Russian Exiles Cherish Relics of a Czar


Boris Yeltsin plans a state funeral this summer for Czar Nicholas II and his family--murdered 80 years ago in Yekaterinburg, the Russian president’s hometown.

But something will be missing, as far as some Russian exiles are concerned.

When the Romanovs are laid to rest in the family crypt on July 17 in the old imperial capital of St. Petersburg, it will be without 48 bone fragments long revered by the exiles as partial remains of the czar and his family.

The fragments were brought out of Russia by a royalist three generations ago and lie in a blue Moroccan leather jewelry box sealed in a wall near the altar of St. Job’s Russian church in Brussels.


Funeral or no funeral, those bones aren’t going anywhere, said a priest at the church, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two days after the massacre of the royal family by Bolsheviks in 1918, troops loyal to the czar marched into Yekaterinburg. They hoped to free him but found Ipatiev House, the mansion where the royal family had been held, splattered with blood.

The general in charge, Alexander Kolchak, put investigator Nicholas Sokolov on the case.

According to Sokolov’s book, “The Murder of the Royal Family,” he found the unmarked pit where the royal bodies were dumped. The family had been murdered, their bodies chopped up, doused with gasoline and sulfuric acid, and burned.


Sokolov said he collected physical remains that the Bolshevik firing squad left lying around, as well as objects of sentimental value from Ipatiev House. He put 48 bone pieces in a jewelry case.

As the Red Army gained the upper hand against royalist forces in the Russian Civil War, Sokolov fled his homeland, first to China, then Paris, carrying the box with him.

Before his death in 1924, he gave the bone fragments to M.N. Giyrs, then head of the Russian government-in-exile in Paris.

When Giyrs heard the large Russian emigre community in Brussels was building a church to commemorate Nicholas and other victims of the Russian revolution and civil war, he gave the box to church officials. They secretly encased it in a wall in 1936.

The Russian Church Abroad--the church of Russian Orthodox exiles--held an official funeral service for the czar in 1968 in the little Brussels church. In 1981, it canonized him and his family along with 8,000 victims of Soviet rule.

The canonization was not recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, which is also undecided about recognizing the remains that Russia’s government plans to bury.

The two churches have been locked in a bitter dispute with each other since the late 1920s, and even the end of communism has failed to bring about a reconciliation.

The Russian Church Abroad sees the Moscow patriarchy as traitors who collaborated with the communists.


The Moscow-based church claims it is just being cautious. Since it is a sin to worship false relics, it wants to be sure the czar’s remains are the real thing before any ceremony.

Surviving Russian emigres and their descendants have mixed opinions about the upcoming funeral.

“Frankly, some don’t see what all the fuss is about,” said Duke Victor Speshinsky, 88, head of the Belgian section of the Assn. of Russian Nobility. “Some feel it is an excellent gesture for the present Russian government to pay their respects in this way, and some are reluctant to believe these are really the remains.”

Speshinsky is among those who doubt the authenticity of the bones to be buried in St. Petersburg.

“There is documented proof the czar received a severe head wound while on a visit to Japan. His supposed skull does not have the scar from that wound,” he said.

Ironically, center stage at the funeral will be Yeltsin, who as Communist Party chief in Yekaterinburg--Sverdlovsk, in communist days--followed the orders of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to burn down Ipatiev House.