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Russian Court Ceremony


Location:Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu men)

Dates: 2019-08-29 through 2019-11-08


During the Romanov Dynasty (1613–1917), the Tsar was the supreme monarch of the Russian Empire. They used to host grand court ceremonies, such as coronation, to demonstrate the sacred imperial power. Peter I the Great revolutionized court ceremonies in line with the Western European traditions. Following established procedures, such grand and solemn ceremonies were invested with special political implications to publicize the legitimacy of the Tsarist rule. It explains why every Tsar had attached great importance to court ceremonies. In the 18th century, the Russian capital was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg, but the most important ceremonies were still held at the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. As a time-honored tradition, all the Russian monarchs were crowned here since the 15th century.

The coronation ceremonies had been typical occasions for extravagant display of glamorous dresses, exquisite utensils, dazzling jewels, and a wide range of luxuries. Featuring rich cultural and historical connotations of the Russian nation, they gave prominence to the dignity and wealth of the royal family, while showcasing the superb craftsmanship in the country. The exhibition features the artifacts, costumes, archives, photos, prints and other treasured collections from the Moscow Kremlin Museums, with a view to reproducing the grandeur of court ceremonies in the Tsarist Russia, to let the visitors better acquainted with ancient Russian history.

1. The Ceremonial Entry of the Tsar to Moscow

The first section of the exhibition is about the preparation for court celebrations and the ceremonial entry of the Tsar and the Tsarina to Moscow. Paintings, pictures and photos are used to recreate the atmosphere of this historical moment. Visitors can see designs for the decoration of streets in Moscow, photos of the last ceremonial entry of such kind which took place in 1896, ceremonial uniforms and weapons of the courtiers, who accompanied the monarch, and festive horse trappings created especially for court celebrations.

2. Announcement of the Ceremony

A complex of symbolic objects and activities, which had been evolving during the whole Imperial Period, played a crucial role in court ceremonies. A group of exhibits in this section will illustrate the special ceremony of official announcement, which took place in Moscow shortly before the ceremonial day. The key function of this official announcement was performed by two Heralds of Arms, whose dresses – preserved from the 19th century, are demonstrated in this section. Their role was not limited to the announcement. They also headed the official procession to the Assumption Cathedral, on the south porch of which future monarch would meet clergy of the highest level.

3. Imperial Throne

During the procession, the highest-ranking officials of the Empire carried state regalia on the gold brocade pillows to the Assumption Cathedral. The procession entered the Cathedral, went up-stairs to the dais and placed the regalia on the pillows on the table next to the monarch’s throne. Above the dais was the baldachin hanging on chains underneath the dome of the Cathedral. Double-headed eagle, coat of arms of the Russian Empire is in the center of the canopy. The exhibition presents a string of prints depicting precious Tsarist thrones of the 17th century which were stored in the Armoury Chamber now and these thrones were used during coronation ceremonies in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since the end of the 18th century, the Tsar wore military attire for the coronation ceremony at the Assumption Cathedral.

4. Coronation Ceremony

This section of the exhibition starts with engraved portrait of the first Russian Emperor Peter the Great. Although Peter the Great changed the former title “Tsar” to “Emperor”, the word “Tsar” continued to be used to refer to the monarchs of the Russian Empire. In 1724, Peter the Great became the first Tsar to lay the imperial crown on his spouse Catherine Alekseevna. Afterwards, Russian Tsars laid the crown which they took from the gold brocade pillow held by a clergyman on themselves. To better introduce this ceremony, the exhibition showcases components of splendid clerical vestments—sakkos, omophorion, mitre and engolopion.

5. The Sacraments

According to the doctrine of the Orthodox Church, the Tsar receives gifts from the Holy Spirit via the chrismatory, which is necessary for the honorable fulfillment of Tsarist service. The space for the sacred action in the Assumption Cathedral was decorated in a special way — a velvet carpet was laid from the bottom step of the Tsar’s throne to the Holy Door. Gold cloth covered this carpet symbolically indicating the place where Holy Spirit came down to the sovereign during the chrismatory sacrament. Right after ritual, the Tsar received the sacraments in the chancel of the Cathedral.

After the sacraments, the Tsar returned to the throne room. Having read prayers of thanksgiving, accompanied by festive choir, the Bishop carried the cross to the Tsar for him to kiss, then the Tsar himself put the crown on his head, took the scepter and the orb, while the loyal subjects congratulated him with three bows.

6. The Ceremonial Procession

Subsequently, the Tsar, wearing the robe and the crown and carrying the scepter and the orb, left the Assumption Cathedral accompanied by bell-ringing, trumpeting, sounds of horns and drums and loud “hurrays” of the crowd gathering in the Kremlin.

The sovereign proceeded under the baldachin to the Archangel Cathedral, where the ancient Moscow nobilities were buried, to pay respect to the ancestors, and then to the Annunciation Cathedral, private chapel of the Tsars. This ceremony is reflected in the photo “The ceremonial procession of Nicholas II to the Archangel Cathedral on May 14, 1896”. In the course of the procession, coronation medals were distributed to the crowd, which were carried by two heralds in velvet bags.

7. The Extravagant Banquet

The festive banquet symbolized the prosperity and well-being of the Empire under the rule of the new monarch, while demonstrating his generosity and kindness. The Faceted Chamber of the Kremlin, the old hall, was used for receptions by Russian sovereigns. Tables for such feasts were set out with antique silverware from the royal treasury.

Before the ceremonial banquet, guests were given commemorative medals as presents. The gold and silver medals were gifted to senior noblemen of the Russian Empire, clergymen, military officials, civilians and members of court ranks, as well as foreign ambassadors in accordance with their ranks. In the first half of the 18th century, at the same time with the feast for the highest ranked courtiers, there was a celebration for people held at the Faceted Chamber on the Cathedral Square; and the Tsar threw commemorative medals from the palace’s windows.

8. The Greeting Ceremony

For several days after the celebration the Tsar and the Tsarina accepted numerous greetings. In the second half of the 19th century this took place at the ceremonial hall of the Order of St. Andrew in the Grand Kremlin Palace. The thrones were installed in this ceremonial hall specially for guests who came to pay tribute. A tradition of offering bread and salt to the Tsar by his subjects during the greeting ceremony was developed since the middle of the 19th century. They were offered on dishes with salt cellars which were ordered specially for the event. Bread and salt was mainly offered on embroidered dish-cloths ornamented not only with the elements of folk embroidery, typical for various provinces of the multinational Russian state, but also the imperial coat of arms, Tsar and Tsarina’s monograms, as well as wishes to the imperial couple being crowned.

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