Romanovs retake St Petersburg to bury tsarina

Surrounded by one of the largest gatherings of her descendants on Russian soil since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the mother of Tsar Nicholas II was buried in the Romanov crypt yesterday, 78 years after her death.

As cannon-fire boomed across St Petersburg's Neva River, the dowager empress Maria Fyodorovna was lowered into a white sarcophagus to lie beside her husband, Tsar Alexander III, ending a week of solemn commemorations that began when her remains were exhumed in her native Denmark.

The ceremony marked both the fulfilment of the tsarina's desire to be buried in the country she was forced to flee in 1919 and another step in Russia's struggle to confront its troubled past.

"It has been a great feeling of closure for the family to have the empress finally brought back to Russia and laid next to her husband," said Prince Andrew Romanov, at 83 one of the most senior members of Russia's former royal family.

"It has also been a great feeling of closure for the country."

But as the 69 members of the Romanov family filed past the tsarina's sarcophagus to throw soil over her coffin, some may have been thinking of the future of what was once one of the world's most powerful dynasties. Over the 16 years since communism collapsed two goals gave purpose to a scattered and divided family: the funeral of Nicholas II and his family, executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918, and the reburial of empress Maria Fyodorovna.

Both have now been achieved and with this week's commemorations now over there was an end of era feeling as the family began to pack its bags in St Petersburg's Astoria Hotel last night.

A gathering like this will probably not happen again. The oldest Romanovs are in their eighties and representatives of the family said they were unlikely to return to Russia.

A younger generation will have to carve out a new role for the Romanovs.

Apart from occasional curiosity, most Russians give little thought to the family that held virtually total sway over their forefathers. The crowds that turned out for a glimpse of the royal coffin numbered in their dozens.

The Romanovs, whose gilded carriages were once the envy of other royal houses in Europe, travelled through the streets of St Petersburg virtually unnoticed in Russia's equivalent of a National Express coach. Nurturing the family's ancient links with Russia and maintaining the bonds of its far-flung members will increasingly be the responsibility of youngsters like the 21-year-old Prince Rostislav, Britain's most senior Romanov, who could one day be heir to the Russian throne.

The great-great grandson of Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna says he is contemplating becoming the first Romanov to move back to Russia.

•It was King George V, not Edward VII as stated in our report on Wednesday, who sent a ship to rescue his aunt Maria Fyodorovna in 1919 following the Bolshevik Revolution.



30 июля 2010


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