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Rasputin, the So-Called Mad Monk Who Toppled the Romanov Dynasty

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Often referred to as the "Mad Monk,” Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin is said to have gone from spiritual healer to the man who toppled the Romanov Dynasty of Russia, ending the Tsar tradition forever.

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (January 1869 – December 1916) was born in the small village of Pokrovskoye along the Tura River in the Tobolsk guberniya (now Tyumen Oblast) in Siberia.

Often referred to as the "Mad Monk,” Rasputin was considered by many of his time to be a "strannik" (a religious pilgrim), and even a “starets” or "elder,” a title generally reserved for monk-confessors, believing him to possess psychic abilities and the gift of miraculous healing. One often cited example of these reputed powers occurred when Efim Rasputin, Grigori's father, had one of his horses stolen and Rasputin was able to identify the man who had committed the theft by simply sensing it.

When Rasputin was around eighteen years of age, he spent three months in the Verkhoturye Monastery.  His experience there, combined with a reported vision of the Virgin Mary, apparently influenced him to follow the life of a religious mystic and wanderer. Many historians believe that he also came into contact with the banned Christian sect known as the khlysty (flagellants) whose ecstatic rituals end in physical exhaustion, which may account for Rasputin’s reportedly unusual sexual attitudes.

Always described and depicted as an unwashed and sexually promiscuous self-styled holy man, history records Rasputin’s apparent part in helping to bring down the empire of the Russian Tsars (leading to the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917) after first becoming the personal confidant of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, and personal spiritual healer to son Alexei. But despite his seeming influence on Russian history, there has been much difficulty separating Rasputin's actual involvement from perceived involvement as accounts are based on dubious memoirs, hearsay, and a growing legend.

Already notorious for his many sexual affairs with aristocratic women (and later rumored to have had an affair with the Tsarina as well), Rasputin came to the attention to Tsar Nicholas and his wife when he successfully healed the favorite hunting dog of a member of the royal family.

Tsarina Alexandra, said to have believed heavily in faith healing and spirituality, became particularly interested in his reputation because their only son (and heir) Alexis suffered from hemophilia, a painful malady which doctors had warned would end in death at a young age.  After being summoned to the royal court, Rasputin is said to have helped the boy recover by prayer and the laying of hands. Rasputin’s influence over the royal family apparently stemmed from this seemingly miraculous act.

An outspoken opponent of war, Rasputin voiced his condemnation of Russia’s involvement in WWI at every opportunity--in the restaurants, bars, and halls, and in the bedrooms of the aristocratic women he bedded.

The poor decisions made by the Tsar during the time of Rasputin's influence, coupled with the contempt his very presence in the Royal Palace brought the Russian people, probably contributed significantly to the fall of the Tsar in the final days of the dynasty.

The Russian people had apparently lost confidence in their ruler at a time of grave crisis; the war was going badly, and there were severe shortages of food and supplies at home. As public confidence waned, the revolutionary ideas that had already been fermenting in Russia for the prior fifty years began to bubble to the surface.

Seeking to distance the Russian government from Rasputin and the hold he had on the royal family, Russian Minister of War Alexander Guchkov charged him with being a member of the illegal, orgiastic sect, the khlysty. The Tsar, however, referred to Rasputin as "our friend" and a "holy man,”  and refused to take any steps to alienate the healer.  Taking matters into their own hands, on December 16, 1916, a group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and the right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich, lured Rasputin to the Yusupovs' Moika Palace by intimating that Yusupov's wife, Princess Irina, would be present and wanted to meet him.  (In actuality, she was away in the Crimea.)

Royal Palace

Once there, the conspirators led Rasputin down to the cellar where they served him cakes and red wine laced with a massive amount of cyanide.  According to first-hand reports, however, Rasputin was unaffected although Vasily Maklakov had supplied “enough poison to kill five men.” Two hours later, although  Rasputin appeared tired, he was still very much alive.

In desperation, Prince Felix Yusupov then got his revolver and shot Rasputin once in the heart, after which Rasputin appeared lifeless and Yusupov could find no pulse.  But then suddenly, first one eye opened, and then the other. Rasputin leaped to his feet and attacked Yusupov, attempting to strangle him, all the while reportedly foaming at the mouth.

Fleeing the palace on his own power, Rasputin was followed into the courtyard, saying that he was going to tell the Tsarina, at which time Purishkevich shot him in the back.  When Rasputin stopped, Purishkevich fired again, sending him to the ground.  He then kicked Rasputin's corpse in the temple, leaving a severe wound.

When the body was brought back into the palace, Yusupov is said to have lost control, repeatedly beating Rasputin on the head with a blackjack. (Some accounts say his killers even sexually mutilated him, severing his penis.) Binding his body and wrapping him in a carpet, they threw him into the icy Neva River where the body was eventually discovered about seven hundred and fifty feet downstream where it had traveled under the ice.

The autopsy revealed that Rasputin had water in his lungs, meaning he was still alive when he was thrown into the water. A photograph from the autopsy suggests that he was still trying to free himself from his bonds.

Subsequently, Tsaritsa Alexandra buried Rasputin's body on the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo.  A short time later, the Russian Revolution led to ending the lives of Nicholas and the royal family.

While many legends follow the life and death of Rasputin, one of the most poignant is evidence that he apparently had premonitions of his own death, as well as the fall of Russia.  In a letter written by Rasputin, he writes, “My hour will soon come. I have no fear but you must know that the hour will be bitter. I will suffer a great martyrdom. I will forgive my torturers and will inherit the kingdom."  In a reported conversation taking place on the day of his death, he told an acquaintance (said to have been the Tsarina) "Little mother, I feel my end is near. They'll kill me and then the throne won't last 3 months."

After the February Revolution, a group of workers from Saint Petersburg uncovered Rasputin's remains, carried them into the nearby woods, and burned them.  As the body was buring, Rasputin is said to have sat up in the fire, his attempts to stand thoroughly horrifying several onlookers. This final happenstance only further fueled the legends and mysteries surrounding Rasputin which continue to this day.

References:

Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs, Colin Wilson

http://www.historywiz.com/historymakers/rasputin.htm

http://www.answers.com/topic/rasputin

images via wikipedia.org unless credited otherwise (with my thanks)

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