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Sunday, May 14, 2000

St. Grand Duchess Elizabeth

by Linda DeLaine
St. Grand Duchess Elizabeth

How does the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Britain and sister to the Tsarina of Russia become the founder of a religious convent and end up brutally murdered? Let's begin with some rather intriguing geneology and how England, Germany and Russia became intertwined.

Louis II of Hesse:
children included Charles and Marie
Charles was father of Louis IV (b. 1837) who married Alice Maude Mary, daughter of Queen Victoria.
Marie married Alexander II or Russia; their children included Alexander III and Serge.
Serge (b. 1857) married Elizabeth, daughter of Louis IV and Alice Maude Mary.
Alexander III (b. 1845) fathered Nicholas II (b. 1868) who married Elizabeth's sister, Alexandra.

Elizabeth, also known as Ella, was born in Bessungen in 1864. She married the Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich Romanov in 1884. Serge is reputed to have been a sadistic man and a homosexual. In 1892, Serge, as governor of Moscow, had the Jewish quarter of that city torn apart by Cossacks and the residents, mostly artists and merchants, thrown out. His brother, Tsar Alexander III, didn't seem to mind as he considered the Jews enemies of Christianity for, as he believed, having killed Christ.

*Note: Grand Duke Serge's reputation is one of much controversy. What is important, here, is the strong evidence that Elizabeth loved her husband dearly and mourned deeply his death. A Godly woman, the assasination of Elizabeth's husband was a turning point in her life; a life that was, from that point onward, totally dedicated to the service of others. In fact, letters written by St. Elizabeth to Tsar Nicholas II indicate that it was the Grand Duke Serge who introduced his wife to Orthodox Christianity. Serge was a favorite uncle of Nicholas II. The purpose of this article is the life of St. Grand Duchess Elizabeth; Grand Duke Serge's reputed nature deserves separate treatment.

Grand Duke Serge (or Sergius) met his death in 1905 when he was assassinated by a terrorist bomb at the Kremlin. His widow, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth was inside the Kremlin and heard the blast. Elizabeth and Serge did not have any children; one possible reason for the alligation that Serge was homosexual; but this is little more than malicious rumor. Serge's mortal remains were interred in a Kremlin monastary, later destroyed by Stalin. The Grand Duke's crypt was discovered in 1995 and he was given a proper burial on September 17, 1995, at the Novospassky Monastery. (Serge in 17th c. royal costume)

Elizabeth was instrumental in the introduction and eventual marriage of her sister, Alexandra, to her nephew (by marriage), Nicholas II. Grandmother, Queen Victoria, was not pleased as she had hoped Alexandra would marry her grandson, Albert Victor. It was little secret that Alexandra was Victoria's favorite grand-daughter.

Elizabeth, as a widow, devoted her energies to helping the poor of Moscow. She founded a hospital and convent in that city. The Convent of Sisters of Mercy of Martha and Mary was founded in 1910 and Grand Duchess Elizabeth was the Abbess. Ironically, the abby was designed by the same architect who would design Lenin's Tomb. The interior design, as well as the pearl colored habits of the sisters, was designed by the Russian artist, Nesterov.

Elizabeth's convent had one purpose; to serve the poor of Moscow. Attached to it was a hospice, hospital and dental clinic. The sisters raised and educated orphans, brought the dying in off the streets and nursed them and those suffering from the worst of diseases could find refuge and comfort at Elizabeth's convent.

During the pre-Revolution days of Russia, this sort of unconditional caring was virtually unheard of. Here you had a Grand Duchess, a member of British, German and Russian royalty, personally caring for the most pathetic conditions of humanity; all of whom were of the peasant class. Elizabeth's ministry was not unlike that of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Elizabeth and her sister, Alexandra, had a falling out due to the latter's desparate faith in Rasputin and the increasing turmoil in Russia. Elizabeth and her nuns lived a peaceful life, virtually separated from the pre-Revolution events. When Alexandra and her family were taken captive by Bolshevik revolutionaries, other members of the Romanov family were rounded up. Included were several Grand Dukes and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth. The day after the execution of Tsar Nicholas II, his family and household, Elizabeth, a fellow nun, Barbara, and five other Romanovs were thrown down a mine shaft in Alapayevsk, Siberia. Since they did not drown and die immediately, their executioners tossed in a live grenade. After the explosion, the horrified murders heard singing. From the depths of the shaft came the familiar hymn God Save Your People (midi file). A second grenade failed to stop the singing, so the shaft was filled with brush and set on fire. Eventually, singing ceased.

Eventually, Elizabeth's remains were found and properly interred at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem. Elizabeth was canonized by the Orthodox Church and her nuns continued her work, in secret, during the Soviet Era. Princess Alice of Battenburg (b. 1885) re-founded the Convent of Martha and Mary; originally formed by her aunt, in 1949. Today, the convent is home to an icon studio.

St. Elizabeth is honored and loved by those of the Anglican Church (Church of England), as well as the Orthodox Church. A statue of the St. Grand Duchess Elizabeth was installed in Westminister Abbey, the center of the Anglican faith, in London.