Honorary Cossack For a Day

Sunday, 9 March 1890 - St. Petersburg, Russia

Church of the Exaltation of the Cross
Today I attended the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross, near the Obvodny Canal. This is the site of one of the oldest churches and cemeteries in the city, although it was originally a wooden church named Church of the Birth of John the Baptist. Built in 1719, it served as a parish church for the Coachmen’s Settlement that was here then.

By the time the first stone church was built in 1794, the neighborhood had changed. The population was mostly Cossacks serving in the Imperial Regiments. It is still mostly Cossacks here, which is why this church is more often called the Cossack’s Church. The current building dates back to 1851 and is really a cathedral, with a complex of churches and chapels.

If you ask someone outside this part of the world what a “Cossack” is, and they will tell you it is a “Russian soldier.” That is a bit like saying “Scottish Highlanders” are just “British soldiers.” The Cossacks are in fact an ethnic group from the southern Russian Empire. Their origins are shrouded in mystery and have been the subject of much debate and arm wrestling among historians for centuries.

I have mentioned back in the 13th century, the Golden Horde (the Northwestern portion of the Mongol Empire) had Russia under it’s thumb. The Horde had settled primarily in what is now the Ukraine and southern Russia. The native Cuman were driven west into Hungary and Bulgaria. The Cuman were tough, but the Horde was also tough and outnumbered them.

By the beginning of the 15th century, the Horde began to fall apart, losing political power. Into this vacuum came serfs from Russia and Eastern Europe, running away from their masters. They settled in the Caucasus Mountains, the Islands of the lower Dnieper and Don River basins left uninhabited by the retreating Horde. It is believed they probably met the remaining Cuman tribes who had been too isolated and too ornery for the Mongols to want to tangle with. The Cuman lived on their cattle herds and were famous as horsemen and warriors. They welcomed the refugees who wished to join them, no doubt seeing them as added man-power. However they had to prove they were tough enough. The Slavic serfs in turn taught the Cumans farming and these new amalgamated tribes evolved into the Cossacks.

Cossack warrior
“Cossack” is from the Turkic word “Kazakh” which means “nomad.” Kazakh is also the name of the nomadic peoples of the steppes in what will one day be Kazakhstan and are apparently no relation. (Bit like the word “Native American” which can mean someone descended from the pre-Columbian Amerindians or just someone born in the United States.)

So the Cossacks are descended from the Cuman tough enough to outlast the Mongols and serfs brave enough to risk their lives to flee to a desolate land just so they could be free. They may not be powerful enough to keep a neighboring empire from putting their lands on their own maps, but they are hardheaded enough to push back any ruler stupid enough to try to push them around.

They especially don’t like people trying to convert them. The Polish Kings tried to make them Catholic and the Ottoman Sultans have tried to make them Muslim--and lived to regret it. Because the Cossacks are Orthodox Christians, they were more favorable to an alliance with the Russians. The Tsars have, for the most part, been wise enough to know Cossacks make better allies than enemies. They have allowed them semi-autonomy and actively recruited them into their military. Rather than fighting the Cossacks, they let the Cossacks fight for them. The Cossacks helped Russia conquer Siberia, Poland and other surrounding countries, creating the Russian Empire.

Cossack Calvary
Unfortunately the Tsars have also let the Cossacks regiments do all their dirtiest jobs, giving them a bad reputation they are all too aware of. It was probably why all eyes turned on me when I entered the church. The church was not only full of men in uniforms, but women, children and the elderly. This was a full-fledge community.

One elderly gentleman walked up to me, and spoke in broken French. “You French-man?” He pointed at my top hat.

“No, sir. I am English.” I replied in French. This is the language of the Imperial Court.

“Englishman come to watch us eat babies?” he grinned at me like a snarling tiger. He was shorter than me, but I think he could have easily taken me on. In fact I think his wife could, too.

“No.” I shook my head. “You are Christian, are you not?”

“Orthodox. Don’t forget that. Why you here?”

“I came to Russia to study the people, so I can tell the folks back home the real truth--that you are just people. I think I should show them all the people in the Russian Empire, including your people, the Cossacks.” I pointed to a soldier holding a toddler. “It appears to me you are too busy loving your babies to eat them.” I gave a slight bow. “If I am too disruptive, I shall leave you in peace. But if you don’t mind, I would like to sit in the back and watch the service, if that is all right?”

The old man rubbed his chin, studying me a moment. “No, you not sit in back. You sit in front.” He grabbed my arm and led me off. He introduced himself as Mykola Perevernykruchenko. After the service he took me to his home with a large extended family, and insisted I stay for dinner. We had boiled potatoes, sausages, millet grits and bread--very simple but hearty faire.

Perevernykruchenko told me about his life. He had learned to ride a horse at three and by five was playing war on horseback with reed arrows and wooden sabers, like all the other little boys. His father taught him how to fight with real bows and arrows. He told me how he had served the Tsar for twenty years, as had his father. Now his sons and grandsons were following the family tradition.

I hope none of his sons and grandsons will run foul of the Soviets. Some joined the Red Army, but most joined the White in defense of their Tsar. Between 1919 to 1920 it is estimated a half-a-million Cossacks were either executed or hauled away to Siberia to work camps. They did not get along with the Communists who wanted to convert them to atheism. But they will survive. And someday their homeland the Ukraine will be an independent country.

After dinner they played music and danced. The Cossacks are the one who invented the Hopak dance Russia is famous for. They squat and kick their feet out without losing their balance. They offered to teach me how, but once I squatted and kicked, I fell back on my posterior. They all had a good laugh over that. The older men tried to teach me a less strenuous dance, but even that was too much for me. It reminded me of an Irish jig.

Cossack Dancers
It is said the Cossacks adopt others into their culture if they can prove themselves Cossack material. That is why you can find some German, Polish and even a few Jewish names among them. Some names may even be Scottish in origin! I don’t think I made the grade, but Perevernykruchenko proclaimed me an “honorary” Cossack for the day. I may not be a warrior, but I apparently make good guest material.

As I took my leave, Perevernykruchenko admonished me, “You tell England we don’t eat babies. We good Christians.”

