Published: July 17, 2008, 00:05
Russian: Orthodox faithful gathered in their hundreds on Wednesday for ornate ceremonies marking the 90th anniversary of the slaying of last tsar Nicholas II and his family.
Hundreds of believers led by Archbishop Vikenty of Yekaterinburg paraded through the city in the Ural Mountains before a night-time vigil of repentance for the killings, which sealed the fall of an ancient dynasty and its replacement by the Soviet Union.
The ceremonies came as prosecutors said they had positively identified the remains of the last two unaccounted-for Romanovs: Nicholas' heir Alexei and daughter Maria.
"Again and again as we recall the tragic events of 1918 we see that this was a destructive rupture of the fundamental traditions of our state," the archbishop said, quoted by his office. "The time has come to revive what was destroyed."
Pilgrims travelled from across Russia to the Church on the Blood, a shrine on the site of the house where Nicholas and his family spent their last months before being shot in the basement early on July 17, 1918 by Bolshevik agents.
They filed past the basement room, preserved and draped in red cloth, kneeling to touch their foreheads to the stone floor and kissing icons of the Romanovs in saintly robes.
Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their five children, doctor and three servants were all shot on the site, before their bodies were taken to a disused mineshaft and dumped.
"We've come for one thing: forgiveness," said Alla Solodovnikova, after a two-day journey from the western Russian outpost of Kaliningrad.
In Soviet times "the state machine wanted to destroy our brains. Lenin said religion was the opium of the masses.... I'm asking the saints to seek forgiveness for us," said the 67-year-old.
Hundreds of the faithful also retraced the last steps of the royal family from their arrival at a local train station, singing and carrying on their shoulders large icons of the Romanovs draped in garlands and crosses.
"Russia will never have democracy. That's a dead end. We want a tsar. There should be a master in such a country, not temporary leaders," said a uniformed member of a local Cossack cultural organisation, Vladimir Sumin.
Attitudes to the murdered Romanov family have changed dramatically since the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse.
The Church is now supported at the highest level of state and has embraced the memory of the Romanovs, canonising them as saints.
But in a sign of mixed feelings about the last century an ongoing survey by the television channel Rossiya asking viewers to name the greatest Russian in history shows Nicholas vying for top spot with notorious Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
President Dmitry Medvedev's press office declined to comment on the anniversary, in line with the cautious approach to Russia's royal heritage of his predecessor and mentor Vladimir Putin.
The fate of the Romanovs' bodies continues to cause controversy as the Orthodox Church has refused to recognise any of the remains that have been recovered since the Soviet collapse, despite DNA testing that the state says is conclusive.
The Church refused to take part in a ceremony in 1998 at which the remains of Nicholas, Alexandra, three of the children and the doctor and three servants were reburied in Saint Petersburg.
Yesterday, the prosecutor's office said there was no doubt that remains found last summer were those of the two unaccounted-for children.
"Full results of DNA studies, using three genetic testing systems, confirm the hypothesis that the second grave contained the remains of Grand Duchess Maria and Tsarevich Alexei," the office said in a statement.
Last year bone fragments and teeth belonging to two young people were found about 70 metres away from the site where Russia's imperial rulers had been buried. Forensic scientists said molar teeth and amalgam fillings found with the new remains matched those found among the remains of the other members of the royal family.
Scull fragments showed injuries consistent with bullet wounds. Genetic tests showed the remains of both groups belonged to one family group.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kremlin and many Russians have sought to reconnect with their pre-revolutionary past.
President Dmitry Medvedev has said he admires Nicholas II, whom many historians blame for being too weak and setting Russia on a path to civil war and dictatorship.
"His life ended in tragedy but then it began again. That's what we're celebrating today," Nadia Basharova, 50, said as she listened to a priest sing.
The Russian Orthodox church has canonised the Tsar and his family as martyrs. By mid-morning around 300 people had gathered at the Yekaterinburg church, which is just a 20-minute walk away from a statue of Vladimir Lenin, the architect of the Soviet Union who is blamed by many for the murder of the Tsar and his family.