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#9 - JRL 7252
Russian Memorial Church Consecrated
July 16, 2003

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) - Surrounded by crowds of Russian Orthodox faithful, clerics on Wednesday consecrated a memorial church on the spot where Czar Nicholas II and his family were shot to death by the Bolsheviks 85 years ago.

Russian Orthodox priests wearing gilt-edged red robes chanted and carried crosses in Yekaterinburg, where the last czar, his wife, Alexandra, and their five children were executed in a cellar on July 17, 1918.

The Church on the Blood, a white-walled structure topped by several shining gold-colored onion domes at different levels, was built on the execution site at a cost of $1 million, much of it donated by large companies, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

At least 1,000 pilgrims came to Yekaterinburg for the ceremony, some traveling hundreds of miles on foot and staying at a tent camp set up in a nearby field.

The ceremony also drew Romanov descendants and well-known people including musician Mstislav Rostropovich.

``I am delighted that I am here on this historic day. This place is known to everyone as the Russian Calvary,'' a descendant of the Romanov's, Olga Kulikovskaya-Romanova said at the ceremony.

Metropolitan Yuvenaly, a top Russian Orthodox cleric, told NTV television that the consecration of the memorial church bore ``a meaning of repentance, a meaning of reconciliation and the unity of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church.''

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II has been ill lately and was advised by his doctors not to travel to Yekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains about 900 miles east of Moscow, ITAR-Tass reported.

In a message, Alexy said the consecration suggests ``a possible historic turn'' for Russia and called for unity among the dominant Russian Orthodox church, the state and the Russian people. In imperial Russia, church and state were extremely close and the czar was considered to have the divine right to rule.

Alexy said it is important ``that at the place where the blood of the holy regal martyrs was spilled, where an attempt to destroy Russia was undertaken, should begin a revival of the glorious traditions under which both the authorities and ordinary citizens try to coordinate their affairs with God's precepts ... to build the kind of Fatherland that would correspond to the ideal of Holy Russia.''

At the main entrance to the church stands a sculpture depicting the last minutes of the Romanov's lives - surrounded by members of his family, Nicholas clutches his son, the Czarevich Alexei, to his chest.

Nicholas, who abdicated in March 1917 as revolutionary fervor swept Russia, was canonized by the church in 2000, along with his family, after years of debate on the issue following the collapse of the Soviet regime.

Nicholas and his family were detained and in April 1918 they were sent to Yekaterinburg. Three months later, a firing squad lined them up in the basement of a merchant's house and shot them. The palace, called the Ipatyev House, was demolished in 1977 on orders from Boris Yeltsin, who was the top regional official at the time.

The remains of the royal family were unearthed from a mining pit near Yekaterinburg in 1991, amid the Soviet collapse, and were buried in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998, after years of genetic tests and disputes about their authenticity. The remains of two of the children were never found.

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