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Church near site of Russian tsar’s and family’s remains burns down

October 4, 2010

MOSCOW

Fire has destroyed one of the main churches at a monastery near where the remains of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and his family were dumped after they were murdered by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918.

An official from Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations told journalists during a briefing in Yekaterinburg that the exact cause of the Sept. 14 fire still had to be determined but said that it began in a section where a hot water furnace stood in the wooden church at Ganina Yama. That is the name of the mine shaft near the Urals Mountains city where the remains were initially deposited after the execution.

The family and their doctor and servants were killed in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg, about 900 miles east of Moscow, where they were being detained.

Criminal negligence rather than arson is regarded as the main cause of the blaze. Fire safety is reputed to be bad in Russia and that is why wildfires that raged in recent summer months caused such havoc.

Still, the incident continues the controversy that has raged around the bones since they were first discovered near Ganina Yama by amateur archaeologists in 1979 and then kept hidden until the end of the Soviet era.

In the 1990s the remains were the center of impassioned disputes and DNA testing after their discovery was made public and then they were interred at the St Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.

The Russian Orthodox Church canonized Czar Nicholas II and his family in 2000, and construction of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers Monastery at Ganina Yama began that year.  But the church has refused to recognize the authenticity of the bones. It also angered archaeologists and researchers in 2009 when it revealed plans to build a cemetery and cathedral on a site near where the Romanov’s remains were uncovered.

In 2007 the remains of the czar’s son Aleksei and one of his sisters were found and archaeologists said at that time that there were still more to be found at the site.

Coincidentally, a regional court ruled on Sept. 14 that the allocation of the land to the church was unlawful, putting a stop to the project.

Ganina Yama is on the wooded outskirts of the city and the monastery, composed of seven wooden churches, draws pilgrims from around the world who pay homage to the czar and his family and buy souvenirs.

A spokesperson for the monastery told the RIA-Novosti news agency that a stone church would be built to replace the wooden Church of the Sovereign Icon of the Mother of God.

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