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Eastern Europe and the
Emperor Nicholas. By the author of 'Reve-
All this, it may be said, is but naked assertion. It is so; and, moreover, it is assertion too startlingly bold to be admitted on the mere ipse dixit of any authority. For the proof, then, we refer to the volumes before us. It would be gross injustice to a work of such importance, to attempt an analysis of it within the scanty space that remains to us. We shall certainly return to it again; meanwhile, we earnestly bespeak the attention of all our readers to its deeply interesting disclosures.
We should deem ourselves almost criminal if we neglected to give increased circulation to the following extract. Be it premised that the atrocities about to be related were the result in no respect of religious fanaticism, but altogether of reckless political ambition, excited to ferocity by resistance. They emanated directly from the will of the savage Czar, and were as much his act and deed, as though he had committed them with his own hand :
TREATMENT OF THE POLISH NUNS.
"In the city of Minsk, in 1837, there still existed a convent of humble nuns of the order of St. Bazilius. Their time, like that of the sisters of charity,' was divided between their religious duties, attendance on the sick, and the education of poor children. Their order had been founded in 1826, by one of the princes Tapieha, a family to which the Czartoriskis are allied. "Far and wide through the surrounding country, the suffering and needy had learned to bless their unassuming benevolence, and people of all ranks regarded with veneration a community, distinguished not by ascetic practices, but through its active and unwearing philanthropy.
"The very popularity of this order, and the estimation in which it was held, marked it out for a persecution so atrocious, that I know of nothing more harrowing in times ancient or modern.
"The cruelties of Nero, Domitian, and Caligula, the most virulent religious persecution of past centuries, and the horrors of the French Revolution, rarely equalled in degree the barbarities practised on these harmless women,
VOL. XXXVI. NO. LXXII.
and sink into insignificance beside them, when the long protraction of seven years of suffering is considered.
"All the details of this inhuman persecution might have remained either utterly unknown beyond the Russian frontier, or merged in vague rumours of cruel treatment, but for the providential escape of four of the sufferers.
"To sum the facts briefly up, between the years 1837 and 1845, forty-four nuns perished at the hands of the Russian authorities, out of fifty-eight devoted to duties whose fulfilment appeals so directly to all human sympathies, that a religious sisterhood analogous to their own had been spared even during the French reign of terror, which so pitilessly swept away all other social landmarks. Of the fourteen that remained, eight had either had their eyes torn out or their limbs broken, and of the other six only four had strength to attempt, or fortune to effect, their escape. A few more months and the whole surviving fourteen, at last doomed to Siberia, might have been expiring on that weary road, which the ten unhappy creatures left behind by the fugitives, are at this moment being dragged or driven over, all lamed, blind, or ailing.
"Nothing in that case would ever have reached our ear of the incredible sufferings of these poor victims, whose fate would silently have contributed to swell those statistics of proselytism which the Russian government gives periodically to Europe, and which Nicholas has commemorated by the famous medal, inscribed with the motto, Separated by violence, and reunited by love.'
"Of the four fugitives, two, the sister Wawrzecka and Irena Macrina Mieceslas (Mieczyslaska,) succeeded in reaching Posen, in Prussian Poland, where the Roman Catholic archbishop, having taken down their circumstantial deposition of the facts about to be narrated, sealed them with the arms of the archbishopric, and forwarded the document to Rome.
"An order consequently arrived for the superior to repair to Rome, by way of Paris; in which city she took up her abode till the 10th of October last, under the same roof with one near and dear to the author.
"Here she was led to give all the sad details of her harrowing story, whilst the scars which mark her body added their dumb eloquence to her recital. "Irena Mieceslas had been thirty years renowned for her charity and benevolence throughout the government of Minsk, as head of the Basilian convent, consisting of thirty-four nuns, in the city of that name. It will be hence at once perceived that she is advancing into the vale of years. The aspect of her countenance, according to the portrait which the writer has before him, is at once noble and indicative of determination. It derives the first expression from the position of the eyes, which is such as we rarely meet with out of the Scandinavian or Anglo-Norman race; viz., obliqued upwards from the outward corners; that is to say, in a direction precisely contrary to the eyes of the feline species, of all Mongolian races, and of many of the inhabitants of southern countries. The finely chiselled corners of her mouth seem to mark a decision of temper, of which she has given the most heroic proofs in her conduct.
