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What Happened To The Grand Duchess

For the Russian Orthodox, today is the feast day of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. She was a Grand Duchess of Russia, a German-born sister of Alexandra, the German-born Tsaritsa. After her husband, Grand Duke Sergei, was murdered in 1905 by an assassin, she visited the killer in prison to encourage him to repent and be saved. She entered religious life as an Orthodox nun, and devoted herself to nursing the sick and serving the poor. When the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, she was taken into custody, and murdered on this date in 1917, along with her companions. One of the assassins later testified as to how St. Elizabeth and the others died. Excerpt:

At last we arrived at the mine. The shaft was not very deep and, as it turned out, had a ledge on one side that was not covered by water.

First we led grand duchess Elizabeth (Ella) up to the mine. After throwing her down the shaft, we heard her struggling in the water for some time. We pushed the nun lay-sister Varvara

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr
St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

down after her. We again heard the splashing of water and then the two women’s voices. It became clear that, having dragged herself out of the water, the grand duchess had also pulled her lay-sister out. But, having no other alternative, we had to throw in all the men also.

None of them, it seems, drowned, or choked in the water and after a short time we were able to hear all their voices again.

Then I threw in a grenade. It exploded and everything was quiet. But not for long.

We decided to wait a little to check whether they had perished. After a short while we heard talking and a barely audible groan. I threw another grenade.

And what do you think – from beneath the ground we heard singing! I was seized with horror. They were singing the prayer: ‘Lord, save your people!’

We had no more grenades, yet it was impossible to leave the deed unfinished. We decided to fill the shaft with dry brushwood and set it alight. Their hymns still rose up through the thick smoke for some time yet.

When the last signs of life beneath the earth had ceased, we posted some of our people by the mine and returned to Alapaevsk by first light and immediately sounded the alarm in the cathedral bell tower. Almost the whole town came running. We told everyone that the grand dukes had been taken away by unknown persons!

St. Elizabeth was one of an estimated 20 million Christians murdered by the Soviets. Never forget.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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