Doors to take Communion with the priests for the first and only time in his life, taking the bread and wine separately instead of mixed together in a special spoon. In my alternative history, a new tradition is started when the Tsaritsa, Arkadiya, also goes inside the Holy Doors to receive Communion. Prior to this fantasy coronation in 1931, the Tsaritsa always remained outside to take Communion like everyone else. Not only does the Tsaritsa come inside, but the baby Tsesarevich, Yaroslav (Yarik), also comes inside for Communion. In Eastern Orthodoxy, infants take Communion. Hey, it’s the 20th century, and Russia has become a constitutional monarchy.

Chrysler Imperial Touring

Copyright Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden

The Chrysler Imperial Touring is probably my third-most desired antique car, after the sweet, sweet Duesenberg and Rochet-Schneider. This was Chrysler’s top of the line vehicle for much of its existence, starting with its début in 1926. It was initially manufactured until 1954, and then brought back from 1990–1993. In my alternative history, this is one of the cars in Tsar Aleksey II’s garage. He’s not allowed to drive, for fear the worst might happen, but there’s nothing the matter with being a passenger.