This important presentation icon is connected with one of the most significant incidents in late nineteenth-century Russia: the attempted assassination of Nicholas II while he was still heir to the throne. The so-called "Otsu Incident" - an event which received worldwide press coverage and briefly threatened international diplomatic relations - took place at the end of a great diplomatic voyage that that the twenty-two year old Tsarevich Nikolai Alexandrovich had undertaken as the symbolic completion of his official studies. On October 23 (November 4), 1890, the young man set out from the imperial palace at Gatchina, the favorite residence of Alexander III and the family's unofficial home. His modernized grand tour was to be made via steamship and railway, culminating with a stop in Vladivostok where the young man would oversee the ceremonial opening of the construction of the Transsiberian Railroad, the new, fully contemporary transportation line that would link Petersburg and Moscow to the nation's easternmost provinces. In addition to stops in Greece, Egypt, India, and Ceylon, the young man insisted that Japan, a country that "interested [him] more than any other," be included in the itinerary.
The Tsarevich and his retinue traveled for many months, making stops to examine cities across Asia, before finally arriving at Nagasaki on April 15 (April 27), 1891. Nicholas's diaries of the period record how much he enjoyed his visits to temples and gardens in Nagasaki, Osaka, and Kyoto, where he and his cousin, Prince George of Greece and Denmark (1869-1957), stayed overnight in a traditional Japanese inn. On April 29 (May 11), Nicholas and a small group set out to visit the historic sites around the village of Otsu. In a letter written to his mother several days later, Nicholas described the momentous events that took place as the group readied themselves to return to Kyoto: "We had not gone two hundred paces when suddenly a Japanese policeman rushed into the middle of the street and, wielding a sword with both hands, struck me from behind on the right side of my head! I cried out in Russian: 'What do you want?' and jumped over the rickshaw. Turning round, I saw that he was coming on me again with sword raised, so I ran as fast as I could down the street, stemming the wound to my head with my hand. I tried to hide in the crowd, but they immediately ran off, and I had to take to my heels again to escape the pursuing policeman. In the end, I stopped and turned round and to see dear Georgie [Prince George] about ten paces from me, with the policeman, who he had knocked to the ground with one blow of his cane, laying at his feet. Had Georgie not been in the rickshaw behind me, dearest Mama, perhaps I would never have seen you again! But God willed otherwise! When that monster fell, he was pounced upon by two rickshaw drivers..." While Nicholas's wounds were not serious, the attack on a visiting member of an imperial family was clearly a great affront. Members of the Japanese imperial family and ordinary Japanese citizens formally begged the Tsarevich's forgiveness; Nicholas returned to Russia loaded with tens of thousands of gifts and telegrams of condolence. In Russia, the news of an attack on the heir to the throne prompted a similar outpouring of thanksgiving that Nicholas's life had been spared. For the remainder of his life, the family commemorated the date of his rescue. This icon, given by the citizens of the town in which the imperial family regularly resided, is a particularly poignant reminder of the reactions of the Russian citizenry to the fateful events. The saint depicted, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, was a particularly appropriate subject to commemorate the safe delivery of the heir to throne. In addition to being the Tsarevich's name saint and the patron saint of travelers, St. Nicholas was credited with numerous miracles in which he saved the unjustly condemned from death. Indeed, icons depicting the life of St. Nicholas often include a panel in which the saint reaches out to stop a sword being swung at the neck of a condemned man, a gesture that recalls the sword-wielding assailant in Otsu.
The incident would remain important a century later, when the location of the imperial family's remains were officially announced to the public. Blood from a handkerchief used the staunch the Tsarevich's wounds in 1891 was used in 1991 as the basis of the earliest DNA testing done to positively identify the body of Nicholas II.
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