Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a Russian mystic and advisor to the Romanovs, the Russian Imperial family.

Some people called Rasputin the “Mad Monk”, although he was never officially connected to the Orthodox Church; others considered him a “strannik” (or pilgrim) wandering from cloister to cloister.

He is regarded by some as a starets (or “elder”; a title usually reserved for monk-confessors), who believe him to have been a psychic and faith healer.

He impressed many people with his knowledge and ability to explain the Bible in an uncomplicated way.

In 1907 Rasputin was invited for the first time by Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra as a healer for their only son, Tsarevich Alexei. He became an influential figure in the later years of the Tsar’s reign, especially after September 1915.

The Royal Blood

The tsarevich Alexei was born during the height of the Russo-Japanese War on 12 August 1904. He was the Heir Apparent to the throne of Russia, and Alexandra had fulfilled her most important role as tsarina by bearing a male child.

At first the boy seemed healthy and normal, but in only a few weeks’ time it was noticed that when he bumped himself, his bruises did not heal. He would bleed from the navel, and his blood was slow to clot.

It was soon discovered that Alexei suffered from haemophilia, which could only have been transmitted from Alexandra’s side of the family.

Haemophilia was generally fatal in the early 20th century, and had entered the royal houses of Europe via the daughters of Queen Victoria, who herself was a carrier.

Alexandra had lost a brother, Friedrich, to the disease, as well as an uncle, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. Her sister Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine was also a carrier of the gene and, through her marriage to her cousin Prince Heinrich of Prussia, spread it into a junior branch of the Prussian Royal Family.

Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, another of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters and a first cousin of Alexandra, was also a carrier of the haemophilia gene. She married King Alfonso XIII of Spain and two of her sons were haemophiliacs.

As an incurable and life-threatening illness suffered by the sole male heir to the Russian throne, the decision was made to keep his condition secret from the Russian people.

At first Alexandra turned to Russian doctors to treat Alexei. Their treatments generally failed as there was no known cure.

In desperation, Alexandra increasingly turned to mystics and so-called holy men. One of these, Grigori Rasputin, appeared to have a cure for her son.

A Miracle?

Rasputin was wandering as a pilgrim in Siberia when he heard reports of Tsarevich Alexei’s illness.

When doctors could not help Alexei, the desperate Tsarina turned to her best friend, Anna Vyrubova, to secure the help of the charismatic peasant healer.

Rasputin was said to possess the ability to heal through prayer and was indeed able to give the boy some relief, in spite of the doctors’ prediction that he would die. The boy had an injury which caused him internal or external bleeding, and to everyone’s surprise the Tsarevich got better the next day.

Some have claimed that Rasputin did this by hypnosis, which, in one study, actually has proven to relieve symptoms, as it lowers stress levels and therefore diminishes the symptomatology of haemophilia

A Man of Influence

The tsarina and her family saw Rasputin variously as a saintly mystic, visionary, healer and prophet but his enemies, as a debauched religious charlatan, heavily interested in sexual relations with his followers.

Rasputin’s influence over the royal family was used against him and the Romanovs by politicians and journalists who wanted to weaken the integrity of the dynasty, force the Tsar to give up his absolute political power and separate the Russian Orthodox Church from the state.

Rasputin unintentionally contributed to their propaganda by having public disputes with clergy members, bragging about his ability to influence both the Tsar and Tsarina, and also by his dissolute and very public lifestyle.

Nobles in influential positions around the Tsar, as well as some parties of the Duma, clamored for Rasputin’s removal from the court. Perhaps inadvertently, Rasputin had added to the Tsar’s subjects’ diminishing respect for him.

A man of influence, clearly.

But how had he ascended to this position?

His Early Life

Rasputin was born a peasant in the small village of Pokrovskoye, along the Tura River in the Tobolsk guberniya (now Tyumen Oblast) in the immense West Siberian Plain.

The date of his birth remained in doubt for some time and was estimated sometime between 1863 and 1873.

Recently, new documents have surfaced revealing Rasputin’s birth date as 10 January 1869 O.S. (equivalent to 22 January 1869 N.S.), the feast day of Gregory of Nyssa.

The little which is known about his childhood was most likely passed down by his family members.

He had two known siblings – a sister called Maria and an older brother named Dmitri.

His sister Maria, who was said to have been epileptic, drowned in a river.

One day, when Rasputin was playing with his brother, Dmitri fell into a pond and Rasputin jumped in to save him. They were both pulled out of the water by a passer-by, but Dmitri later died of pneumonia.

Both fatalities affected Rasputin, and he subsequently named two of his children Maria and Dmitri.

When he was around the age of eighteen, Rasputin spent three months in the Verkhoturye Monastery, possibly as a penance for theft. His experience there, combined with a reported vision of the Virgin Mary on his return, turned him towards the life of a religious mystic and wanderer.

It also appears that he came into contact with the banned Christian sect known as the khlysty (flagellants). Their impassioned services, ending in physical exhaustion, led to rumors that religious and sexual ecstasy were combined in these rituals.

Suspicions (which generally have not been accepted by historians) that Rasputin was one of the Khlysts tarnished his reputation right until the end of his life.

Rasputin married Praskovia Fyodorovna Dubrovina in 1887 and they had three children: Dmitri, Varvara and Maria. Rasputin also had another child with another woman.

In 1901, he left his home in Pokrovskoye to become a strannik (or pilgrim) and, during the time of his journeying, traveled to Mount Athos.

