In the vaults of this church repose the remains of Peter the Great and all his imperial successors. The preceding sovereigns of Russia were buried in the Arkhangelskoi Sabor in Moscow. Whoever has seen the monuments of the Polish kings at Krakow, or those of the English and French kings, and the Italian princes, will wonder at the simplicity and absence of ornament in this last resting-place of the Russian emperors, particularly when he recollects the splendors of the Winter palace. The simple coffins are placed in the vaults, and over them in the church is nothing further in the shape of a monument than a stone coffin-shaped sarcophagus covered with a red pall. On the pall the name of the deceased emperor or emperor's son is embroidered in golden letters, as " His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Peter the First;" " His Imperial Highness the Grand-Duke Constantine," &c. On some there is nothing but the initial letters, and here and there some unimportant trophy. On the sarcophag us of the grand-duke Constantine lie the keys of some Polish fortresses. Peter III., to whose remains his wife Catherine II. refused interment in this place of sepulture, rests there now. Paul placed both Catherine and his father there. A hundred cannon, impregnable bastions, and a garrison of three thousand men, defend the place, which can be desecrated by hostile hands only when all St. Petersburg lies in ruins. The Russian princes are the only ones in Europe, so far as we know, who are buried within the walls of a fortress.
The youthful daughter of the emperor Nicholas, whose fatal illness shortened her father's visit to England, in 1844, is the last of the imperial family who sleep here (with the exception perhaps of the emperor's son-in-law, the grand-duke of Leutchtenburg, who died in 1852). Her coffin, says a late traveller, " was covered with fresh and fragrant flowers, tokens of affection from many who knew and loved her, and numbers daily visit the last resting-place of her whose early death was so severe a blow to her family. . . . To that gloomy church, unseen and unknown, many a fair daughter of the Russian noble often comes to pour forth her supplications for the repose of the dead and the safety of the living, and to strew roses on the tomb of one who, young and gay as themselves, died when most happy and when most beloved."
The whole aspect of this church is dingy and wretched; and the vast quantity of torn and tattered banners, and keys of fortresses, hung up in every part of it, give one the idea of being in some old-fashioned gallery of an arsenal. Many of the flags can not be looked upon without interest. Here are the Swedish flags taken at Poltava—the selfsame banners which Charles XII. fondly hoped to plant on the battlements of the kremlin at Moscow; the Prussian eagles, too, wrested from the veterans of the great Frederick; the horsetails of countless pashas, and their batons of office, curiously inlaid, and in shape very much resembling a small-headed hammer, with a long and tapering handle; seven French eagles ; and, above all, the keys of Paris and many other cities and fortresses of " La belle France" A Turkish flag hangs here, on the tarnished silk of which is the impress of a bloody hand distinctly stamped, telling more forcibly than words of the death-struggle that accompanied the capture of this trophy, in defence of which life was thought well sacrificed. It is now consigned to dust and neglect, save when the chance visit of some curious stranger unfurls once again that wide-swelling fold, around which the storm of battle once raged fast and furious. There are some very large jewels in the diadem of the Virgin in this church, but they are of an inferior quality, or have been imperfectly polished, as they are dim and rayless.
Among the sacred vessels here deposited are shown some turned in wood and ivory, the work of Peter the Great; and attention is generally drawn to one cross in particular, the centre of which is ornamented with a circular slide of Ivory, on which the crucifixion with the mourning women below are carved in bas-relief. A multitude of rays issue from the slide as from a sun; every ray is turned in ebony, in the ornamenting of which with all manner of carving an enormous degree of labor must have been expended.
The cottage of Peter the Great, on the same island, though at some distance from the citadel, has been alluded to in the previous chapter. Of the three apartments into which it is divided, the inner one was his bedroom ; the adjoining one his chapel, where the pictures that he worshipped are still preserved; and that to the right his receiving-room. The emperor Alexander covered the whole cottage in with an outer casing. It was here that the city was first commenced; and the wooden church, at the foot of the Troitsky bridge, is the oldest in St. Petersburg.
Among the Russo-Greek churches, that of the Smolnoi convent is distinguished for the taste of its decorations, and may serve as a specimen of the modern Russian style of church-architecture. It is more spacious than Russian churches are in general, and its five cupolas are placed in harmonious relation with one another. They are painted deep blue, sprinkled with golden stars. A high, magnificent, beautifully-designed iron grating —whose rails, or rather pillars, are wound with wreaths of vine-leaves and flowers, in iron-work — surrounds the courtyards of the convent; and above it wave the elegant birch and lime trees.
Seated on a gentle elevation, on a corner of land, round which the Neva bends to the west, this cloister, with its mysterious reserve, and the alluring colors with which it is clothed, resembles a magic palace of the " Arabian Nights." From the eastern suburb of St. Petersburg, and from Sunday street, which is a mile and a half long, and leads directly to it, the cloister is seen far and near; and, from all quarters of the empire, the orthodox believers bow and cross themselves at the sight of its cupolas. This building is dedicated to the education and instruction of young girls of noble and citizen birth, of whom not less than five hundred are brought up at the cost of the government, and three hundred at their own.
The church of the cloister, which is open to the public as a place of worship, has something extremely pleasing in its style of decoration: only two colors are to be seen—that of the gold framework of the ornamented objects, and of the white imitative marble, highly polished, and covering all the walls, pillars, and arches. Several galleries, which are illuminated on high festival-days, run like garlands round the interior of the dome. Not less than four-and-twenty stoves of gigantic dimensions are scattered about the church, which they keep at the temperature of the study, and greet all that enter with true Christian warmth. These stoves are built like little chapels, so that at first they are taken for church-ornaments. The Russians love pomp and splendor in their churches. In this one, the balustrades surrounding the ikonostas are of the finest glass, and the doors are formed of golden columns twined and interlaced with vine-leaves and ears of grain in carved and gilded wood. The pictures of this ikonostas are all new, painted by the pupils of the St. Petersburg Academy. The faces of the apostles and saints, of the Madonna and of the Redeemer, in the old Russian pictures, have all the well-known Byzantine or Indian physiognomy—small, long-cut eyes, dark complexion, excessively thin cheeks, a small mouth, thin lips, slender ringlets, and a scanty beard ; the nose uncommonly sharp and pointed, quite vanishing at the root between the eyes, and the head very round. In the new pictures of the Russian school, they have copied the national physiognomy as seen in the Russian merchants—full, red cheeks, a long beard, light and abundant hair, large blue eyes, and a blunted nose! It is wonderful that the Russian clergy have permitted this deviation from the old models ; the new ones, however, are held in very little respect by the people, who reverence only the old, dusty, and dusky saints, and are as little inclined to accept faces they can understand as to hear divine service in a language they can comprehend— for the old Slavonian dialect, which continues to be used, is unintelligible to them. The empress Maria, the foundress and benefactress of the convent, has a simple monument in the church, which is dedicated in her honor to St. Mary.
There are only two convents in St. Petersburg: this of Smolnoi—one only in name, for the empress Catherine's twenty nuns have long since been dispossessed by the eight hundred young ladies—and that of Alexander Nevskoi, for monks. The latter is one of the most celebrated in Russia—a lavra,* and inferior in rank only to the " Lavra of the Trinity" in Moscow, and to the " Lavra of the Cave" in Kiev. It is the seat of the metropolitan of St. Petersburg, and stands at the extreme end of the Nevskoi Prospekt, where it occupies a large space, enclosing within its walls churches, towers, gardens, and monks' cells. Peter the Great founded it in honor of the canonized grand-duke Alexander, who, in a great battle here, defeated the Swedes and the knights of the military orders, and whose remains were brought hither in a silver coffin. Peter's successors increased the possessions and buildings, and Catherine II. built its cathedral, one of the handsomest churches in St. Petersburg. For the interior decoration, marble was brought from Italy, precious stones from Siberia, and pearls from Persia. It is further adorned with some good copies after Guido Reni and Perugino.
On two great pillars opposite the altar are two excellent portraits— Peter the Great and Catherine II.,—larger than life. These two, as "Founder" and "Finisher," are everywhere united in St. Petersburg. In a side-chapel stands the monument of Alexander Nevsky. It is of massive silver, and contains not less than five thousand pounds of pure metal; it is a silver mountain fifteen feet high, on which stands a silver catafalco, and silver angels, as large as a man, with trumpets, and silver flowers, and a quantity of bas-relief in silver, representing the battle of the Neva. The keys of Adrianople are suspended to the tomb of St. Alexander; they are strikingly small, not much larger than the keys of a money-box, which, in fact, Adrianople has in many respects been to Russia.
The Nevsky cloister has profited yet more by the presents sent from Persepolis to the northern Petropolis, when the Russian embassador Griboyedoff was murdered in Teheran, than by the Byzantine tribute. The Persian gifts consisted of a long train of rare animals, Persian webs, gold-stuffs, and pearls. They reached St. Petersburg in the winter. The pearls, and gold-stuffs, and rich shawls, were carried in great silver and gold dishes by magnificently-dressed Persians. The Persian prince Khosreff Mirza drove in an imperial state-equipage with six horses; the elephants, bearing on their backs towers filled with Indian warriors, had leathern boots to protect them from the cold, and the cages of the tigers and lions were provided with double skins of the northern polar bears. It was like a procession in the Arabian Nights. The elephants, however, soon died from the severity of the climate.
