In the News | Russia Steals Potemkin’s Bones

Posted in the 18th century in the news, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on November 6, 2022

A domed sandstone church with a portico of four Tuscan columns and heavily rusticated walls.

Cathedral of St. Catherine, Kherson, Ukraine, 1781–86. Dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of the reigning empress, it was one of the earliest churches built in ‘New Russia’ (Photo by Sven Teschke, July 2004, from Wikimedia Commons).

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

So many twenty-first stories are also eighteenth-century stories. From The NY Times:

Marc Santora, “Why Russia Stole Potemkin’s Bones From Ukraine,” The New York Times (27 October 2022). The 18th-century military commander and lover of Catherine the Great helped conquer Ukraine and looms large in the version of history the Kremlin uses to justify the war.

With Ukrainian forces bearing down on the occupied port city of Kherson this week, the Kremlin’s puppet rulers dispatched a team to an 18th-century stone cathedral on a special mission—to steal the bones of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin.

Unfinished oval portrait, depicting a man's face shown in three-quarters profile, looking to the right side of the canvas.

Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder, Portrait of Russian Fieldmarshal Grigory Potemkin, 1790s (Moscow: State Tretyakov Gallery).

The memory of the 18th-century conqueror is vivid for those in the Kremlin bent on restoring the Russian imperium. It was Potemkin (1739–1791) who persuaded his lover, Catherine the Great, to annex Crimea in 1783. The founder of Kherson and Odesa, he sought the creation of a ‘New Russia’, a dominion that stretched across what is now southern Ukraine along the Black Sea.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February with the goal of restoring part of a long-lost empire, he invoked Potemkin’s vision. Now, with Putin’s army having failed in its march toward Odesa and threatened with ouster from Kherson, his grand plans are in jeopardy. But among Kremlin loyalists, the belief in what they view as Russia’s rightful empire still runs deep.

So it was that a team descended into a crypt below a solitary white marble gravestone inside St. Catherine’s Cathedral. To reach Potemkin’s remains, they would have opened a trapdoor in the floor and climbed down a narrow passageway, according to people who have visited the crypt. There they would have found a simple wooden coffin on a raised dais, marked with a single cross. Under the lid of the coffin, a small black bag held Potemkin’s skull and bones, carefully numbered.

Kremlin proxies have made no effort to hide the theft—quite the contrary. The Russian-appointed head of the Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo, said that Potemkin’s remains were taken from the city, on the west bank of the Dnieper River, to an undisclosed location east of the Dnieper, as Ukrainian troops edge closer.

“We transported to the left bank the remains of the holy prince that were in St. Catherine’s Cathedral,” Saldo said in an interview broadcast on Russian television. “We transported Potemkin himself.”

Local Ukrainian activists confirmed that the church had been looted and that, along with the bones, statues of venerated Russian heroes had been removed. By the count of historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of the book Catherine the Great and Potemkin, it was the ninth time Potemkin’s restful peace had been interrupted. . .

The full article is available here»

%d bloggers like this: