Not Even Grenades Could Kill Her: The Martyrdom of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna of Russia

Not Even Grenades Could Kill Her: The Martyrdom of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna of Russia


Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr is one of the most popular recent martyrs of the Orthodox Church.

A noble woman and a convert to the faith, she became a nun after her husband, the Grand Duke of Russia, was assassinated. Having given away her considerable wealth, she founded hospitals, orphanages, and cared for the sick and impoverished with her own hands.

Even more remarkable is the story of her assassination at the hands of the Bolsheviks, who took Saint Elizabeth and several other members of the Russian royal family to an abandoned mineshaft in the middle of the night.

One of the assassins gave this account:

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 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.

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr is commemorated on July 5 on the New Calendar.

[Picture: Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, painted by Friedrich August von Kaulbach]

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

About author

Seraphim Danckaert

Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.