A very brief biography

Time: the late 19th century. A young, beautiful German princess, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, is to marry a member of the Russian royal family. From the beginning, the spouses-to-be agree the marriage will require no physical intimacy: as it will later turn out, the Russian prince has a liking for young officers. In Russia, the young wife turns to charity; a few years later, she converts to Orthodoxy.

Her husband serves as the mayor of Moscow and earns a terrible reputation for cruelty and meanness. Few grieve when a Russian revolutionary throws a bomb into the mayor’s carriage, killing both the prince and the coachman. The widow asks the Czar to pardon her husband’s killer, to no avail; she spends hours in the condemned man’s cell urging him to repent—to no avail either. She sells off her assets, even her wedding ring, and founds a convent in Moscow. Not as strict as conventional Orthodox monasteries, the convent of Martha and Mary is centered around a school for nurses, an orphanage and a hospital. The princess tends to the sick just like the other nurses and leads an ascetic life, sleeping on wooden planks.

Following the Bolshevik revolution, the princess is arrested and sent to Ekaterinburg, where she, a lay sister, and a few male members of the royal house, are kept under guard. She refuses an offer to leave for Germany. One day, she and her fellow prisoners are thrown alive into an abandoned coal shaft; a few hand grenades follow for certainty. The princess’ remains are interred in Jerusalem.

You may have heard of them, St. Elizabeth and St. Barbara the New Martyrs.

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