GRAND DUCHESS MARIA NIKOLAEVNA: BRETHREN CEMETERY OF TSARSKOE SELO
In 1914, soon after the start of the First World War, near the Kazan Cemetery, a special section of land was assigned for burial of deceased soldiers from Tsarskoe Selo infirmaries. Originally the cemetery contained 400 graves and was named “The Heroes’ Cemetery”, but by early 1915 it was renamed ‘The Brethren Cemetery of Tsarskoe Selo”. From this time it came under the special patronage of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.
The Empress wanted more than anything to build a cathedral on the cemetery grounds to conduct services for her beloved former patients. The laying of the foundation of the cathedral took place on 18 August, 1915. It was a simple wooden church, constructed from imperial park trees that were felled by a hurricane in 1912. This wooden structure was meant to be temporary, and there were plans to build a larger stone cathedral after the war, but this never materialized due to subsequent events.
The cathedral was consecrated on 4 October, 1915. In a letter to her father, dated 7 October, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna wrote: “We only just consecrated the cemetery church with Mama, and already two officers died at our infirmary and the Grand Palace infirmary”.
Watch the video of what the cathedral location looks like today:
By 1917, The Brethren Cemetery contained over a thousand graves. Surprisingly, the cemetery existed well into the 1930s, along with its cathedral. In 1937 when Archdeacon Feodor Ioannovich Mudrolubov, who served at the cathedral since its founding in 1915, was arrested and shot by the communist government, the church was shut down and demolished shortly after. According to local eyewitnesses, the graves were bulldozed and the soil was removed and used for town lawns.
Between mid-1940s and early 1960s the location was used to bury unknown Soviet soldiers whose remains were found in the area after the Second World War. Old obelisks from the original World War I Brethren cemetery graves were recycled as tombstones.
In 1990s, just after the fall of USSR, all the tombstones were removed for unknown reasons. Today, the former Brethren cemetery is basically a wasteland. Until very recently, the spot where the cathedral was standing was used as a community garden.
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna mentioned the cathedral and the cemetery often in her wartime diaries and letters:
“2 March … Went to the cemetery with A. and T. Got stuck in the snow, and there was so much snow at the cemetery that we sunk almost to our waist.”
“3 March . My sweet and dear Papa! Yesterday after we saw you off, Tatiana, Anastasia and I went to the cemetery in a motor. We drove there for an unusually long time because the roads are so bad. We arrived there and went to the officers’ graves, there was nothing there yet, and too much snow, then I wanted to visit the graves of our patients from the lower ranks. There was a big pile of snow on the side of the road, so I was able to climb up with great difficulty on my knees and jump down from it. Down there the snow turned out to be above the knees, and although I was wearing long boots, I was already wet so I decided to continue ahead. Nearby I found one grave with the surname Mishenko, this was the name of our patient; I laid down some flowers there and walked ahead, and suddenly I saw the same surname again, I looked up at the board, [to see] which regiment he was from, and it turned out that he was one of our patients [too], but not the same one. So I laid down the flowers for him and was just starting to walk away when I fell on my back, and was lying there for almost a minute not knowing how to get up, there was so much snow that I could not reach the ground with my hand for leverage. I finally got up and walked ahead.
Earlier Tatiana and Anastasia said they were going to go to another cemetery, to Sonia Orbeliani [grave] and that they will return for me. But instead they sent a man in charge of the graveyard to help me. He crawled over to me with great difficulty and we went to look for another grave together. We searched and searched and could not understand at all what happened to it. It turned out that it was closer to the fence and that we should have climbed over a ditch. He stood in the ditch and said to me ‘I will carry you over’, I said ‘no’, he said ‘let’s try’. Of course he put me down not on the other side but right in the middle of the ditch. And so we are both standing in the ditch, up to our bellies in snow, and dying from laughter. It was hard for him to climb out, as the ditch was deep, and for me too. So he climbed out somehow and stretched his hands out to me. Of course I slid back down into the ditch on my stomach about three times, but finally climbed out. And we performed all this with flowers in our hands. Then we couldn’t fit through between the crosses for a while, as we were both wearing our coats. But in the end I did find the grave. Finally we were able to leave the cemetery…”
“7 September … Went to Zolotarev’s funeral service, his body was brought over and buried at the Brethren Cemetery…”
“17 September … 4 went to the Kazansky cemetery, and the Brethren [one] for Zolotarev…”
Above excerpts are from the book MARIA and ANASTASIA: The Youngest Romanov Grand Duchesses In Their Own Words
Watch the video podcast I made at the site of the Brethren Cemetery to see what it looks like today (including the ditch that Maria describes in her letter above):