“Yes, I will.” I promised. What I had really come for was to record the Cossacks of this period so their descendants in the 27th century could see them. I had scanned everyone’s DNA, so Perevernykruchenko’s great, great, etc. grandchildren could “meet“ him. On a whim I turned back to him, “Excuse me, but if you could speak to your children’s children’s children’s children, what would you say to them?”

Perevernykruchenko frowned a moment, then smiled. “May you always be brave and free as your ancestors. You are a Cossack. Never forget that.”

Cossacks survived the Soviet era and retained their customs.

The more “sedate” traditional Cossack dance they tried to teach me (note these are old men)

In the 22nd century, the Ukraine finally got the Olympic Committee to accept Cossack dancing as an Olympic sport.

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV
of the Ottoman Empire by Ilya Repin (1880-91)
Perhaps the most famous of the stories of the Cossacks is the one of the Ukrainian Cossacks reply to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1676. One of the most powerful men in the world, he was getting tired of their raids and demanded they surrender to his rule.

Sultan Mahmud IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks:

As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians -- I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.

--Turkish Sultan Mahmud IV

The reply was a stream of insulting and vulgar rhymes, parodying the Sultan's titles:

The Kozaks of the Dnieper to the Sultan of Turkey:

Thou Turkish Satan, brother and companion to the accursed Devil, and companion to Lucifer himself, Greetings!

What the blazes kind of noble knight art thou? The Devil voids, and thy army devours. Never wilt thou be fit to have the sons of Christ under thee: thy army we fear not, and by land and on sea we will do battle against thee.

Thou scullion of Babylon, thou wheelwright of Macedonia, thou beer-brewer of Jerusalem, thou goat-flayer of Alexandria, thou swineherd of Egypt, both the Greater and the Lesser, thou sow of Armenia, thou goat of Tartary, thou hangman of Kamenetz, thou evildoer of Podoliansk, thou grandson of the Devil himself, thou great silly oaf of all the world and of the netherworld and, before our God, a blockhead, a swine's snout, a mare's behind, a butcher's cur, an unbaptized brow, May the Devil take thee! That is what the Kozaks have to say to thee, thou basest-born of runts! Unfit art thou to lord it over true Christians!

The date we write not for no calendar have we got; the moon is in the sky, the year is in a book, and the day is the same with us here as with thee over there, and thou canst kiss us thou knowest where!

-- Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host.

And this is the Victorian translation! A more literal translation would make me blush for a month. By the way, they never did surrender.


The Oscar-Winning 19th-Century Russian Poet

Tuesday, 18 February 1890 - St. Petersburg, Russia

Today we had a snowstorm outside, so I decided to stay inside curled up with a good book. And who better to read than Alexander Pushkin, the father of modern Russian literature. He was the first to use everyday speech in his writing. Considered Russia’s greatest poet, he also wrote plays, novels, short stories and even fairy tales. He would not only inspire Russian writers, but also composers and artists as they tried to bring his works to life.

Alexander Pushkin
Pushkin’s life was as romantic a tale as any he invented. Born in 1799 of Russian nobility, he was also descended from German and Swedish nobles on his mother’s side and an African prince on his father’s. Alexander Pushin was the great grandson of the great General Abram Gannibal. (Yes, the same Gannibal that spoke to Alexander Suvorov in my last blog.)

Abram Gannibal was a captured African prince held hostage by the Ottoman Sultan. He was made a gift to Peter the Great. Rather than treating Gannibal as a slave, Peter raised him with his own children. He would grow up to become Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth’s Major-General and head military engineer. She made him a nobleman in his own right for his service to Russia. A yet despite all his achievements, Gannibal is probably most famous for being the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin.

Pushkin was publishing poetry at fifteen. By the time he graduated from the Imperial Lyceum, he was already a popular writer. He became part of the rebellious youth culture of St. Petersburg and became a crusader for social reform. His outspoken views so upset the government, he often had to leave St. Petersburg and lie low. Pushkin was too popular to be sent off to Siberia, so the authorities tried to control him with strict censorship. Indeed his one play, Boris Godunov, will not be performed in it’s original uncensored form until 2007!

His most famous poem, The Bronze Horseman, shows Peter the Great as a demonic figure. A young man loses his true love in a flood, all too common in St. Petersburg history. He stands before Peter’s famous equestrian statue and curses the Tsar for building his capital in this dangerous spot. The statue comes to life, hunts the poor man down and kills him. Peter the Great’s great-great-grandson, Tsar Nicholas I, would not be amused. The poem was not allowed to be published until after Pushkin’s death.

The Bronze Horseman
Besides being at odds with the powers-that-be, Pushkin was very touchy about any real or perceived slights. Pushkin fought 29 duels to protect his honor. Dueling was popular in the early nineteenth century among gentleman (and fools.) In 1837 Pushkin was shot through the spleen at his last duel and died a few days later. Russia lost it’s greatest literary figure at the age of 37.

Pushkin is popular among the Victorians for his romantic views. The communists will love him for the thumbing his nose at Imperial Russia. Although his work is hard to translate into other languages, he will still have a great influence outside his country.

The 1984 film Amadeus not only won the Academy Award for "Best Picture," it also won Peter Shaffer the award for "Best Adapted Screenplay." Amadeus was in fact based on a play Pushkin wrote back in 1830 called Mozart and Salieri. Pity Pushkin won’t be there to collect his Oscar.

The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
A fairytale by Alexander Pushkin - Russia (1950) with English subtitles

Wondrous Moment - a poem by Alexander Pushkin

A Collection of Alexander Pushkin’s Poems


The Science of Victory

Tuesday, 11 February 1890 - St. Petersburg, Russia

The Field of Mars at St. Petersburg
Today I visited the Fields of Mars here in St. Petersburg. It was originally just called Grand Meadow when the city was first founded. Peter the Great set it aside as a park called Pleasure Field. His daughter Empress Elizabeth turned it into a garden with flowers and walkways.

By the late 1700s the Pleasure Field became a military drilling ground. It seemed the perfect spot for a monument to the great Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov. Erected in 1801, just one year after his death, it shows Suvorov as a young Mars, god of war. It’s a very impressive figure...and looks nothing like Suvorov.

