Magazine article Russian Life

A Widow's Legacy

Magazine article Russian Life

A Widow's Legacy

Article excerpt

The word "Borodino" is sacred to every Russian. It was on Borodino field that the Russian army fiercely fought the French, paving the way to the victory over Napoleon (see Russian Life, October 1995).

Not surprisingly, many places near Borodino were named after the heroes of the Great Patriotic War of 1812. One station on the way to Borodino is Tuchkovo, named after General Alexander Tuchkov, a hero of Borodino--the "Tuchkov battery" was one of the strongest points of resistance to the French. But the most beloved homage to Tuchkov is Spaso-Borodinsky (Borodino's s Savior Convent. Established eight years after the battle by the general's widow, Margarita Tuchkova, the convent stands on the site of the Tuchkov battery.

The story of Tuchkova and her convent holds a special place in Russian history. Margarita Tuchkova's father was of the noble family Naryshkin (Natalya Naryshkina was the mother of Peter the Great). Her mother's roots were equally esteemed--she was a Volkonsky At 16, the pretty, well-educated Margarita was married off to a man who turned out to be a scandalous rake. A divorce was arranged and Margarita retreated to her parents' protection. At about this time, she fell in love with Alexander Tuchkov, a handsome officer of the Revel regiment. At first, Margarita's parents refused Tuchkov's proposal of marriage, fearing a repeat scandal. But he persisted and, in 1806, at the age of 25, Margarita married Alexander Tuchkov. She was utterly devoted to him and he to her. She even accompanied him on his long campaigns, acting as nursemaid to the wounded. In 1811, during a long march, Margarita gave birth to a son, Nikolai.

Yet their happiness was short-lived. When war broke out in 1812, Tuchkov, now a general, joined the Russian defense of Smolensk. On August 26, 1812, He died defending his position against the French at Borodino.

Margarita's father had the unenviable task of bearing the bad news. He entered her room carrying her 16-month-old son Nikolai in his arms. Choking back tears, he murmured:

"Margarita, you should take care of yourself for the sake of your son. Your husband fell on Borodino field ..."

As soon as Smolensk and then Moscow were liberated from the French, Margarita rushed to Borodino field to find her husband's corpse. She was determined to succeed at any price, despite warnings of the sight that awaited her: the Russian and French armies left as many as 90,000 unburied corpses on the field. And days had passed since the battle ... Margarita had a monk help her search for her husband's corpse and a soldier pointed them to where he had fallen. But she found nothing, except his wedding ring under a pine tree.

Tuchkova erected a cross on the site of her husband's death. She then returned to her family estate in Tula, where for a long period she was stricken with grief and depression. By 1818, she had recovered and had developed a plan to honor her husband and those who fell. After purchasing a land plot from the village of Borodino, she laid the first stone of a church in this same spot. Alexander I learned of her noble intentions and donated ten thousand rubles--an immense sum for those times--to the church's construction. The church was completed in 1820 and dedicated Spaso-Borodinskaya. Inside the church Tuchkova installed a marble cross with the inscription "Remember, 0 Lord, in Thy Kingdom, Alexander, killed in battle."

During this time, Margarita had moved to Moscow and increasingly focused her efforts on raising and educating her son Nikolai, her devotion increasing as she suffered through the loss of both her parents. Then, in 1826, at the age of 15, Nikolai died suddenly of scarlet fever. Tuchkova was shattered. She buried him in a crypt at Spaso-Borodinskaya and entered a long period of spiritual unease. She finally decided to settle at her modest lodge near Borodino, so that should could daily visit the church where rested the memories of the two men most dear to her heart. …

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