was born Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Elisabeth Alexandra Louise Alice of Hesse and by Rhine on 1 November 1864. She was the second child of Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and by Rhine and British Princess Alice. Through her mother, she was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Princess Alice chose the name Elisabeth for her daughter after visiting the shrine of Elizabeth of Hungary, ancestress of the House of Hesse, in Marburg. Alice so admired St. Elizabeth that she decided to name her new daughter after her. Elizabeth was known as "Ella" within her family.
She married Grand Duke Sergei Romanov 15 June 1884 in the Chapel of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, gaining the title Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. The couple settled in the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace in St. Petersburg; after Sergei was appointed Governor-General of Moscow in 1892, they resided in one of the Kremlin palaces. During the summer, they stayed at Il’yinskoe, an estate outside Moscow that Sergei had inherited from his mother.
The couple never had children of their own, but their Il’yinskoye estate was usually filled with parties that Elizabeth organized especially for children. They eventually became the foster parents of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, Sergei’s niece and nephew.
Although Elizabeth was not legally required to convert to Russian Orthodoxy from her native Lutheranism, she voluntarily chose to do so in 1891. Although some members of her family questioned her motives, her conversion appears to have been sincere.
On 18 February 1905, Sergei was assassinated in the Kremlin by the Socialist-Revolutionary, Ivan Kalyayev. Elisabeth remained calm, yet distant to visitors that came to call and seemed to be fixed on a focal point, possibly trying to contain her grief.
After Sergei’s death, Elizabeth wore mourning clothes and became a vegetarian. In 1909, she sold off her magnificent collection of jewels and sold her other luxurious possessions; even her wedding ring was not spared. With the proceeds she opened the Convent of Sts. Martha and Mary and became its abbess. She soon opened a hospital, a chapel, a pharmacy and an orphanage on its grounds. Elizabeth and her nuns worked tirelessly among the poor and the sick of Moscow. She often visited Moscow’s worst slums and did all she could to help alleviate the suffering of the poor.
Following the Russian Revolution Elizabeth and other members of Russian Royal Family were arrested and relocated to more remote parts of the country and were eventually taken to an abandoned mine in Siniachikha. The Cheka beat all the prisoners before throwing their victims into a pit, Elizabeth being the first. Hand grenades were then hurled down the shaft, but only one victim, Feodor Remez, died as a result of the grenades.
According to the personal account of Vassili Ryabov, one of their killers, Elizabeth and the others survived the initial fall into the mine, prompting Ryabov to toss in a grenade after them. Following the explosion, he claimed to hear Elizabeth and the others singing a Russian hymn from the bottom of the shaft. Unnerved, Ryabov threw down a second grenade, but the singing continued. Finally a large quantity of brushwood was shoved into the opening and set alight, upon which Ryabov posted a guard over the site and departed.
Early on 18 July 1918, the head of the Alapaevsk Cheka, Abramov, and the head of the Yekaterinburg Regional Soviet, Beloborodov, who had been involved in the murders of the Imperial Family, exchanged a number of telegrams in a pre-arranged plan saying that the school had been attacked by an "unidentified gang". A month later, Alapaevsk fell to the White Army.
On 8 October 1918, the Whites discovered the remains of Elizabeth and her companions, still within the shaft where they had been murdered. Elizabeth had died of wounds sustained in her fall into the mine, but had still found strength to bandage the head of the dying Prince Ioann. Her remains were removed and ultimately taken to Jerusalem, where they lie today in the Church of Maria Magdalene.
She is one of the ten 20th-century martyrs from across the world who are depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, London, England.
Propers for Elisabeth Hesse Romanov - Princess, Monastic and Martyr
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who didst strengthen thy blessed martyr Elizabeth with the virtue of constancy in faith and truth: Grant us in like manner for love of thee to despise the prosperity of this world, and to fear none of its adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle - 2 Esdras 2:42-48.
The Gospel - St. Matthew 10:16-22.
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