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.

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