Suvorov as Mars
Suvorov from
Catherine Monument
There is also a figure of Suvorov on the Catherine the Great Monument showing the prominent figures of her reign just below her. It shows a small skinny man that looks like a professor or accountant. This is what Suvorov actually looked like. He did not have the physique of a warrior or the good looks needed be a leader. All Suvorov had was a keen mind and fierce spirit. And that is what made him one of the greatest military minds that ever lived! 68 battles and not one defeat. I don’t know off-hand of any other general who can make that claim.

Alexander Suvorov was born in Moscow in 1730 to a noble family. His father, Vasiliy Suvorov, was a General-In-Chief. Young Alexander wanted to be a soldier like his daddy. He read every military writer he could find, and played soldier, trying to toughen his frail body. Vasiliy knew the boy was smart, but he was too sickly to be on a battlefield.

Vasiliy talked a neighbor, Abram Gannibal, into speaking to the boy. Maybe he would listen to the famous Major-General. So Gannibal sat down and had a heart-to-heart with the lad. He later told his father, “Let the boy do what he wants.” Apparently Gannibal had been quite impressed with Alexander’s knowledge of military strategy.

At the age of seventeen Alexander Suvorov went into the Russian army as a private. He didn’t see combat until he was 26 but he so impressed his superiors that by the age of 33 he was a colonel. By 38 he was a major-general.

Suvorov had his own ideas on military training and strategy and wrote books on the subject, the most famous being The Science of Victory. He wrote them in such a manner that even poorly educated privates could understand. For Suvorov discipline didn’t mean making your men more afraid of you than of the enemy. Discipline meant turning your men into confident soldiers. Marching in formation was fine, but served little purpose in battle. He had his men go through maneuvers that most mimicked actual fighting, so they would react instinctively in war. “Train hard and the fighting will be easy; train easy and the fighting will be hard.” He also encouraged his men to think on their feet and work in teams. In the chaos of battle, an officer could not always be there to give orders. Other generals had pawns, Suvorov had warriors.

Alexander Suvorov
Suvorov also believed that a leader should lead by example. While most generals controlled armies behind the lines, Suvorov led them into battle. Rather than a cushy tent, Suvorov slept on straw like the privates and ate what they ate. This made his men love him. I think it also made them endure much, since they did not want to be shown up by this wisp of a man.

Catherine the Great loved him, too. They were probably never lovers, but she admired his brains and courage. Suvorov was outspoken and was not above giving a clever gibe to someone at court. He did not suffer fools. I sometimes wonder if Catherine invited him to court dinners because he could say what she dared not. She was after all a foreigner and could not afford to insult powerful nobles. Catherine knew how to pick her battles. And I doubt Suvorov was afraid to speak his mind to the Empress when he felt her in error, which she also appreciated.

I think the friendship of Suvorov and Catherine is best summed up by the story of his promotion. In the war with the Poles, after capturing Warsaw, he sent her the short message: “Hurrah! Warsaw is ours.” Catherine sent back an even shorter note: “Hurrah Field Marshall.” Suvorov was not a field marshal--until he got this message.

Catherine heaped medals and honors on Suvorov. She made him Count Suvorov of Rymnik (for the Battle of Rymnik). She was not the only one. Prussia would make him a count and Italy would make him a prince for his services as an ally. He had been given so many medals I doubt he could wear them all at once without falling over.

Unfortunately Paul I, Catherine’s son, inherited his father’s brains and not his mother’s. When he was crowned in 1796 he decided to make changes. His generals would be chivalrous. His idea of chivalry was pretty high for he dismissed 333 generals and 7 field marshals. Suvorov was one of them. No doubt Tsar Paul was irritated by Suvorov’s sharp if honest tongue. He had criticized the Tsar’s dressing the soldiers in impractical Prussian uniforms. Suvorov retired disgraced at 66.

Then Napoleon began to move east in 1799. Now Paul needed the man he had sent away. He summoned Suvorov to lead the Russian army against the French. The 69-year-old man drove Napoleon’s forces out of Italy (which was a collection of independent states at that time). The King of Sardinia made Suvorov a Prince of the House of Savoy.

Later that year however Suvorov was betrayed by Austria and had to make a tactical retreat over the Alps. This was the closest thing he had ever had to a defeat, yet even if the mountain crossing was a triumph in itself. No one had crossed the Alps since Hannibal. Hannibal lost more than half of his army. Suvorov lost only a few men.

March of Suvorov through the Alps
by Vasily Surikov.
Suvorov returned to St. Petersburg where he had been promised a heroes welcome. Tsar Paul reneged, deciding he didn’t need the old man anymore. Worn-out and humiliated, Suvorov died a few days later at the age of 70. A year later Paul I was assassinated and his son Alexander I became Tsar. He erected the statue to Suvorov that same year.

Suvorov greatest dream was to meet Napoleon on the battlefield. He never got the opportunity. However when the French tried to invade Russia in 1812, it was General Mikhail Kutuzov, Suvorov’s protégé, who drove him back. Kutuzov credited Suvorov for teaching him how best to lead an army. Indeed Suvorov’s “protégé” will be born after his death. His books will teach many officers in Russia and elsewhere the Science of Victory.

More on Alexander Suvorov’s many battles

Quotes by Suvorov

A video Tribute to Suvorov

Suvorov in Action
This is a clip from a film in Russian. The actor however has captured Suvorov so well it doesn’t need translation.


The Folklorist Who Reawakened a Nation

Sunday, 2 February 1890 - St. Petersburg, Russia

Today I visited St. John’s Church here in St. Petersburg at 54 Ulitsa Dekabristov, near the Mariinsky Theater. It is a rather modest brick building, but it has great historical significance to the people of Estonia.

Estonia in 1890
This is a map of Estonia as it looks in 1890. What you don’t see it? It’s the area circled. I know the map doesn’t show it, but it’s a German map. The German’s feel it still belongs to them since a band of crusading Teutonic Knights conquered it back in the 13th century, bringing Christianity and serfdom to the poor pagans. The knights also made themselves the ruling class. Then the Swedes took it away (or was it Poland, then the Swedes? It’s all very complicated. Denmark was in there somewhere, too.) The problem is Estonia is on a very strategic spot, and surrounding countries all fought over it for centuries. Finally Peter the Great grabbed it in 1710 and absorbed it into Russia.

Now all this time, there was an Estonian people with their own language and culture that managed to survive under all this turmoil. Sadly the natives were now all serfs. Luckily these serfs were freed in 1819, beating the rest of Russia by 42 years. I believe the serfs may have been freed first in Estonia because the nobles were all Germans and not Russian and thus were little political threat to the Tsar.

