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The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

What an exciting time it is to visit Russia. Most people who travel have heard of the Russian Tzars, the Kremlin, and Moscow. How about Faberge eggs, the Bolshevik Revolution, Communism and Karl Marx? There is so much history tied up with Russia it is hard to know where to begin. The church above, for instance, has a great story of its own, built on the very spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.

Close-up view of the Church of Spilled Blood

Russia is huge, and the variations in architecture, customs and religion varies greatly from city to city. Indeed, every aspect of life is remarkably different from one city to another.

But this was not always the case. A few centuries ago, the whole country was under the rule of a long line of tsars. Fortunately, we need consider the activities of only two of these: Peter the Great, the founder and builder of St. Petersburg; and Nicholas II, the last of the Russian tsars.

Peter (1672-1725) became Tzar when he was only 10 years old. It was he who increased the physical size of Russia through a series of marriages, treaties, and wars. He was remarkably ahead of his time as a monarch, and set about to bring his isolated country into the “modern times”, with Europe, especially France, as his role model.

During his reign, he purchased many major works of art, and he hung these in his residence. His second wife, Catherine the Great, expanded the collection considerably, and she and her successors added further to the collection, which came to be stored in the Hermitage (Winter Palace).

The Coronation Faberge Egg. Egg is 5", coach is not quite 4", with gold and diamonds on both.

By the time the last tsar, Nicholas II, ascended the throne in 1894, he was heir to the greatest collection of art in Europe, and his “digs” at the Winter Palace were as opulent, lavish and lush as any royal residence anywhere in the world. The items on display in the Hermitage Museum today truly boggle the mind, and you will not believe any one individual could have so much money to buy so much “stuff”.

Most famous of all Nicholas’ possessions was the collection of jeweled eggs, made for him by the jeweler/designer, Faberge. Each of these egg creations opened up, and a “surprise” was inside. The one above is the "Coronation Egg", designed so that the little coach was the surprise fit inside the egg!

I have forgotten what this egg cost, but you certainly could have fed a lot of people for quite awhile with what Nicholas paid for it.

The rest of the collection is no less spectacular. You will find yourself staring at the eggs, shaking your head in disbelief! You will never see anything like them.

It is a World Class experience to visit St. Petersburg, and the Hermitage should be high on every serious traveler’s list of “must see” places.

But lets get back to the story, and skip ahead a few years to 1917. The tsar had lost any sense of the neediness of his people. He had involved his country in a disastrous war, and the peasants were without hope and starving to death.

As a result of their misery, pressures were building up, culminating in the October 1917 Revolution, better known as the collectionBolshevik Revolution, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin.

The Bolsheviks attacked the Winter Palace, and though official films made after the fact showed a huge storming of the place and fierce fighting, truth is the Bolshevik insurgents faced little or no opposition and were practically able to just walk into the building and take it over.

And as the destitute peasants went through the various salons, they saw the unbelievable splendor and grandeur of the lives of the tsar and his family. While the peasants and their families were starving to death outside, the tsar and his family inside was living in a style anyone not of the nobility could even grasp.

Nicholas and his tsarina were imprisoned, along with their children. Ultimately, the tsar and his family were shot, and their bodies were buried or burned in a nearby forest.

When I first learned of their grisly fate, my initial “gut” reaction was to condemn those who killed this defenseless man, his wife and innocent children.

Then, after thinking about it awhile, I told my wife that though I am a peace-loving man, totally against violence, much less the murder of innocents, if I had been a peasant in those times, if it was my wife and children who were starving to death- after walking into the Hermitage and seeing the way the royal family was living I probably would have torn them apart with my own bare hands.

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