A Visit to Saint Elisabeth’s Hometown Darmstadt (PART 1)
Ernest Louis, like his sister Elisabeth, was very interested in painting and architecture. He participated in the construction of buildings around the Russian Church in the name of St. Mary Magdalene. Among these buildings, designed in the German Art Nouveau style, is the famous “five-toed” wedding tower, a wedding gift from Darmstadt citizens to Duke Ernest Louis, entering his second marriage.
Hill of Matilda
Prince Louis gathered around him prominent painters and architects. He sought to create the best conditions for their creativity and even built a special settlement for them. This complex of architectural monuments, where a colony of artists lived in 1899-1914 under the patronage of the grand duke still exists. It is called Matildenhöhe (Matilda’s Hill).
Rosenhöhe Park and Mausoleums
In the Rosenhöhe Park, there are the old and ew mausoleums, where the parents of Elisabeth Feodorovna and all the descendants of the ducal family are buried.
The surviving house is a former hunting seat located in the forest, outside the city. Today, visiting the park surrounding the house is only possible when its residents are not at home.
“It was very interesting to visit these historical places in the land where the saints once walked. It is a pity that many people are not able to share this joy with us. Many people interested in the story of St. Elizabeth’s life have never been to these places.” Sister Daria shares her impressions.
Wolfsgarten Castle (Schloss Wolfsgarten) was named so because it was often used for hunting wolves. With the help of dogs, they would drive wolves or other game into this rather large area and then entertain themselves by shooting at them from the attic windows.
A well-known family photograph was once taken on the steps of this castle, which depicts the inhabitants of the house and the entire royal family. We could not resist the temptation to take a similar picture together with our guide, chairperson of the Hessen office of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society and people from the church who had joined our tour.
Comparing the photos of those times with the modern ones, you will notice right away that both the steps and the railing have been preserved in excellent condition.
Today, visitors are not allowed inside the hunting house. However, in the documentary titled The White Angel of Moscow dedicated to Grand Duchess Elisabeth Feodorovna, you can see a fragment of an interview with the official representative of the ducal family, once appointed by Prince Louis, the youngest son of Ernest Louis. (Prince Louis had no children while his other close family members died in a plane crash.) In this video, you can see several rooms inside the house and hear a story about the life of Elisabeth Feodorovna from a person closely related to that time:
“… In the study of the hunting house there is, perhaps, the most elegant portrait sculpture of Elisabeth Feodorovna—the work of the sculptor M. Antokolsky. This sculpture is believed to be the only work conveying the beauty, grace and depth essential for the appearance of the young princess. Particularly important guests left their autographs on the window glass of the main hall. In 1896, Nicky and Alix (Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra) signed here for the first time using a diamond ring. Over the past hundred years, almost nothing has changed in this park and interior. “Although I am not a direct descendant,” says Moritz, “everyone in my family treats Elisabeth Feodorovna and her relatives with special reverence. My uncle Louis spoke a lot about her, and we still keep everything connected with them…”
From the Diary of Nicholas II:
“Alix’s favorite place…
After breakfast, we went in four different carriages to Wolfsgarten, Alix’s favorite place. We arrived there in less than an hour, walked in a beautiful forest, searched for mushrooms, looked around the house and drank tea…”
The family currently residing in this house are the official representatives of the ducal family—the owner Donatus with his wife and children are engaged in winemaking and horse breeding.
Fairy House of Ernest Louis’s Daughter
On the territory of the castle, there is a children’s house, which Ernest Louis built for Elisabeth, his beloved daughter from the first marriage who died of typhus at the age of eight. According to the story told by our guide, one day the girl had a magical dream. She was so impressed that in the morning she ran to her father who was having a meeting with architects.
“I have asked you not to break into my office…” Ernest told her.
The girl replied, “Daddy, daddy, but I need to tell you something urgently!”
The loving father could not resist the girl’s excitement, and she told him her story.
“Daddy, I had a dream! In that dream, I had my own house. Everything in it was beautifully decorated. It had beautiful windows and a fence surrounding it, with golden pigeons all around…”
She described the house to her father in every detail. “At the top of the house there was an inscription: ‘No adults admitted.’”
Ernest listened carefully to his daughter. He liked the idea and ordered to build exactly the house that she described.
She often played in it with her cousins, children of Nicholas II, when they came to visit. This house even had a kitchenette, and the staff brought food there so that the children could cook something for themselves. After little Elisabeth’s death, the house was left untouched and is still kept in perfect condition. Everything remained the way it was during the girl’s life, including her dress and the toys that are still in their places. For maintenance reasons, tourists are not allowed inside the house, but you can see everything perfectly well through the windows. There is a small pet cemetery near the house, where birds, dogs, and other pets are buried. Interestingly, little Elisabeth called one of her pets the Russian word “malchik” — “boy”.
At the end of our tour, Denis Sergeevich Sudobin, Chairman of the Hessen IOPS Office, presented us with the book titled The Royal Days 1918–2018. Alix and Ella. The book is a catalog of a photo exhibition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Holy Royal Passion-Bearers, which took place in Darmstadt in 2018. It reflects the main facts from the life of the princesses of Hesse, Elizabeth and Alexandra, from birth to the last day. It contains many unique photographs of the royal family, sourced from various archives. The photo catalog is available in Russian and German.
Inspired by our story, Denis Sergeevich signed his book for us: “To Fr. Andrey and the Sisters of the St. Elisabeth Convent in the memorable year 2018. Compliments from Darmstadt. Denis and Alena. Darmstadt 2018”
Our guide Carsten Knöß also wrote a book about the family tree of Elisabeth Feodorovna, through the prism of her brother Ernest Louis. The book, titled In memory of the Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse and the Rhine and his family, is only available in German. It offers many rare photographic materials, including those from the author’s personal family archive, and an exceptionally captivating story of the famous ducal family.
We express our deep gratitude to the Hessian House Foundation (Hessische Hausstiftung) and the Chairman of the Hessian IOPS Office Denis Sergeevich Sudobin for the warm welcome and organization of an exciting excursion, especially around Wolfsgarten Castle.
Translted by The Catalogue of Good Deeds