Many of the freed serfs decided to thumb their noses at their German overlords and came to St. Petersburg to seek their fortune. It was after all an international city, with ethnic groups from all over. By 1859 the Estonian community had enough members and money to build this fine church, with the help of Tsar Alexander II, who was kind enough to donate 50,000 rubles to the cause.

St. John's Church
My last blog I mentioned how Tsar Alexander II was assassinated, and his son Alexander III became very paranoid and xenophobic. He wants everyone to be Russians. They should speak Russian and belong to the Russian Christian Orthodox Church. Estonians speak German and Estonian and belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia. Perhaps the Tsar hasn’t singled out the Estonians yet because they are mostly poor peasants and his father did help build the church.

It s doesn’t help that the present minister, Jakob Hurt, only two years ago, challenged his parishioners to resist the Tsar’s Russification Policy. Hurt isn’t really a terrorist or anything violent. He is a folklorist and linguist--a fellow anthropologist! He started a campaign to collect Estonian folktales, organizing 1400 volunteers he accumulated from a newspaper campaign to help him, and has collected hundreds of tales into six volumes. He will be known as the “King of Estonian Folklore.” He is also a theologian, which doesn’t pay much, but pays more than being a folklorist.

Jacob Hurt
Jakob Hurt gave the sermon in Estonian. I kept glancing about for the Tsar’s secret police. I think some members had eyed me earlier until they figured out I was just a curious Englishman. Britain is one country that has never tried to conquer Estonia.

I know giving a sermon in Estonian and collecting folktales, may not seem like much, but Hurt is reminding these people they have a culture and a country, even if the rest of Europe denies it. This National Reawakening will eventually lead to 40,000 Estonians marching on the Tauride Palace and the Russian Government in 1917 to demand national autonomy. The Estonian Revolution that followed will force Russia to sign a peace agreement in 1920, making Estonia a free country for the first time in 700 years.

Unfortunately the Soviets reneged on the deal, and occupied Estonia in 1940. Stalin executed thousands and sent tens of thousands of Estonians to labor camps in Siberia. Most will die. Even the dead were not left in peace as Stalin had their cemeteries destroyed. Then between 1941 and 1944 Germany once more ruled Estonia. As soon as they left, Estonia met Russia returning and once more fought for independence. Estonia lost.

As for this church, it did not fare well under the Communists who hated religion of any kind. The belfry and portal were demolished and the building, like many churches in St. Petersburg, was used as a warehouse.

Then in the late 1980s as the USSR dissolved, Estonia took advantage of the situation to grab back their independence. They are still independent and proud of their heritage in the 27th century and still reading Jakob Hurt’s Monumenta Estoniae Antiquae in their native Estonian.

The St. John Church will be returned to the Estonian community in St. Petersburg. The Republic of Estonia could not let the church Jakob Hurt taught at be demolished. After a four million pound renovation, the Archbishop reconsecrated the church in 2011 with the president of Estonia as a guest of honor. I think Jakob Hurt was there too, in spirit.


Spilt Blood

Tuesday, 28 January, 1890 - St. Petersburg, Russia

Church under construction
Today I visited the Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood. Begun in 1883 it won’t be totally finished until 1907. The basic building is up, but the decorations on the outside are still being worked on. Inside they are painstakingly creating mosaics, one tiny glass chip at a time. When they are through, the building will have more mosaics than any other church in the world. The church is designed not in the Baroque-style Peter the Great loved, or the classical-style Catherine the Great was fond of, but in the old Russian Orthodox style of the 1600s.

Finished Church of Our Saviour on Spilt Blood
Oddly enough the Church of the Saviour in Spilt Blood will never be used as a real church with a congregation and Sunday services. It is in fact meant to be a memorial to Tsar Alexander II whose blood it was that was spilt on this very spot.

“Alexander the Liberator” was the Tsar who abolished serfdom. He was also known for his reforms in law and government administration, outlawing branding as a punishment in the military and developing natural resources. Yet despite his liberal reforms he was the target of assassins in April 1866, April 1879, December 1879 and February 1880. Most were by a left-wing terrorist group known as the Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will).

Tsar Alexander II "the Liberator"
On the morning of 13 March 1881 Alexander II rode in his carriage to Mikhailovsky Manege for the Military Roll Call, as he did every Sunday, accompanied by seven Cossacks. When they reached Griboedov Canal a young member of the Narodnaya Volya, Nikolai Rysakov, stepped out of the crowd collected on the sidewalk and tossed something wrapped in a handkerchief under the horses hoofs. It exploded killing a Cossack and wounding the driver and a few spectators. The Tsar however was unhurt, thanks to the bullet-proof carriage Napoleon III of France had given him.

Alexander came out of the coach shaken but unhurt. The police jumped on Rysakov. The terrorist then turned and yelled at someone in the crowd. He threw a package at the Tsar’s feet. There was a second explosion. Among the twenty bodies in the snow, one was Alexander with his legs torn away, stomach ripped open and face mutilated. He was still alive.

Drawing of the aftermath of the bombs
The Tsar was thrown on a sleigh and rushed back to the Winter Palace and lifted onto a bed. He was hurriedly given communion by an Orthodox priest. His new wife and former mistress, Catherine Dolgorukova, ran into the room, half-dressed, and threw herself on him crying "Sasha! Sasha!" She had warned him to stay home that morning on a premonition. Alexander died, his blood soaking her negligee.

Princess Catherine, wife of Alexander II
It was later found out there had been a third terrorist in the group with a bomb in case the first two had failed.

That very morning before he left, Alexander II had signed the Loris-Melikov Constitution which would have made Russia a democratic monarchy with an elected parliament. When his son Alexander III found it, he tore it up. He then suppressed civil liberties and brought back police brutality to arrest any protestors. He became xenophobic, trying to destroy any German, Swedish and Polish institutions and persecuted the Jews. All in reaction to his father’s assassination. If Russia didn’t want a benevolent Tsar, they would have a ruthless one.

Alexander III, current Tsar
Two years after the assassination, Tsar Alexander III began this grand memorial to his father. The style is Russian, devoid of any foreign influence. It is built on the very spot his father was attacked, the cobblestones where his blood fell left uncovered and exposed through a hole in the floor.