"The substance of her narrative, which the other three sisters corroborate in the minutest particulars, is to the following effect:
"The Emperor Nicholas having profited by his influence and privileges in nominating corrupt and ambitious tools to the bishopric of the Basillian communion (that is to say, the Roman Catholic with Greek forms), amongst these Semiasko, the bishop of the diocese in which the convent of these poor nuns was situated, had apostatised to the Greek, from the Latin church. Finding that the great mass of the clergy, and the whole of their congregation, refused to follow the examples of their chiefs. Nicholas ordered forcible means to be
Treatment of the Polish Nuns.
resorted to, and set on foot a persecution, which caused the females of this religious association great alarm, and induced them to use the private influence of their friends in the Russian capital, to be allowed to retire from their convent into the bosoms of their families.
"This boon the emperor refused, referring them to their apostate bishop. "Semiasko, after vainly using all his persuasive powers with this community, to induce them to pass over to the Russian church, showed them alike the threats and promises he was empowered to make in the name of Nicholas, and the awful signature appended to a document, which commanded him to adopt such measures as the interests of religion might require, to oblige all recusants to conform. Finding their determination unshakeable, he left them three months to consider the matter, and then detaching from his breast one of the numerous orders with which the emperor had rewarded his apostacy, he attempted to pin it on the bosom of the superior, to whom he held out a dazzling prospect of honours and rewards.
"These women, it must be remembered, in their devout belief, now saw in their former pastor only an impious seceder from the faith of their fathers. Irena Mieceslas, therefore, spurning this temptation, said tauntingly to the bishop; Keep it, keep it; it would ill accord with the humble cross which marks my order; and with you it serves to hide a breast, beneath which there beats the heart of an apostate!'
“These nuns had been fortified in their resolution, by the exhortation of their confessor, a weak, but probably well-meaning man, named Michalewitch. "As the persecution became more rigorous around him, between the threats and the promises of his bishop, he was influenced to desert to the Russian communion, and he was afterwards frequently obliged to take his seat as a member of the tribunal which attempted to subdue the obstinacy of these women. It is, however, probable, that he yielded more to terror than seduction, for he strove apparently to bury his remorse in incessant intoxication; and in this condition he afterwards fell into a pool of water, where he was drowned.
"Three days after the insulting refusal of the superior to apostatise, Semiasko came with a detachment of soldiers to turn the sisters out of the convent. Such was the violence employed-such the terror inspired by the account of the universal persecution, that a sick nun of their number fell and expired upon the pavement of the chapel.
"The remainder were heavily ironed hand and foot, and marched to Vitepsk, where they were placed in a Russian convent of 'black sisters.' "These black sisterhoods, which may in some measure be compared to our penitentiaries, are places of refuge for the widows of private soldiers, and receptacles for the most disorderly prostitutes.
"Here the thirty-three nuns of St. Basilius, from Minsk, met with fourteen more of their order, transferred from another convent to this abode, where for two years they were kept at hard labour, chained in couples, and exposed to all the malignity of the depraved associates with whom these women of gentle birth were thus forcibly mingled.
"In 1839, all other efforts having failed to shake their resolution, they were transferred to another Russian convent of black-sisters, in the city of Polock. Here they met with ten more nonconformist nuns of the same order. The whole number of these women-fifty-seven-were now brought up twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, before a commission of the Russian authorities and clergy, and flogged before them, receiving fifty strokes a-piece.
This was continued for months together, till the wounds upon their backs were an open sore, and pieces of the scabs and then of the raw flesh adhered
to the instruments of torture. Three of their number died beneath this infliction.
"They were then fed on salt herrings, and refused drink (a favourite Russian mode of torture), except on the condition of apostacy. This punishment, which it appears they found the most difficult to bear, was superseded by a system of starvation. They were only fed once every other day, and driven to eat nettles and the fodder of the convent cattle.
"They were employed to dig out clay, and not understanding how to conduct an excavation, the earth fell in and buried five of their number. With incredible barbarity the Russian authorities not only refused to dig them out, but prevented the nuns from attempting to extricate their companions. They perished in this self-dug grave.
"The next labour in which the survivors were employed, was to aid the masons in constructing a palace for the renegade bishop.
"Some of the Polish gentry, whose spirit no terrors will quell, coming to look on, one of their number addressed some words of consolation to these poor women. Within four-and-twenty hours, not only this imprudent individual, but all those around him had disappeared.
"The falling of a wall in the midst of the nuns injured many and killed eight of them outright. A ninth and tenth soon after perished.
"These ten bodies were carried off by the people, and hidden where all the efforts of the Russian authorities failed to discover them.
"About this period, several monks of Saint Basilius were brought to the same convent. Their treatment is described as having been more barbarous than even that of the nuns. Four of these men, Zawecki, Koma, Zilewicz, and Buckzynski by name, all upwards of seventy years of age, were at last, in the full severity of winter, stripped and placed under a pump, where as the water was poured over them, it gradually congealed into a mass of ice, and froze them to death; another, named the Abbé Laudanski, aged and infirm, whilst staggering beneath a load of fire-wood, was struck upon the head with such violence, by a drunken deacon, that his skull was fractured, and he died upon the spot.
