Angelic Colors of Bela Crkva
A big group of great people, refugees from imperial Russia hid in this town from the terror of the Revolution. Two elite schools were moved there, at the level of famous English and French colleges: Mariin Don Institute and the First Russian Cadets Corpus of the Great Prince Constantine Constantinovich. Oh, the stories, fates and blood that entangled here! We will present part of the facts, however a film and a novel are actually needed for this

By: Tatjana Marković

In the south of Banat, between the vast Pannonian Plain and the mystical Carpathians, stands the old Serbian settlement of Bela Crkva. It was established in the vicinity of the fortified city of Hram, present Banatska Palanka, founded by the Slavs in the VII century. First a temple was made, fortified with a circular moat, thus the settlement around it was named Hram (Temple), Haram or Horom. Since the establishing of the Austrian Military Border, Bela Crkva became the center of the Illyria-Banat County, and from 1872 a free city.
The city center, which preserved its present luxurious appearance from the Baroque, has three Orthodox Christian and one Catholic church, building of the magistrate from 1830, headquarters of the XIV Illyria-Banat Border Regiment from 1841, and a beautiful city park raised in 1850 in the place of the old infantry barracks destroyed in a fire.
And exactly the glorious building of the former headquarters of the Border Regiment, following the decree of King Alexander I Karadjordjević in 1920, became home to the Mariin Don Institute, a school for girls of aristocratic origin from the former territory of the Russian Empire.
Amidst the revolution, the Mariin Don Institute was evacuated from the Kozak capital of Novocherkassk on December 23, 1919. At first it was located in the Kuban Institute building in Ekaterinodar, and two weeks later moved to Novorossiysk at the Black Sea. Besides the fifty girls from the Mariin Don Institute, the group also included several students of the Kuban Institute, and six girls from other schools who joined these children refugees.
The children, together with the manager, professors, lecturers and other staff boarded the ship “Afon” in Novorossiysk, and then over Varna and Sofia (Bulgaria), reached Bela Crkva.
At the same time, 153 girls from the Kharkov Institute were evacuated, joined by a number of girls from the Smolny Institute. They were located in Novi Bečej, in the building of the present “Miloje Čiplić” Elementary School.
By the beginning of World War II, 975 girls-students completed their education in these two cities.
There is a record that 5.317 Russian children were accommodated in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians (3.005 boys and 2.312 girls). 28 percent of them were orphans of war. There were 4.024 schoolchildren. In the second half of the 1920s, Yugoslavia had 27 Russian elementary and high schools, most of them in Serbia. According to the University of St. Petersburg professor V. D. Pletnjev, refugee, who worked as the manager of the First Russian-Serbian Gymnasium in Belgrade from 1920, Russians considered Yugoslavia “the only country with good conditions for forming the system of education of Russian youth”.


Female education in Russia is more than 250 years old. The first female educational center was Smolny, institute for girls of noble origin founded upon the decree of Katarina II in 1764. Looking up to the Smolny Institute, upon the initiative of the Don ataman Mihail Grigorjevič Homutov, and the decree of Emperor Nikolai I, the Mariin Don Institute was founded in Novocherkassk. It was opened on July 22, 1853, on the name day of Princess Maria Alexandrovna, wife of the heir of the Russian throne Alexander Nikolayevich.
Besides very thorough classical education and mastering different skills, the girls had strict patriarchal upbringing. From the earliest age they were taught discipline – respecting social norms and Christian ethics. This principle of education was maintained until the final closing of the Institute in Bela Crkva in 1941.
In the early XX century, Bela Crkva had two important closed educational centers, resembling the famous western colleges. Students here received high quality education; they were accommodated in a campus with full board, medical services, as well as possibilities for many social, cultural and religious activities common for such educational centers. The objective of establishing schools in such a way was to completely form the personality of young people and direct it to the desired route in order to form an elite generation.
Besides the mentioned institute for girls, the First Russian Cadet Corpus of the Great Prince Constantine Constantinovich was also located here from 1929, where boys were educated until reaching legal age.
The First Cadet Corpus in Russia was established by Empress Ana Ioanovna in 1732. Before the October Revolution in 1917, there were 30 of them.
The one in Bela Crkva was the only cadet corpus in exile. It was created by merging three corpuses: Kiev (1851), Crimea and Don. Also included in these corpuses were the remains of the Odessa (1899), Polotsky (1855), Petrov-Poltavsky (1840), Vladikavkaz (1900), Siberia (1873) and Habarov cadet corpus (1900).
A big event for the whole Russian community in Bela Crkva was the arrival of the princess with imperial blood, Tatiana Constantinovna Bagration-Muhranski in 1927, who brought her two children: Tejmuraz and Natalia. Tejmuraz joined the 4th department of the Crimea Cadet Corpus, and Natalia the Mariin Don Institute.
Princess Tatiana Constantinovna was the eldest daughter of the Great Prince Constantine Constantinovich Romanov and Elizabeth Augusta Maria Agnes, Princess of Saxe-Altenburg and Duchess of Saxony, great granddaughter of Emperor Nikolai I.
Before the Revolution, Prince Constantine Constantinovich was head of the Headquarters of the Military Educational Institutions and president of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, as well as general of infantry. He liked literature and was deeply religious and left a beautiful opus of spiritual poetry, signed with initials “C. R.”