No one has been able to get close enough to make an attempt on this Tsar even though radicals now had good cause. Oh there was that one plot by the Narodnaya Volya in 1887, but it was uncovered and the conspirators hung. One was Alexander Ulyanov. His death has impacted his little brother, Vladimir. Once model student is becoming a model radical and will be arrested in five years time and sent to Siberia for passing out Marxist leaflets. When Vladimir returns to St. Petersburg he will change his name to Lenin. Yes, that Lenin.

One can’t help but wonder what Russia’s fate would have been if Tsar Alexander II had not been assassinated. How different history could have been.

Interior of the Church of Our Saviour on Split Blood
The church was mostly neglected in the 20th century. In 1970 repairs were started and it opened as a museum in 1997. Here is how it looked during the ongoing reconstruction.

Russian Exhibit Depicts Friendship of Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln
They both freed the slaves and tragically shared the same fate.


Sleeping Beauty Ballet

Thursday, 16 January 1890 - St. Petersburg, Russia

Last night the Imperial Russian Ballet magnificent. The sets and costumes were lavish, the music enchanting and still going through my head. It’s said the Italians invented ballet, the French refined it but the Russians perfected it. And this is the beginning of the Golden Age of Russian ballet.

Mariinsky Theatre
The Imperial Ballet was started in 1738 when Empress Anna, niece of Peter the Great, brought the French ballet master Jean-Baptiste Landé to St. Petersburg to teach members of her staff to dance to entertain her. Usually she entertained herself by playing humiliating and cruel pranks on the nobility. If this was just another attempt at demeaning the household, Landé didn’t get the joke and within a few years formed the Imperial Russian Ballet.

Catherine the Great, whom Landé taught to dance, established a permanent theatre for the ballet in 1783, named the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre. In 1860 this bigger theater, with the largest stage in the world, was built nearby and named the Mariinsky Theatre after its imperial patroness, the late Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II and mother of the current Tsar, Alexander III.

Mariinsky Theatre interior (from the stage)

Marius Petipa
Perhaps the one man most responsible for the current Golden Age is Maestro Marius Ivanovich Petipa, the Premier Maître de Ballet of the Imperial Theatres. The now 72-year-old ballet master will choreograph over 50 ballets during his career and will be considered one of the most influential ballet choreographers to have ever lived. Born in France to an drama teacher and ballet instructor, one could say the theatre is in Petipa’s blood. In fact, his daughter, Marie Petipa is dancing tonight as the Lilac Fairy, one of the main characters.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Petipa’s reputation are already such that others jump at the chance to work with him. When the Director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Wsevolojskoy, asked the internationally famous composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky if he would write the music for tonight’s ballet, he eagerly agreed. Not that Tchaikovsky needed the money. A few years back Tzar Alexander III awarded him a lifetime pension. Perhaps Tchaikovsky wanted to take another stab at ballets. His first, Swan Lake, received lukewarm reviews when it premiered 13 years ago. But then Petipa did not choreograph it. (Swan Lake will do much better five years from now when Petipa does a revival and works his magic on it.)

The cast itself are some of the best in the world. Enrico Cecchetti is considered the greatest ballet virtuoso in the world even though he is 40 years-old. He played the evil witch and in the last act, the Bluebird. The Bluebird dance is still considered one of the most challenging ever choreographed. Enrico will soon be retiring from the stage to teach using his the Cecchetti method that is still being used today.
Enrico Cecchetti as the Bluebird
The Ballet is based on Charles Perrault’s fairytale of Sleeping Beauty. It is in a prologue and three acts and with intermissions runs about four hours, being nearly three hours without the intermissions. The first two acts follow the story of the familiar fairy tale. The last act is the wedding of Princess Aurora to Prince Désiré who wakes her up. The guests are all fairy tale characters like Puss-in-Boots, Hop-o’-My-Thumb, and Little Red Riding Hood each doing their own dance.

Last night's cast of Sleeping Beauty
When the curtain fell to thunderous applause. Tsar Alexander III who allows sits in the box to the left of the stage called Tchaikovsky to his box. All he said was “Very nice.” From the composers expression I think he was expecting more than just “very nice.”

Tsar's Box next to the stage
Sleeping Beauty will such a success that director Wsevolojskoy will commission Tchaikovsky to compose the music for the Nutcracker Ballet which will premier in two years. It will not do as well as tonight’s ballet. It is ironic that the least famous of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, Sleeping Beauty was the most popular in his lifetime.

Not that Sleeping Beauty will be forgotten. It is a classic performed throughout time (although usually shortened.) In 1999 the Mariinsky Ballet will reconstruct this performance with not only the original choreography, but reproductions of the original costumes and sets. But they won’t have the original dancers.

Mariinsky Ballet's recontruction of Sleeping Beauty
Now the 27th century can see the original production when I return home. But a recording can’t catch the true exhilaration of a live performance. Events like last night make all the training and sacrifice it took to become a Temporal Anthropologist all worth it.

Sleeping Beauty Waltz

The Bluebird and Florine
The Mariinsky Ballet’s reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty

More photos:
Maria Petipa as the Lilac Fairy
Princess Aurora and Prince Desiree

Post Script: In 1924, one of the former students of the Imperial School of Ballet will flee the communists and their restriction on creativity for the West. George Balanchie will co-found the New York City Ballet and serve as it's Ballet Master and choreographer, helping develop ballet in America. You can read about this pioneer in the book:
Balanchine: Russian-American Ballet Master Emeritus


Peter the Great's Great City

Monday, 13 January 1890 - Saint Petersburg, Russia

Saint Petersburg in winter
Brrr! I am now in Saint Petersburg in the middle of January. 1890 was not known for it’s warm winter anywhere, and it dips well below zero Fahrenheit at night here. The record is -35 degrees in 1883. The rivers are frozen. Sleds and skates are the perferred modes of transportation. I ran across a outdoor meat market where the meat was all frozen--naturally.

So what would make me come to such a frozen wasteland? Well, Petersburg currently the fifth largest city in Europe and the population is very close to the one million mark. It is the largest city in Russia and the center not only of government, but of culture. This is a very modern and international city. Overshadowed Moscow will tell you that Saint Petersburg is the least Russian spot in Russia.

