The Making Of A Mad Monk: How Rasputin Went From A Peasant To Advisor Of The Romanovs
Grigorj Rasputin, Russia's Mad Monk and mystic. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Known as "the Mad Monk," Grigori Rasputin was a central figure in the downfall of the royal Romanov family and the start of the Russian Revolution. He may have been a miraculous faith healer and spiritualist, or he may have been a dangerously charismatic charlatan. No matter who you choose to believe, everyone agrees that the controversial holy man led an interesting life that took him from a poverty-stricken Siberian village to the palaces of St. Petersburg, and eventually, into the history books. Let's look at the making of the Mad Monk to see how Rasputin went from peasant to political adviser to the Romanov family, to the victim of a savage assassination.
Rasputin Wasn't His Real Name
It's hard to pin down, as Rasputin was known to give conflicting information about his early life, but historians think Rasputin was born in the Siberian village of Tyumen on January 21, 1869, whereupon he was given the name Grigori Yefimovich Novykh. As a schoolboy, however, he developed a reputation for destruction, earning him the nickname "Rasputin," meaning "debauched one." Far from the chastising effect this was presumably intended to have, Rasputin was delighted by the moniker, adopting it as his last name.
A Terrible Student
Rasputin often skipped school and remained illiterate his whole life, even as he studied religion. He preferred to spend his time getting up to no good, resulting in numerous accusations of assault, rape, and theft. Later, Rasputin claimed that he had developed mystical skills when he was 12 years old, and his violent behavior was a result of his attempts to control his powers.
An 18-Year-Old Bridegroom
Grigori Rasputin married a girl from his village named Praskovya Fyodorovna Dubrovina when he was just 18 years old. The young couple had three children who survived to adulthood, but just a few years into their marriage, Rasputin left his wife and family to travel to a monastery. He later claimed it was because he experienced a religious awakening, but evidence suggests that the leader of his village sent Rasputin to the monastery as a punishment for his continued criminal behavior, hoping the monks could straighten him out. Whether it worked is debatable, but there's no question that his time at the monastery changed the direction of Rasputin's life.
Rasputin The Masochist
At the monastery, Rasputin was introduced to a group of religious extremists called the Khlyst, who believed that the best way to become closer to God was through sexual exhaustion. This mindset validated Rasputin's already deviant views about sex and afforded him spiritual permission to engage in a number of behaviors that ranged from "kinky" to "criminal," including rape, seduction, orgies, and same-sex encounters. He claimed to have had sex with thousands of partners and that it was God's will that he should bed as many women as possible, but he did have his preferences. He reportedly favored aristocratic women because they smelled better than peasant girls, which is ironic considering that he kept his hair long and unkempt, never bothered to wash the crumbs out of his beard, and rarely bathed or brushed his teeth.
A Wandering Mystic
After his time at the monastery, Rasputin wandered around eastern Europe spreading the word of God and (he claimed) using his mystic powers to heal the sick and downtrodden. He journeyed to the Holy Land to spend time in Jerusalem and then to Greece to pray at Mount Athos, living off the generosity of others while his family back in Siberia was destitute.
Rasputin In St. Petersburg
The timing was perfect for Rasputin to travel to St. Petersburg in 1903. At the time, the royal court of Russia was obsessed with mysticism and the occult, and Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra, were desperate for a miracle to cure their son's hemophilia. Rasputin, whose reputation proceeded him, was welcomed to court and introduced to the royal family.
Rasputin, The Healer?
Czarina Alexandra became convinced that Rasputin had healing powers after she summoned him during one of her young son's bleeding episodes. Somehow, Rasputin managed to ease the boy's bleeding, either because he had legitimate magical powers or (more likely) because it was impossible not to calm down in his tranquil presence. Whatever the case, Rasputin became the healer, spiritualist, advisor, and confidante of the Romanov family, particularly the Czarina, from that day forward. That doesn't mean he gave up his debauched ways, however. When he was with the royal family, Rasputin behaved piously, but away from the palace, he blazed a drunken, womanizing trail throughout St. Petersburg. When people reported his behavior to the Czar, however, the accusations were dismissed.
A Turn For The Worse
When political tensions in Russia reached their breaking point, the royal family was arrested and executed, and the influential Rasputin was targeted for assassination. According to legend, on the evening of December 30, 1916, he was invited to dine at the home of a conspirator, where he was offered glass after glass of wine laced with cyanide. Amazingly, the poison had no effect on the Mad Monk, leading one of the conspirators to pull out a gun and do it the old-fashioned way. After pumping several rounds into the holy man, his assassins fled the scene, but when they returned later to dispose of the body, the Mad Monk sprang to life to fight off his startled attackers. He might have lived to heal another day, but he stumbled out into the snow and collapsed, after which his assassins threw him off a bridge into the freezing river below to make sure they really finished the job this time. When his body was discovered, there was water in his lungs, indicating that he was still alive when he entered the water. Whether or not you believe Rasputin truly had supernatural powers sent from the heavens, one thing is for certain: The man proved hard to kill.
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