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How Can Very Different Woman Have Such Similar Experiences?

I am enjoying the cooler weather in Portland after the 107 degrees of Tucson last week! I don’t know what it is about water that is so inspiring but as I sit here staring at the Willamette River suddenly all the ideas I’ve been struggling to generate since returning home two months ago, are springing to mind and vying for immediate attention. I’ve gone from feeling mired in the mud to ping ponging from one new idea to the next. It does feel invigorating to have a newfound purpose though. And so, I’ve been taking notes like a madwoman, so as not to lose any potentially interesting tidbits to explore.

Two weeks ago, I gave you a little background about the role the Novo-Tikhinsky Monastery played in the final weeks of the Romanovs’ captivity in Ekaterinburg in 1918. If you missed that newsletter, you may find it here. Today, I wanted to share with you a little bit about the two Maria’s themselves.

Novice Maria Krokhaleva was the daughter of a soldier. She was twenty-eight years old in the summer of 1918. She came to live in the monastery at ten years old, though we don’t know why. Perhaps she had become orphaned, or perhaps her parents were unable to provide for her. Times were hard in 1900 for the poor, especially in Siberia. It was for this reason that many of the Bolshevik extremist came from this center of industrial development in the region of Ekaterinburg.

Maria worked under the authority of Nun Augustine in the icon-painting workshop. It is likely that she was present in the workshop the day that Ivan Ivanovich Sidorov arrived at the monastery shop to be greeted by novice Antonia Trikina, who then led him back to the workshop.

Novitiate Antonia was nineteen years old in 1918 and came from a peasant family, coming to the monastery at the age of four, most likely because her parents could not afford to feed her. Even the fifty-nine-year-old Nun Augustine had come to the monastery at the age of twelve.

The fact that so many girls were coming to the Novo-Tikhinsky Monastery at such young ages tells us a lot about the economic conditions for the peasants and commoners in the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century. And students of Russian history know that these conditions had been a long-term problem leading to the rise of several revolutionary movements throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which had been brutally put down by Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander III.

While the rest of Europe was undergoing revolutions in 1848 resulting from the Enlightenment, Russia remained firmly locked into the feudal age. It is true that Tsar Alexander II tried to initiate reforms in Russia, such as emancipating the serfs, but many thought it was too little too late. Additionally, now that the serfs were freed from the land, they had no place to go and no land they could own. So, this led to more dissent.

When Alexander III was assassinated, his son, Nicholas II, became the last Tsar. Initially, he tried to give more power to the Duma, the parliament, but when they complained about conditions and asked for more power, Nicholas II resorted to cracking down, as his father and great-grandfather before him had done. Nicholas II was a deeply religious man and truly believed in the divine right to rule. He felt that because God had given him this responsibility, he had a duty to continue to rule with sole authority.

Maria Nikolaevna Romanova, however, did not know anything about the political condition of the county. She was isolated within the palace walls, associating only with royal extended family and the soldiers who guarded over them. Despite being nineteen years old in 1918, she like the rest of her sisters, was immature for her age and naïve. She dreamed of marrying a soldier and having twelve babies.

Maria was very close to her father, who she only knew as the loving, attentive father that he was. She would take long walks in the garden with him, even during captivity in Toblosk and Ekaterinburg. And in reading the letters of the family members, it is clear that Nicholas would have relished simply being a family man, had the responsibilities of the crown not fallen to him. Likewise, when the family landed in Ekaterinburg and the Bolsheviks refused to use their royal titles in addressing them, the former Tsar accepted his demoted status with grace, unlike his wife, who continued to bristle at each verbal slight.

Ironically, while Grand Dutchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova and novice Maria Krokhaleva were born to very different social and economic classes, they did share the similarity of being raised largely sheltered behind the protective walls of palace or convent. And while, the Bolshevik workers turned soldiers in Ekaterinburg plotted the demise of the royal family, Maria Krokhaleva joined Mother Superior Magdalena and the other nuns of Novo-Tikhinsky Monastery in praying for their safety and rescue each night at Vespers.

Tragically, both Maria’s also shared a similar fate at the hands of the Bolsheviks, being executed as enemies of the state. But there is another irony here too. Both Maria’s deaths are cloaked in mystery. Records, mostly oral history, from the convent indicate that Maria Krokhaleva was executed by the Bolsheviks. But the means and the exact date is unknown. In fact, nothing is recorded of her, beyond her role in painting icons and delivering food to the royal family in captivity.

Maria Romanova was present with her family when they were shot and then stabbed in the basement of the Ipatiev House on the the night of July 17, 1918, but then for reasons that are still unclear her body and that of her brother, the Tsarevich Alexei were disposed of in a different manner. While the remains of the remaining family and four of their retainers were later discovered in a group grave in 1979, though they were not announced and exumed until 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union. The bodies of Maria and Alexei were not discovered in their separate grave until the summer of 2007. Why were their bodies disposed of in a different manner and buried separately? I have been researching this topic for nearly three decades now, and still I have not found a clear answer. Perhaps it was all random chance or failed experiments conducted under a time pressure. Either way, it leaves an unsatisfying thread desiring to be woven into a cohesive whole.

But then, this annoying thread becomes the spark of a story yet to be competed. Stay tuned for updates on this new adventure.

Two More Recommendations to Share with You

I started reading this book on the plane to Portland and couldn’t put it down! It is an interesting look at the problems faced by many families during the Great Depression. Just click on the image or HERE to check it out for yourself. The following was taked from the book copy.

Eleanor is persistent. So, when the unthinkable strikes, and her family loses everything, she believes this new start to be an adventure. If only Teddy isn’t left behind.

As her family appears to be fragmenting, can Eleanor guard what remains?

I was drawn to this story because, though the time is set roughly 270 years later in the heart of the Great Depression and thousands of miles away in the heart of the United States, the story mirrors many of the same emotions, struggles, and human determination to survive that Etienne and his family experienced in their flight from La Rochelle, France in 1660.

This is for me why history is so compelling! Though the events (or story triggers) are different, as are the time and place, human nature and our responses to those events remains consistent. Does that mean we will never learn or change? I don’t believe that. While the human condition remains the same, individuals can learn from the experiences of others and therein lies the benefit of a good story!

Here is another interesting book I just stumbled upon. The author is offering it for a discount. If you are interested, just click the image or HERE. Below is the book copy.

In the aftermath of the Most Spectacular Traveling box’s enchantment, Sophie Mae has found a new home in the Gardenia Estate, surrounded by the magical and the peculiar. With the talking elephant and the circus magician tinkering in his lab, life has been nothing short of extraordinary.

But the winds of change are blowing, and they bring with them a stranger to the small town of Evenland. He’s in search of a potion that can revive his country, which is still reeling from the devastation of the Great War. The appearance of an informant in the Gardenia Estate sends shockwaves through its invisible residents, leaving them scrambling to uncover the identity of the traitor.

As tensions rise and loyalties are tested, Sophie Mae and her family must navigate through the dangerous sideshow of acceptance at any cost. The stakes have never been higher as they search for answers and try to unravel the mysteries of their enchanted world. Will they find the answers they seek, or will their own secrets come back to haunt them?

I have not had the chance to read this book yet, the cover intrigued me! It is next on my list of must reads.

If you have any comments/questions for me, or book recommendations you would like me to share, please simply reply to this email. I would love to hear from you!

No matter where your journey takes you, may you always enjoy the adventure!

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