Peter the Great
Petersburg (as the natives call it) is a young city, less than 200 years old. When Peter the Great came to the throne in 1682, Russia was still a feudal state stuck in the Middle Ages. (In fact the serfs won’t be emancipated until 1861!) Peter dreamed of making Russia a modern country and part of the European community. To do that he would need a navy and a seaport for commerce. Unfortunately the only seaport was way to the north on the Arctic Ocean. (Russia did not reach the Black Sea yet.)

Northwest of Moscow was the Bay of Neva just south of Finland in a land called Ingria. It was sparsely populated but Russia and Sweden had been fighting over it for centuries. In 1703 Peter took Ingria from Sweden and built a fort on the island at the mouth of the Neva River. He named it Peter and Paul Fortress in honor of the feast day it was founded. Paul got dropped from the city name, Saint Peter being the namesake of the Tzar was only coincidence.

Tzar Peter wanted more than just a fort, so tens of thousands of peasants were conscripted to fill in the marsh and build a city. It’s estimated 40,000 died in the project. Rather than using Russian architects, Peter hired ones from all over Europe to build in the Baroque-style that was popular at the time. He also brought in scientists and businessmen. Petersburg was going to be more than a port. Peter moved the capital there, and created a cultural center.

Saint Petersburg winter taxi
Since it’s founding, Petersburg has been international with long established ethnic neighborhoods. There is even a British one! The University of St. Petersburg back home in the 27th century recommended I go to the English Embankment. I not only found a hotel owned by an Englishman, but British owned businesses, clubs and even a Church of England. I’ve been told there are a couple of thousand Brits in the city. Tzar Peter invited British merchants and shipbuilders to his new city. They must have done well because this is a rather posh neighborhood. The numbers however went down during the Crimean War when Russia and Great Britain were fighting one another. But that was back in the 1850s. So far I haven’t gotten any suspicious looks from the natives, thinking me a spy or something.

A couple of streets over is the Dutch Quarter. There are also Germans, Finns, Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, Tartars, Siberians and of course Russians. Since the emancipation of the serfs, peasants have flooded into St. Petersburg hoping to make a better life for themselves. Most failed, which is why they revolted in 1917.

As I said, Petersburg is the cultural center of Russia. It is the home of writers, composers, artists and one of the best known ballet companies in the world. I have come at this least welcoming season to record the premier of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty in a couple of days. Maybe the natives spend so much time visiting museums, attending performances and reading because they want to stay in where it is warm!

Map of Saint Petersburg as it looked in 1890



Ireland’s Bastille

Sunday, 20 May 1900 - Dublin, Ireland

Today I was on a particularly dangerous mission for the University of Dublin. Well, dangerous for me, anyway. The University was very keen on me getting inside the infamous Kilmainham Gaol (“jail” to you Yanks.) They wanted me to record what the palce was like while it was in operation.

Kilmainham Gaol as it looks now in 1900
I could easily get into this maximum security prison by robbing a bank, but the University decided that me impersonating a vicar would be enough. They falsified papers for me so I could not only get in, but be allowed to get back out. So I became a visiting vicar wanting to spend Sunday ministering to someone since I didn’t have a congregation available.

When I quoted Matthew 25:36 which says Christians should minister to prisoners, the guard looked bored. Apparently I was not the first. Indeed I was not the only person there wanted to preach to inmates. We were told to stay in the main hall and speak through the bars. They also frisked us for weapons to make sure none of us was there to aid in an escape. I think we were only tolerated because they hoped we might reform an inmate or two.

As I came into the huge oppressive-looking atrium of the East Wing lined with three stories of cells, it made me feel very small. The depression was palatable. I looked at the other ministers who had been here before, admiring their courage, for even though I knew I was going to get out today, I knew I would have nightmares about this place.

East Wing of Kilmainham Gaol
I went closer to the locked cells full of thieves and murderers. “Excuse me? Would anyone like to speak with a vicar?”

I might as well have said, would anyone like to cuss out the Englishman. The prison is run by the government which is based in London. So I silently let the half dozen who heard me vent.

When they settled down I said, “If you must know, I am in favor of Home Rule. Ireland is your country, you should be allowed to run it.”

Then I heard a voice. “Vicar! Over here!”

I stepped over, keeping the foot distance we were instructed by the guards to keep, least we be grabbed and injured. I knelt down to peer through the little door just large enough to pass a bowl of food. I expected to see looking back the face of a brute who had murdered his family, but instead found a pair of soulful blue eyes on a young face.

“Yes, my son?” I tried to sound priestly. “What may I do for you?”

“Can you get a message to my mother and sister? Let them know I’m okay?”

“They don’t let you write?”

“Yes, but an eyewitness might put them more at ease. They know I would say I was fine whether I was or not.”

“All right.” I pulled out a pad and paper. “Let me get the address.”

“I’m sorry about all those names I called you, Vicar. It’s just--well--it’s just that Home Rule is why I’m here.”

The young man told me his name was Sean Kane and proceeded to tell me how on the night Queen Victoria arrived in Dublin, Maude Gonne had organized a torchlight parade to protest British rule. It was meant to be a peaceful demonstration, but Dublin officials had no tolerance for anything but niceties toward Her Majesty. The police stormed the protestors beating them with batons to chase them off.

The Sean’s voice tightened. “One of those blighters took a swing at my sister. I stopped him by hitting him in the eye. I got six months for assaulting an officer. I was told I got off easy.”

Yes, as I said Kilmainham is a maximum security prison full of thieves and murderers. It is also where all political prisoners have been brought since it first opened in 1796. Indeed just about every Nationalist leader, both violent and peaceful, has been a “guest” in this prison. I hadn’t expected to find any political prisoners here in 1900. Apparently just no famous patriots are here right now.

Many political prisoners were released after they had been taught a lesson. Some were hanged. This is the prison all the rebels in the Easter Rising of 1916 were brought. Out in the courtyard is where the fifteen leaders will be executed by firing squad without a proper trial. (I mention this in my blog on the Easter Rising.)

In 1924 the Irish Free State will close down Kilmainham Gaol. Torn between tearing down this symbol of foreign oppression or preserving it as the site of so many martyrdoms, Ireland will let Kilmainham sit and rot for decades. Finally in 1971, after years of restoration, the former prison will be opened as a museum to the fight for freedom.