"It must here be explained, that all the lower, or white clergy in the Russian church are very ignorant and depraved, and that the deacons are the lowest amongst them.
In the present instance, however, the refusal of the great bulk of the Basilian clergy to pass over to the Russian church, had obliged it, in these forcibly converted provinces, to fill up those gaps in the lower ranks of its hierarchy with boors of the most illiterate and dissolute character.
"It happened that one of these surviving monks of St. Basilius succeeded in making his escape, and Semiasko, irritated by this incident, resolved to conquer the obstinacy of the nuns; and publishing that they were about to read their recantation, caused them to be forcibly led by the soldiery to the portals of the Russian church. The curiosity which this announcement caused, led the whole population of the city of Polock to assemble; notwithstanding the examples which had been made of those who had expressed their sympathy with the sufferers.
"The apostate bishop, in his episcopal garments, advanced towards the nuns, and bidding the soldiers leave his dear sisters at liberty, spoke to them with paternal kindness, then offering his hand to their superior, prepared to lead her into the church. Irena Mieceslas then seizing one of the hatchets used by the carpenters who had been working at the reparation of the church, called out to all her nuns to kneel, and addressing Semiasko, told him :' After having been their shepherd, to become the executioner of those whom he had not already done to death, and to strike off their heads before the threshold of that temple, which their footsteps would never voluntarily cross.'
Treatment of Polish Nuns.
"So galling was the provocation of this rebuke to the Russian bishop, that, unable to contain himself, he struck the superior on the face, and then flung the axe indignantly from him. It chanced in falling to wound one of the nuns in the foot; and a moment after the superior having put her hand to her mouth, which was filled with blood, drew out one of her shattered teeth, and holding it up to him said: Take it, it will earn you some fresh order from the emperor.'
"Such was the effect of this scene, that nothing could restrain the enthusiasm of the people; and as the nuns were led back by the soldiery, the crowd followed them singing with one accord Hallelujahs and Te Deums.
"Such, notwithstanding all the repressive terrors of the Russian authorities, became the feeling of the population of the city of Polock, that it was found unsafe to continue the persecution of the nuns within its walls, and they were ordered to be removed to the borough of Medzioly, in the province of Minsk.
"This public defeat of the Russian bishop and authorities was, however, revenged on these poor women by an act of such diabolical malignity as only the most undeniable evidence can render credible.
"When the Russian soldiers, and the newly-made deacons, had been rendered drunk with brandy, all these helpless nuns were turned out amongst them as incurably obstinate, to treat as they thought fit. Then commenced a scene worthy of Pandemonium,-the shrieks and prayers of the victims mingling with the oaths, blasphemies, and ribaldry of the crowd to whose brutal lust they were abandoned.
"When the fury of these demons in human form had been exhausted, it was discovered that two of these unfortunate females were quite dead. The skull of one had been crushed by the stamping on the temples of an ironplated heel. The other was trampled into such a mass of mud and gore, that even its human character was scarce recognisable. Eight others had one or several bones or limbs broken, or their eyes torn or trodden out. Of the whole number, the superior, a woman of iron frame as well as indomitable resolution, fared the best; but she was not allowed to attend or console her mutilated sisters except on the condition of apostacy.
They were afterwards marched out of Polock by night on foot, and chained two by two,--even those whose eyes had been torn out, and whose hideous wounds were festering. Those whose legs were broken, or who were lamed, were sent forward in carts under the care of Cossacs.
"A gentleman of Polock, M. Walenkiowitch, having ordered a funeral service to be read for these victims, was seized in the middle of the night and sent to Siberia, his property being confiscated. A monastery of Dominican monks, in another part of the country, having ventured to pray for them, was immediately dispersed.
"On reaching Medzioly, the nuns were again immured in a convent of the black-sisterhood, and divided into four parties. Here they were put into sacks, and towed after boats in the water, which was allowed to rise to their mouth and nose. Three more of their number perished in this manner, either of cold, or fear, or drowned by incessant immersion. The inhabitants of Medzioly carried off their bodies in the night, as the earthly coil of holy martyrs which men would some day venerate and hold precious.
"After two more years' captivity of the fifty-eight nuns (thirty-four from Minsk, fourteen from Vitepsk, and ten from Polock) only fourteen survived, and of these eight were either lame or blinded.
"The superior, Irena Mieceslas, who had fared the best, had an open wound, from which she was obliged to extract with her fingers the carious bones, and which afterwards becoming filled with worms, from want of dressing, caused her intense agony.