The beginning of Chapter One of my book, ALIX AND NICKY: THE PASSION OF THE LAST TSAR AND TSARINA (recently published in the US, and due out in the UK in July)
At nine o'clock on the morning of May 19, 1913, the firing of cannon, the clashing of cathedral bells, and the cheering of expectant crowds welcomed the stately appearance of the steamship Mezhen, flying the imperial flag with its double-headed eagle, steaming up the Volga to the city of Kostroma, birthplace of the three-hundred-year-old Romanov dynasty. As the Mezhen slowly approached the specially constructed landing stage, a procession bearing the wonder-working icon of the Fyodorovsky Virgin emerged from the Cathedral of the Assumption, golden vestments glinting in the occasional rays of morning sun breaking through the clouds. Everyone on the imperial ship crossed themselves, as both procession and ship advanced slowly toward the Ipatyev Monastery, the very place from which Mikhail Romanov was summoned in 1613 to become the Tsar of Russia.
At a quarter to ten the imperial family - Tsar (or Emperor) Nicholas II; his wife the Tsarina (or Empress) Alexandra; their four daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia; and their son, the Tsarevich, Alexei - disembarked, to be greeted by the city's official delegation and offered bread and salt, traditional symbols of hospitality. They then climbed into the waiting cars and were driven the short distance to the monastery, the road flanked by a double line of soldiers, holding back the dense crowds.
At the monastery, the Emperor was greeted by another procession, the one headed by Tikhon, the Archbishop of Kostroma and Galich. Here were also gathered representatives of the local peasantry and descendants of those who had come to beg Mikhail Romanov to accept the throne, at the end of the "Time of Troubles", three hundred years earlier. They carried objects dating from that momentous occasion, including a cross and an icon that the Emperor and his family duly kissed. They then followed the procession into the grounds of the monastery and toward the Cathedral of the Trinity, in front of which they found other members of the wider imperial family, the array of tall, imposing, and bearded Grand Dukes, most in military uniform, with their assorted wives, mothers, and children. The Empress and her son, both afflicted with physical ailments and unable to stand for long periods, went straight inside the cathedral, while all the other members of the family and their retinue set off again, this time to meet the procession coming from the town with the wonder-working icon, followed by a crowd of thousands. Absolute silence fell as Tsar and procession came face-to-face, broken only by the discordant clashing of the ancient monastery bells.
The Emperor crossed himself, right to left in the Orthodox fashion, and kissed the holy icon, as did his daughters. Then all entered the cathedral to hear the liturgy, followed by a Te Deum. After the lengthy service Nicholas and his daughters went to visit the house of Tsar Mikhail, which had been turned into a museum for the occasion, and where many objects that had belonged to the first Tsar were on display. The Empress was not feeling well enough to go to the museum, and remained in the cathedral with her sister, the Grand Duchess Elisabeth (known to the family as Ella), dressed as usual in her elegant grey habit, as the abbess of her own order of nuns. After a series of farewells, the immediate family returned on board the Mezhen, where they lunched in private.
This brief glimpse of the imperial family afforded to the citizenry and ecclesiastical dignitaries of Kostroma, when the last in the line of Romanov tsars came to venerate the memory of the first, can be examined, like a photograph, to reveal much about the apparently straightforward scene...