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Cultural Fact

Rasputin

Before being this good song by Boney M, Rasputin was a man, a priest, a healer, a prophet… or a sinner, a charlatan, a liar, a spy… In a good or in a bad way, he always made a very strong impression on the people he met (especially the ladies of the court apparently). Adored by the imperial family, hated both by the nobility and the Soviet regime, this character is still fascinating nowadays. Have you ever wondered who was this man? How did he become so famous that he got his own song? So put on your headphones and listen to it while I tell you the story (and legend) of ‘The Mad Monk’ Rasputin.

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A Photo of Grigori Rasputin (source: Wikicommons)

Grigori Efimovitch Rasputin is probably born around the year 1869 in Pokrovskoye, a small town in Siberia. He got interested in the Bible very early, and he made several pilgrimages. He was known for having some mystical powers such as prediction but most importantly a healing gift.

This gift brought him to St Petersburg. The Tsarevitch Alexei is hemophiliac (a blood illness that can make any bleeding mortal) and in this time, doctors were powerless against this illness. Introduced to the family by nobles he met during his pilgrimages, he was able to calm the Tsarevitch pain after he got hurt. It impresses the imperial family so much that they decided to keep the monk with them since he seemed to be the only one able to calm their son’s pain. His “powers” were probably a mix between his extraordinary charisma and … defying the doctors by preventing the patient to take aspirin an anticoagulant (they didn’t know it then) making the disease even worse. Progresses were made till then so if you are hemophiliac no need for a strange Siberian monk!

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Nicolas II, his wife Alexandra Fedorovna, their 5 children (source: Wikicommons)

Rasputin became a very important counselor of the imperial family and an attraction for the capital’s elite (especially with women ). This charismatic character really made an impression on everyone he met, his eyes were said to be fascinating and even hypnotizing. His political views, pleading for peace, and its… let’s say… quite immoral behavior, made him many enemies amongst the nobility. After the start of the first World War he was seen as a danger for Russia as well as the Tsarina who had German origins.

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Another photo of Grigori Rasputin (source: Wikicommons)

 

His death is certainly the most controversial part of his story. It’s hard to know where the legend starts. He was killed by a conspiracy of monarchists who disliked the influence he had on the Tsar and feared he would bring him to make peace with Germany. Felix Yusupov, one of the richest noble of St Petersburg, invited him to his Palace (by the way you can visit it with a guide just here). He was given poisoned food and wine but it did not seem to affect him, they hence shot him. Seeing that the monk was still not dead, they beat him up, shot him several times (again), wrapped him into some piece of clothes to throw him into the river. His body was found a few days later, a doctor who examined the body claimed that he didn’t die because of the poison nor the gunshot but by drowning (Russian Die Hard).

As cool and incredible this story is, it is probably false. The doctor who gave the poison later said he gave some harmless product because he had remorses. The doctor who examined the body also remade his statement saying that most of the contusions and wounds were made post-mortem (meaning he was already dead when they threw him into the river).

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Caricature of an “Evil” Rasputin – 1916 (Source: Wikicommons)

 

Another very important part of his legend is the letter he wrote and in which he predicted his death, and with it the death of the imperial family within two years!!! (he died in 1916 and the imperial family was killed in 1918 in Ekaterinburg) This is another mystical stuff but let’s focus on the most important… he may not have written it!!! Again? you would say. So what’s the point with this guy if nothing is true? I’ll answer you that it’s how a legend works, no one knows the truth, but it could be true.

With the fall of the monarchy and the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, Rasputin was used as the symbol of the moral decay of the Tsars. They greatly participated in the edification of the myth of the “mad monk”.

 

Now that you know more about this central character of Russian history why not come to Russia and visit the places he has been! Book your guided tour on Tsar Visit!

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Cultural Fact

The art of icons

Coming from the greek word “icone”, icona means “holy image”. Indeed, above the painting, an icona traditionally is a guide to the Holy Spirit.

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An icona should be representing things that are invisible and can’t be represented by the non-religious arts. That’s why the Orthodox art of iconas painting defined its rules and models more than 10 centuries ago…and never changed it since then! Indeed, how painting Holy iconas could be something else than pure truth and perfection?

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One of the first principle of iconas painting is the minimisation of material and physical objects. Usually, iconas are made on lime tree covered by linen. According to the millenary tradition, painters rely on the soak technic. They must also use golden leaves to represent the Holy light around Saints.

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In Russia some icons remain more important than others due to their spirituality or their beauty. Among them, we can think of the Virgin of Vladimir, the Virgin of Kazan and the Holy Trinity.

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Cultural Fact

Maslenitsa tradition for Easter

Each year, exactly a week before the Orthodox Great Lent, Russians are braving the cold to eat, dance and play in parks. Why? Because of Maslenitsa of course!

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Because Maslenitsa is a celebration during which we say bye to Winter and praise Spring to come faster. And we’re doing in a very Russian way: playing, dancing and eating!

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Maslenitsa relies indeed on two essentials go-to if you don’t want an endless winter (and seriously, who does?): burning the Lady Maslenitsa, and eating the Sun (aka a big and delicious blinis). While being an old tradition, it remains today a very popular celebration that gather Russians in parks to play traditional games, dance, and above all to eat blinis!

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If you have the opportunity, definitely go in Russia for Maslenitsa. It’s warming and delicious!

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Did you know?

Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood

Did you know? Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood isn’t an usual church (despite its name) but rather a memorial!  Do you struggle identifying Church on the Savior on Blood and Saint Basil’s Cathedral? Well, no worries, in fact the architecture of the first mentioned was inspired by the lattest, which explains why they resemble each other so much. You’ll get more comfortable with it by reading about both of them.

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The Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood cathedral has been built in 1907 following the orders of Tsar Alexander III. However, it has been erected as a memorial and mourning place following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the Liberator, on March 1st 1881.

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In fact, and even if weekly requiem and sermons are given to remember Alexander II, Christ the Savior on the Spilled blood became a cathedral only in 1923. It has been closed about nine years later on the orders of the Soviet leadership to become a garbage dump. Nowadays Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood is an annex of St Isaac’s museum due to its stunning mosaics. That’s why if many believes that this world-known building is one of the most important church of St-Petersburg, it rather is, due to its history and architectural style, a memorial symbolising the Russian dilemma between liberalism and conservatism. And of course, it demonstrates (if needed) the Russian savoir-faire when it comes to architecture and religious art.

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