The Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress was the burial church of the Romanov Dynasty. Here in 1900 were interred the remains of several generations of rulers, their wives and children going back to Peter I. The coffins of royalty were placed in vaults beneath the floor of the church and massive white cenotaphs of marble, surrounded by railings with the name of the person buried beneath marked on a plaque in gilt letters. The vaults beneath the church were a nasty place, below the water table and frequently flooded by the Neva. The vaults froze solid in winter and bearly thawed out in summer. They were crawling with rats and other vermin scampering about the coffins of Catherine the Great, Alexander I, his father the murdered Paul I and the rest of the Romanov clan.
The later Romanovs hated this cold family vault. Nicholas and Alexandra planned to be the first to be buried elsewhere, in the lovely personal Church of the Feodorovsky Ikon of the Mother of God they had built in Tsarskoe Selo. Unfortunately, their murder in Yekaterinburg in and the politics of Russia in the 1990's prevented their wish from being fulfilled.
In the fortress church, as we can see in this 1900 picture, the Romanov tombs were decorated with flowers, ikons, embroidered palls, and flickering candles. Leaving flowers for poor Paul was considered a good deed that would bring good luck. On the walls, cases enclosing silver, gilt and natural funeral wreaths were hung with their dedicatory inscriptions and ribbons. After the revolution the Bolsheviks cleared out all of this and destroyed everything. All that remained were the bare white cenotaphs and railings. The Soviet government also looted the coffins themselves, hunting for valuables interred with the bodies to melt down or sell abroad to finance international subversion. In opening the tombs, it is said that the tomb of Alexander I was found to be empty. This rumor supported a very old story that Alexander I had faked his death to become a wandering Christian hermit named Kuzmich.
Left: The hermit Kuzmich.
Alexander had always been spiritually inclined and late in his life some said he was tortured by his role in the murder of his father and the thousands of poeple who had died in his reign due to wars and his own misguided policies. The Romanov family, who should have known the truth, was divided on the story of Kuzmich. The story is still believed by many people today although most scholars discount it.
In 1900 the Cathedral was still a working church, today it is one of the chief tourist attractions of the city.
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