The Sean said he wasn’t sorry for protecting his sister. He also wasn’t sorry he protested. From the sound of his voice I had a feeling he would return to Kilmainham Gaol after the Easter Rising. I’m happy to say Sean’s name is not on the list of those that will be executed.

After talking an hour with Sean I left that dreadful place. I did visit his mother as I had promised. I noticed his sister looked in good health. She told me tearfully she had only been able to escape because of her brother’s sacrifice. I told her Sean Kane would be remembered. Indeed he will when I return to the 27th century with our interview. I wondered how many other forgotten heroes have stayed in Kilmainham Gaol?


The Treasonous Act of Loving Ireland

Friday, 18 May 1900 - Dublin, Ireland

Today I ran across the strangest memorial I have ever seen. High on a stone pedestal is a ten foot marble statue of a gentleman in a frock coat, arms folded in a noble stance. Nothing strange there. What is odd is the inscription. It’s in Gaelic but beneath it is an English translation which reads:

William Smith O’Brien
born 17th October 1803,
sentenced to death for high treason
on the 9th October 1848.
Died 16th June 1864.

“High treason?” I said aloud. “Why would they erect a ten foot memorial to a traitor?”

“O’Brien no traitor!“ snarled a voice. “His act of treason was loving Ireland.”

I turned to see an gentleman with a white beard. “Oh hullo, sir.” I smiled at him. “Do you know the story of this O’Brien chap?”

“Indeed I do! I helped erect this statue back in 1870. All paid for by folks like me given what they could. All patriotic Irishmen!” He glowered at me.

“Yes, my accent is English, isn’t it. What if I told you my parents immigrated from Dublin to London when I was a babe and I came back to find my Irish roots?” That’s a question, not a statement. I don’t like lying; I prefer misdirection.

The man’s expression softened. He now assumed I was Irish. “This is a good place for your education to start--with O’Brien. He descended from the great Irish king Brian Boru himself. Definitely inherited his ancestors courage and nobility, that’s for sure.”

“I would certainly love to hear his story. May I buy you a cup of tea?”

The man, who introduced himself as John Lyons, accepted my offer, and told me this amazing tale.

William Smith O’Brien was the son of a well-to-do Irish baronet. He was educated at the University of Cambridge. For twenty years he was a Member of Parliament and originally a conservative pro-unionist. But then the Irish famine came in 1845 and O’Brien like many others became disillusioned with being part of a kingdom where certain parts were left to starve. Parliament seemed apathetic, some seeing this as a way to solve what they perceived as Ireland’s over-population problem.

In 1848, the year of rebellion throughout Europe, Ireland really had something to rebel about with the famine only getting worse. O’Brien joined with Thomas Francis Meagher to incite a revolt. It led to one battle with police which ended the rebellion. O’Brien was captured and put on trail and found guilty of high treason. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Petitions for clemency signed by 70,000 Irish and 10,000 English stopped the execution. After all the battle was short and nearly bloodless. O’Brien had killed no one. Besides the sentence seemed a wee bit too medieval. Instead he was sent to the prison colony of Tasmania for life. Five years later O’Brien was released but banished from Ireland for life. After two years in Brussels, he was given and unconditional pardon and allowed to return to Ireland. He was barred from politics though.

William Smith O'Brien
Although the revolt was a failure, his fellow Irish men saw William Smith O’Brien as a hero, for he was willing to sacrifice everything for his fellow countrymen. He had come from the privileged class and could have lived a very cushy if he had just ignored the plight of the starving poor.

After O’Brien died people began collecting money to build a monument to him in. His statue isn’t hidden in a park, but stands in the middle of busy Sackville Street (later named O’Connell Street.) The plaque doesn’t say “hero” or “valiant leader” which probably made the authorities happy. It doesn’t need to. Every Irishman knows who this William Smith O’Brien is. Someday Dublin will be full of statues to all the leaders of Irish rebellions against England. However, this is the very first one. Erecting this statue to a rebel was an act of rebellion in itself.


St. Werburgh's Church

Sunday, 13 May 1900 - Dublin, Ireland

Today I attended the service at St. Werburgh’s Church here in Dublin. The current building was built in 1719, the church itself dates back to 1178. While it now belongs to the Church of Ireland (the Anglican church of Ireland) it could be argued St. Werburgh’s was an “Anglican Church” from the very start. Built just after the arrival of Anglo-Norman into Dublin, it was frequented by immigrants from Bristol.

St. Werburgh's Church entrance
Even the church’s name is Emglish. St. Werburgh or Werburga was the daughter of the 7th century King Wulfhere of Mercia. She became the abbess of Ely in Cambridgeshire, following in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and great aunt. Werburgh was well loved in life and after her death a large cult formed around her. Several churches are named for her, but the one here in Dublin is believed to be the oldest.

Steeple per 1810
The church has had several modifications. In 1754 a fire damaged the interior and it was replaced in 1759. In 1777 a lofty steeple was added, then removed in 1810, the rest of the tower in 1836. The authorities said the fire had damaged the steeple making it unsafe. Some believe the tower overlooking Dublin Castle, made the Lord Lieutenant nervous. There had been those revolts in 1798 and 1803 after all. Or perhaps he feared the ghost of Lord Edward FitzGerald whose body lies in an ancient crypt beneath the church might use the advantage point?

Lord Edward FitzGerald was born in 1763, the fifth son of the Lord of Leinster. Wealthy, educated, highborn and handsome, Edward had a cushy life to look forward to. Pheasant hunting was not his style, though. He entered the British military reaching the rank of major, dabbled in politics as a Member of the Irish Parliament, and even explored the New World where he was adopted by the Hurons.

Then in 1792 FitzGerald ventured to Paris and lodged with a revolutionary named Thomas Paine. Having inspired the American Revolution, Paine was now working on the French. Paine didn’t hold it against FitzGerald that he had fought for the Brits against the Americans in their Revolution. FitzGerald was inspired by Paine. A year later he returned to the Irish Parliament, defending the Society of United Irishmen who wanted more independence from Great Britain. At that point they were hoping for constitutional reform. By 1896 both the United Irishmen and FitzGerald gave up and decided to follow the example of America and France.