He spent some time in Kiev and Kazan, but in 1905 he arrived in Saint Petersburg, where he was introduced to the rector of the Theological Faculty, Theophanes of Poltava, Milica of Montenegro and her sister Anastastia.

Milica and Anastastia were heavily interested in Persian mysticism and occultism, and introduced Rasputin to the tsar and his wife Alexandra.

The Tsar referred to Rasputin as “our friend” and a “holy man”, a sign of the trust that the family had placed in him.

Rasputin had a considerable personal and political influence on Alexandra, and the Tsar and Tsarina considered him a man of God and a religious prophet.

Alexandra came to believe that God spoke to her through Rasputin.

With influence, came enemies.

Prelude to a Murder

Rasputin soon became a controversial figure, becoming involved in a sharp political struggle involving monarchist, anti-monarchist, revolutionary and other political forces and interests.

He was accused by many eminent persons of various misdeeds, ranging from an unrestricted sexual life (including raping a nun) to undue political domination over the royal family

According to Greg King’s 1996 book “The Man Who Killed Rasputin”, a failed attempt on Rasputin’s life was made in 1914.

Rasputin was visiting his wife and children in Pokrovskoye, his hometown along the Tura River in Siberia. On June 29, 1914, after either just receiving a telegram or exiting church, he was attacked suddenly by Khionia Guseva, a former prostitute who had become a disciple of the monk Iliodor.

Iliodor (who once was a friend of Rasputin’s) had grown disgusted with his behavior and disrespectful talk about the royal family, and had appealed to women who had been harmed by Rasputin to form a mutual support group.

Guseva thrust a knife into Rasputin’s abdomen, and his entrails hung out of what seemed like a mortal wound. Convinced of her success, Guseva supposedly screamed, “I have killed the antichrist!”

After intensive surgery, however, Rasputin recovered. It was said of his survival that “the soul of this cursed muzhik was sewn on his body.” His daughter, Maria, observed in her memoirs that he was never the same man after that: he seemed to tire more easily and frequently took opium for pain relief.

A Legendary Assassination

The murder of Rasputin has become something of a legend – some of it perhaps invented, embellished or simply misremembered by the very men who killed him – which is why it has been so difficult to ascertain the actual course of events.

The date of Rasputin’s death is variously recorded as being either the 17th of December, 1916 or the 29th of December, 1916.

This discrepancy arises due to the fact that the Gregorian calendar (New Style) was not introduced into Soviet Russia until 1918.

Using the Gregorian calendar the initial attempts to kill Rasputin began after midnight, and he died in the early hours of December 30, 1916.

What is known is that having decided that Rasputin’s influence over the Tsarina had made him a threat to the empire, a group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and the right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich apparently lured Rasputin to the Yusupovs’ Moika Palace by hinting that Yusupov’s wife, Princess Irina, would be present and receiving friends (in point of fact, she was away in the Crimea).

The group led him down to the cellar, where they served him cakes and red wine laced with a large amount of cyanide.

According to legend, Rasputin was unaffected, although Vasily Maklakov had supplied enough poison to kill five men.

Conversely, Maria’s account asserts that, if her father did eat or drink poison, it was not in the cakes or wine because, after the attack by Guseva, he suffered from hyperacidity and avoided anything with sugar. In fact, she expresses doubt that he was poisoned at all.

It has also been suggested that Rasputin had developed an immunity to poison due to mithridatism.

Determined to finish the job, Prince Yusupov became anxious about the possibility that Rasputin might live until the morning, leaving the conspirators no time to conceal his body.

Yusupov ran upstairs to consult the others and then came back down to shoot Rasputin through the back with a revolver. Rasputin fell, and the company left the palace for a while.

Yusupov, who had left without a coat, decided to return to get one, and while at the palace, he went to check on the body.

Suddenly, Rasputin opened his eyes and lunged at Yusupov. He grabbed Yusupov and attempted to strangle him. At that moment, however, the other conspirators arrived and fired at Rasputin. After being hit, he fell once more.

As they neared his body, the party found that, remarkably, he was still alive, struggling to get up. They clubbed him into submission. Some accounts say that his killers also severed his penis (subsequently resulting in urban legends and claims that certain third parties were in possession of the organ).

After binding his body and wrapping him in a carpet, they threw him into the icy Neva River.

Two days later, Rasputin’s body, poisoned, shot four times, badly beaten, and drowned, was recovered from the river. An autopsy established that the cause of death was drowning.

It was found that he had indeed been poisoned, and that the poison alone should have been enough to kill him.

There is a report that after his body was recovered, water was found in the lungs – supporting the idea that he was still alive before submersion into the partially frozen river.

And a Contentious Funeral

The Tsarina Alexandra buried Rasputin’s body in the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, but after the February Revolution, a group of workers from Saint Petersburg uncovered the remains, carried them into the nearby woods, and burned them.

As the body was being burned, Rasputin appeared to sit up in the fire.

His apparent attempts to move and get up thoroughly horrified bystanders.

The effect can probably be attributed to improper cremation. Since the body was in inexperienced hands, the tendons were probably not cut before burning. Consequently, when the body was heated, the tendons shrank, forcing the legs to bend and the body to bend at the waist, resulting in its appearing to sit up.

This final incident only further fueled the legends and mysteries surrounding Rasputin, which continue to live on long after his death.

The official report of his autopsy disappeared during the Joseph Stalin era, as did several research assistants who had seen it.

And I’m going to disappear, at this point.

See you soon, I hope.

Till then.