Among the individual souvenirs is an episcopal staff turned by Peter the Great, and presented by him to the first St. Petersburg metropolitan, and another of amber, from Catherine II. The library of about ten thousand volumes, independently of a number of very valuable manuscripts, concerning which many books have been written, contains many rare specimens of the antiquities of Russia.
The monastery of St. Sergius (or Sergief), a view of which is given above, is situated on the route from St. Petersburg to Peterhoff. This monastery is the most noted place of pilgrimage in the environs of the capital. It has four churches, a mansion for invalids, endowed by the Zouboff family, and a cemetery, which contains the tombs of the most eminent ecclesiastics and martyrs in Russian history.
The Preobrashensky church belongs to one of the oldest regiments of guards, founded by Peter the Great, the "tenth legion" of the Russian Cassars. This church (the Spass-Preobrashenskoi-Sabor) is one of the most considerable of the city, and, more than any other, adorned both without and within with trophies from conquered nations. The railing that surrounds the churchyard is formed of Turkish and French cannon. Every three of those three hundred cannon, one large and two smaller, mounted on a granite pedestal, with their mouths pointed downward, form a column. Around the cannon, chains of different thickness, gracefully twined, are hung like garlands between the columns; on the summit of each is enthroned a Russian double eagle of iron, with expanded wings. Within, the church is adorned with flags and halberds. The pillars look like palm-trees, of which every leaf is a lance! Here also travellers are shown a production of Russian inventive talent, the work of a common peasant. It is a large, splendid piece of clockwork, made by him in his native village, bought for twenty thousand roubles by his lord, and presented to the church. The works are said to be so good as to have stood in no need of repair during the eight or ten years the clock has been in the church.
Trinity church is also a modern erection, like the Smolnoi convent, and very similar to it. The exterior offers an example of the fantastic manner in which the Russians often decorate their churches. Under the cornice of the dark-blue, star-bespanged cupola, an arabesque of vine-leaves and flowers runs all round. The garlands are held up by angels, and between every pair of them a crown of thorns is introduced as a centre. But for this martyr-token of Christianity, it would seem the gay temple of some Grecian god.
One half, and certainly the more important half, of the churches of St. Petersburg, are the erections of the present century. The Nicolai church, the church of the Resurrection, and some others of the time of Catherine II., are not worthy of mention in an architectural point of view. In the church of the Resurrection are some very singular offerings to the saints; among others a patchwork quilt, probably the offering of some devout beggar, and containing the best of her rags. It was made out of a vast number of pieces great and small, woollen, linen, and silk, worked with gold thread, perhaps taken from the cast-off epaulettes of some officer of the guards, and in the middle a golden cross was sewed on.
In the Nicolai church, which is built in two stories, one for divine service during winter, and the other in summer, the four small cupolas are tenanted by a number of pigeons, who make their nests there, and are fed by the attendants with the rice which the pious place there for the dead.
Among the churches of other confessions than the Greek, that built by the emperor Paul, when he assumed the protectorate of the Maltese order, is at least interesting. It is quite in the style of the old churches of the knights of St. John, and still contains the chair on which the emperor sat as grand-master of the order.
The largest Roman catholic church is on the Nevskoi Prospekt, opposite the Kazan cathedral. The priests are Germans, and the service half German, half Latin. It is attended by the Poles and Lithuanians, to whom the chanting, by the congregation, of the " immaculate Virgin," " the Queen of Heaven," " the Tower of God," " the Portress of Zion," &c, in itself sufficiently unintelligible, must be necessarily still more so here. The Russians rarely attend the Roman catholic service; if they go to any foreign church, it is generally to the protestant. The catholics, Greeks, and Armenians (the latter of whom have also a very pretty church on the Nevskoi Prospekt) hold to the doctrine of the Trinity; but the Dutch, it would appear, to a Duality—for on their church stands the singular inscription, "Deo et salvatori sacrum." This church, with its very rich dotation, dates from Peter the Great, when the Dutch were the most considerable merchants, and were endowed by the liberal czar with so much land within the city, that many a Dutch cathedral may envy the church of this little northern colony.
The largest civil hospital in St. Petersburg is that of Oboukoff, situated on the Fontanka canal, and near the Semenovskoi parade-ground. All persons are received here. Those who are able contribute a small monthly sum toward its support. Twelve medical men are attached to this hospital. An iron plate, with the name of the patient, the nature of the disease, the time of entering, and the course of treatment, is affixed above each bed. The bedsteads are of iron, and the linen remarkably clean. There is a school, belonging to this hospital, where youths are educated for hospital-attendants. They are taught to read and write, instructed in Latin, and in a smattering of medicine and anatomy, and at a certain age distributed among the various hospitals of the city as subordinate officers.
