The bodies of the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia have been exhumed so that experts can take samples of their DNA to help answer one of the last unanswered questions about the murder of Nicholas II and his family in July 1918. The DNA will be compared to some taken from what are believed to be the bodies of two of their children, Maria and Alexei, whose remains have never been formally identified.
Investigators took samples from the Tsar and Tsarina’s bodies on Wednesday. The royal couple are buried in St Peter and St Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg and once the DNA had been taken from their remains, they were returned to their last resting places in the crypt of St Catharine sacrarium.
Nicholas II and Alexandra were killed alongside their five children during the Russian Revolution. Following the Tsar’s abdication, he and his family had been held at various locations throughout Russia before arriving at a house in Yekaterinburg in April 1918. Just a few months later, on July 17th, the whole family was woken in the middle of the night, taken to a basement room and shot dead. Their bodies were hastily buried and for decades the last resting place of the last Tsar, his wife and children was a mystery.
In 1998, DNA tests confirmed that bodies found near Yekaterinburg years earlier were those of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their daughters and on the 80th anniversary of their deaths the five family members were buried in St Petersburg. They were canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2000. Seven years later, remains believed to be those of Maria and Alexei were found in a different site.
The Russian Orthodox Church has always wanted more proof that these bodies are those of the missing Tsarevich and Grand Duchess and these tests are part of the process to prove that all the missing royals have been found. At the moment, the remains of Maria and Alexei are kept at the Russian State Archives.
On confirmation that Maria and Alexei have been identified they will be buried alongside their parents and sisters and their canonisation is also set to take place. It is hoped this will all happen before the centenary of their deaths in 2018.
Photo credit: A. Currell via Flickr