Lord Edward FitzGerald
Lord Edward FitzGerald, descended from Norman conquerors on his father’s side and great-great-grandson to King Charles on his mother’s, put his lot in with the poor downtrodden of his country and became a leader of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. When the French allies failed to turn up and things went bad, FitzGerald turned down the chance to escape, staying with his men. He was shot while resisting arrest and subsequently died of his untreated wounds before he could be officially executed. The rebellion not only failed to make Ireland independent, but gave the opposite side the excuse to absorb Ireland into Great Britain as the United Kingdom.

Ironically Town-Major Henry Sirr, the man who arrested Lord Edward FitzGerald is buried in the church’s graveyard.

Besides St. Werburgh’s most famous burial,it’s most famous baptism is probably that of Jonathan Swift, who became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Swift though is better remembered for his satire, Gulliver’s Travels.

Even with her lofty steeple and tower lopped off, St. Werburgh’s still a grand old lady. Her heritage permeates from her ancient foundations. Her namesake would be duly impressed with her church.

interior of St. Werburgh's Church
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Special Delivery

Friday, 11 May 1900 - Dublin, Ireland

Today I visited the General Post Office on Sackville Street here in downtown Dublin. Built between 1814 and 1818, it is the last great Georgian structure in Dublin. The grand columns are like a temple to the goddess of postal service. Indeed there are three statues on top of the roof: Mercury, the god of commerce, to the left; Fidelity, symbol of faithfulness, to the right; and in the middle, Hibernia, the personification of Ireland, holding a harp. I’m not sure what Fidelity has to do with mail, unless the GPO is promising to deliver packages to their rightful owners.

General Post Office on the left as it looks in 1900
It’s a very nice and grand post office as befits a large city, however it is an ordinary boring post office. People take the mail to clerks who take it to a backroom to be sorted and sent out for delivery. Ask an Irishman in a hundred years and he will tell you this stodgy institution is in fact the birthplace of the Irish Republic.

Right now there is a push for Home Rule, the reestablishment of the Irish Parliament. They are slowly winning over the majority who want to keep the Union as it is. When I say majority, I mean a majority of the wealthy and powerful who run the country. Nationalists pushing for a complete break from Great Britain and independence are a small minority.

1914, just as Ireland was on the brink of getting Home Rule, World War II broke out and dreams of an Irish Parliament were shelved. The real majority, the poor Irish Catholics, saw this as just another excuse, but decided to be patient.

1916 came and still no action. Several nationalists organizations got together to form a revolution. While the British army was busy overseas, now would be the perfect time to strike. On the 24th of April, the day following Easter Sunday, the rebels captured key buildings throughout Dublin. The buildings were taken without much fight from the civilian population. The centrally located General Post Office would serve as their headquarters. The flag of the Irish Republic was hoisted above the roof. The leader Patrick Pearse, came out on the steps and read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

flag hoisted over the General Post Office
When the rebels made it public that the Germans had given them their guns, England panicked. This was more than just a troublemakers, this was the Germans trying to attack Britain from two fronts! The British sent 16,000 soldiers to deal with the 1200 rebels. The Post Office and other buildings were bombarded and downtown Dublin went up in flames. 64 rebels were killed along with nearly 300 innocent bystanders.

British troops shelling the General Post Office in 1916
By Saturday it was all over. Rebels were told to surrender unconditionally. They were marched to Kilmainham Gaol while crowds jeered and threw garbage at them. Then the stupidest thing Britain could have ever done happened. Martial Law was proclaimed and General Sir John Maxwell was put in charge.

Maxwell was a military man who knew nothing of politics or public opinion and treated Dublin as an enemy camp. A total of 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested. Trials were held behind closed doors. The accused were not allowed defense, with Maxwell as the judge and jury. 187 trials were held in three weeks, as many as thirty in a day. By the 12th of May fifteen men had been executed by firing squad. The first was the school teacher, Patrick Pearce. The last was James Connolly, so badly wounded he had to tie him to a chair. A list of 90 men convicted to be shot was tacked on the door.

Burnt out Post Office after Easter Rising
If the rebels had been handed over to the police and then put on public trial, things would have been very different. As it was Dublin saw this as an assault against the liberties of all Irishmen. Didn’t citizens of the United Kingdom deserve their civil rights--or were the Irish not included? Suddenly those ruffians they had booed became martyrs in their eyes and the dream of an independent Irish Republic not that crazy after all.

By the time Prime Minister Herbert Asquith showed up and put a halt to any more executions, the damage had been done. Ireland no longer trusted Britain. In the next election in 1918, the Sinn Fein, the nationalist party, won 73 of the 105 seats that Ireland held in the United Kingdom House of Parliament. Instead of showing up for work in London, the Sinn Fein MPs formed the Dail Eireann, Parliament of Ireland, and declared Ireland a republic. That in turn led to the Irish War of Independence. This time the rebels had the backing of the majority of the people.

In 1925 the new independent Irish Free State will be left with the still burnt-out shell of their former post office. Should they tear it down and build their new parliament on this now sacred ground? Maybe a shrine would be more applicable? Instead they will decide the best idea will be to turn it back into a post office and try to recreate it as best they could. The only reminder will be a plaque on the wall in Gaelic and English; a statue of the mythic Celtic warrior, Cuchulainn (made five years before the Easter Rising;) and paintings of scenes from the uprising up on the walls.

As I stood in the very spot Cuchulainn would one day occupy, I glanced about at all the busy customers rushing to get their letters mailed. I wondered what they would think if I told them that one day this post office would have a special delivery for them--freedom.

"The Dying of Chuculainn" by Oliver Sheppard
Now in the General Post Office in Dublin
So, what does a mythic warrior have to do with rebels? In Irish legend Chuculainn held back an entire army. He knew how much he was feared so he tied himself to a menhir so his enemy wouldn't know when they had killed him. They only knew when a raven sat down on his dead form and began pecking out his eyes. His sacrifice however won time for his people to defeat their enemy.
By putting this statue in the Post Office, the Irish are comparing the martyrdom of the rebels with Cuchulainn's martyrdom. The leaders Patrick Pearce and James Connolly knew full well they would probably not win and would be executed as the ring leaders, but felt their sacrifice would spur the public into demanding freedom. It isn't a coincidence they set the date Easter Monday.
Footage and photos of the Easter Rising