The military hospital contains about two thousand patients. The City hospital and the Imperial hospital, for sick poor, are both on a large scale. There is also an institution for deaf and dumb persons, a blind-asylum, &c.
The richest and most considerable of the public institutions of St. Petersburg is, however, the foundling-hospital. Well endowed from its very first establishment, it owes its colossal wealth to the bounty and particular care of the late empress Maria. Among other favors accorded to the hospital, she gave it the monopoly of playing-cards. The duty on these is very high, amounting to fifty silver copecks (about forty cents) a pack. In all the other countries of Europe put together there is probably not so great a consumption of cards as in Russia. Not only the long winter evenings— that is to say, the long evenings of nine months out of the twelve— and the Russians' innate love for play, make the sale of cards something almost incredible, but luxury and waste further stimulate the demand. In the higher circles, a pack of cards serves but for one game of ombre, whist, &c.; and even in the better sort of clubs, new cards are taken after every third game ! It gives but a faint idea of the luxury prevailing in Russia, although this is but a pale shadow of that which formerly reigned.*
The enormous capital belonging to the St. Petersburg foundling-hospital affords it abundant means to maintain itself on a level in every respect with the first philanthropic institutions in the world. The institution is under the immediate protection of the present empress, who frequently visits it, often in company with her daughter the duchess of Leuchtenburg, watches over all its arrangements with true womanly care, and strengthens and improves it by her powerful patronage. The orphan who enters this charitable house is cared for, not only in its tender infancy, but for its whole life. Unseeing and unseen, the woman on duty in the interior of the chamber receives the little helpless being whom the world and its own parents abandon. At the ring of the door-bell, she turns the exterior half of the coffer inward, her ear scarcely catching the last murmured blessing with which many a heart-broken mother commits to the care" of strangers that which she holds dearest in the world.
As soon as received, the infant undergoes a medical examination; and an exact record is made of every mark and sign upon its body and linen— of everything, in short, which came with it. Then it is washed, dressed in new clothes, a number is allotted to it, and it is given over to one of the nurses who are always there in readiness. On bright spring mornings, long lines of well-closed carriages may be seen driving slowly through the streets, conveying the nurses and their innocent charges into the country. There the children remain for some years, under the care and superintendence of physicians and officers of the institution, who regularly and strictly inspect the foster-mothers.
The first years of infancy happily passed, the children are brought back to the foundling-hospital, and their education begins. The nature of this education depends entirely on the capacity and inclinations they betray. This establishment sends forth stout blacksmiths and ploughmen, just as it has also produced distinguished officers, sculptors, and musicians. Cooks from the foundling-hospital are much sought after; governesses that have been educated there are preferred to all others.
When the lad has completed his education in the house which received him as a helpless infant, the choice of a calling is allowed him — more or less limited, of course, by the degree of ability and the conduct he has manifested. He may devote himself to science or art, to the military or naval profession, to some trade or handicraft—just as he pleases ; and the expense of his education, previously borne by the hospital, thenceforward falls upon the government. To requite this, he is bound to devote his acquirements to the service of the state for a certain time. This, however, is not a very hard condition, since it ultimately leads to that which so many thousands sigh after for years in vain, namely, an appointment as soon as he is quite fit for one.
Formerly these foundlings could at any time be claimed by their parents; but lately a ukase has put many difficulties in the way of such claims, if it has not, indeed, totally disavowed them. This decree was rendered necessary by the great abuses that arose from the facilities afforded to heartless and unscrupulous parents of getting rid of the care of their offspring's childhood without urgent necessity. In this manner, children born in wedlock were often temporarily committed to the care of the state, and taken back when their age and education rendered them profitable, instead of burdensome, to their families.
The foundling-hospital (Vospitatelnoi Dom), like all the public institutions of the capital, has the air of a palace rather than a building intended for charitable purposes. It occupies with its courts, gardens, and dependencies, a space of twenty-eight acres, is close to the Fontanka canal, and therefore in the best part of the town. The main building is composed of what were formerly the palaces of Prince Bobrinsky and Count Rasoumoffski, which were purchased for the institution; but a number of additional buildings have since then been erected, and the whole may now be said to form a little district of its own. This hospital is of more recent origin than that of Moscow, of which it was only a dependent branch when instituted by Catherine II. in 1770, but it now eclipses the parent institution. In 1790 it contained only three hundred children; but since the commencement of the present century, the number has increased with astonishing rapidity, amounting in all to about thirty thousand, and those annually admitted comprise eight or nine thousand.
An institution like this is calculated to excite reflections in the mind of an American as to its expediency. If it is to be viewed in the light of a charity, it is a charity upon a very questionable principle.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855