29. The entrée joyeuse into the Kremlin of Tsar Alexander II after his coronation
Letters from Russia by Field-Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke.
(Helmuth Carl Berhard, Count von Moltke 1800-1890 was a Prussian field-marshal, for thirty years Chief of Staff of the Prussian army, and the greatest strategist of the second half of the nineteenth century. He was the victor of Koniggratz in 1866, and of the Franco-Prussian war. A taciturn linguist. silent in seven languages', he was also a writer, publishing (among other things) essays on Belgium, Holland and Poland, and a translation of Gibbon's Decline and Fall. He visited Moscow for the coronation of Alexander II, accompanying Prince Frederick William.)
As we approached the Kremlin, the guns thundered from every tower, and the great 'John' expressed his joy by ringing all the Kolokols, which hang around him. Then the great Wetschewoi boomed which had once called the warlike population to arms, in the time of the great Republic of Novgorod, when the Muscovite grand-dukes threatened their freedom, and then there was a booming, and a tinkling, and a humming of all the bells, large and small, far and near, with which Ivan keeps high festival.
Only one bell remains dumb, as in joy or sorrow it has been dumb since the first day of its existence. It stands on a layer of granite, at the foot of the great tower, a house of brass with walls two feet thick. A piece which came out in the casting lies there before it, and leaves a free entrance through which the twenty or thirty men can pass whom this ruined bell can comfortably accommodate.
Before the outer gate of the Kremlin, in a beautiful little chapel, is the image of the Iberian Boshja matter', which is so much venerated that hardly the busiest tradesman passes it by without entering for a moment and crossing himself.
Here the Emperor descended from his horse, and went in to pay his devotions. The whole suite, however, rode through the gate, and marched in front of the wall of the Kremlin on to the great open space, Krasnoj Ploschtschad. The Czar quickly rejoined us, and we all went through the Redeemer's door, the sacred spass woroto, into the inner court.
Through this door no Russian, and indeed no stranger, passes without uncovering — the highest personage and the lowest alike testify their respect for this miraculous picture of the Saviour. In time past, when the Tartan attacked the Kremlin, such a mist came forth from the picture, that they were unable to find the entrance; and when the French wished to destroy the gate with the arsenal, the tower was cracked all the way down to the crystal plate of the picture, which remained unhurt, and held the whole wall together.
On the other side of the door we dismounted, very well pleased to get out of the crowd of loose horses and stand quietly on the red carpet to await the arrival of the Empresses and the grand duchesses. First came the Empress' mother, and then the reigning Empress in a dress of gold brocade and ermine. The manteaux of the grand duchesses were of velvet or lace with gold and pearls. All the ladies of the court wore the national costume, which you know is of scarlet velvet.
Their Majesties now went in solemn procession to Uspenski Sabor, the Church of the Redemption, the veritable cathedral before which the superior clergy awaited the Emperor. This church, in which the coronation takes place, and in which the Patriarchs are buried, is like all Russian churches, extremely rich, but narrow and dark. The great thick pillars take up half the space; the windows are small and deep; the cupolas high and narrow like towers. All the walls and pillars are gilded from top to bottom, and on this gold ground the peculiar, long drawn, often quite distorted, pictures of the saints are painted. Frightful mosaic pictures look down from the cupola above, amongst others one of an old man with a gray beard, which can be no one else but God the Father Himself. I pass over the enormous treasures of gold, silver, and jewels, with which the pictures of the saints are covered, and only notice the book of the gospels of Natalie Narischkin, which was presented by the mother of Peter the Great. The binding is of gold, and is worth a million of roubles. The book has to be carried by two priests, because it is too heavy for one.
The Emperor performed his devotions before the principal images of the saints. He knelt down quite close to me, crossed himself, and kissed the relics. The Empress followed with her long train carried by two pages, and did the same.
The Court of the Redeemer is shut off by a beautiful trellis, and is, except a part of the old palace of the Czars, entirely surrounded by churches, which contain the most sacred relics of Russia. A shorter procession led their Majesties and their whole retinue into Archangelski Sabor, the Church of the Archangel Michael, which contains the graves of all the Czars till the first Emperor, then into Blagowestschenki, or the Church of the Annunciation, which is narrower, more peculiar, and more gorgeous than all the others. It is a perfect little jewel-box. The cross and cupola are of pure gold, and the pavement is inlaid with jasper, agate, and cornelian, from Siberia.
Everywhere the Emperor was received with the wonderful Russian church-melodies, and now that he had given glory to God, the whole splendid procession passed down the open steps, Krasnoi Krylizo, which were covered with scarlet cloth, to the old Palace of the Czars, which directly communicates with the magnificent rooms of the new palace built by the Emperor Alexander. Then we went through the enormous St George's Hall, whose walls bear the names of all the knights of St George, to St Andrew's Hall, which is like the nave of an old Gothic cathedral, and St Nicolas' Hall, at the end of which is the throne itself. In the midst of the imperial escutcheons are to be seen the family arms of the Romanow and the Duke of Holstein, the two crossbeams of Oldenburg, the lion of Norway, the nettle leaf of Holstein, the lion of Schleswig, and others. And so at last we came once more to the Imperial residence, whose comfortable magnificence we had already seen, and at six o'clock, all the ceremonies being concluded, we hastened home to our well-earned dinner in Princess Trubetzkois' house.