Father John of Kronstadt was a regular guest in the Marble Palace, home of the Great Prince’s family, and everyone liked to receive his blessing.
They say the Great Prince Constantine Constantinovich once asked Emperor Alexander III for permission to become a monk, but the answer was: “Costia, if we all go to monasteries, who will serve Russia?”
To honor the Great Prince, the Cadet Corpus in Bela Crkva was named after him.
In 1911, on August 24, despite the oppositions of the family, Tatiana Constantinovna married Prince Constantine Alexandrovich Bagration-Muhranski, representative of the younger branch of the old aristocratic Bagration family. After this decision, she was forced, according to the law, to renounce in writing her hereditary right to the Russian throne, on her and on behalf of her descendants.
After Georgia had entered the Russian Empire, the Bagrations became Russian aristocrats. Legally, they no longer had the status of a ruling dynasty, but received the title of a princely family of the Russian Empire.
A humble wedding was organized within the family, only three days after the wedding of Tatiana Constantinovna’s brother Jovan Constantinovich with princess Jelena, daughter of King Petar I Karadjordjević and older sister of King Alexander.
Both Tatiana Constantinovna and Princess Jelena spent some time at the Smolny Institute. Since Jelena became good friend with Great Princess Olga, eldest daughter of Emperor Nikolai II and also a student of Smolny at the time, it is considered that all three of them were close. It was written that Emperor Nikolai II and his eldest daughter Great Princess Olga were at the baptizing of the firstborn son of Prince Bagration-Muhranski, Tejmuraz. Naturally, the members of the closest family were present.
After the war events in Russia and tragic death of her husband and brothers, Tatiana Constantinovna came to Kingdom of SCS, to Bela Crkva.
According to the testimonies of their school friends, Tejmuraz and Natalia had no privileges in their schools. They were very humble and took part in all activities and games with their school friends.


After the dissolution of the Crimea Cadet Corpus, Tejmuraz continued his education in the First Russian Cadet Corpus, which was under the patronage of his grandfather, Great Prince Constantine Constantinovich. After graduation, the prince enrolled at the Yugoslav Military Academy, served at the Artillery Regiment of the Yugoslav Army and fought against the German army.
On October 27, 1940 in Belgrade, the young prince married Katarina Račić, granddaughter of Nikola Pašić.
After the breakdown of the Yugoslav Army, Tejmuraz immigrated to Switzerland with his wife. Up to 1949 he held different positions at Yugoslav embassies in Genève, Paris and London.
His young wife, unable to deal with the tragedy brought by World War II, suddenly died on December 20, 1946 in a Parisian suburb. After this tragedy, Tejmuraz moved to the United States in 1949, where he died in 1992.
Natalia married Lord Charles Hepburn Johnston in 1944 and followed him to Spain, where her husband worked in the British Embassy. Together with their primary professions, the couple also translated Russian literature into English.
Neither Tejmuraz nor Natalija had children.
Princess Tatiana Constantinovna took the veil on September 14, 1951 at the Mount of Olives Convent, and received the name of mother Tamara.
Even today, in the center of Bela Crkva, on the dilapidated façade of the former Army Home, high under the pediment from which drops of rain (like tears of angels) had been washing the color for years, the sign: “Мариинский донской институт” is still visible. s


Under Royal Patronage
The Institute in Bela Crkva continued working managed by Natalia Vladimirovna Duhonina, widow of famous general Duhonin. From 1930, the Institute was under patronage of Queen Maria Karadjordjević. Besides Russian girls, children from Serbian families, subjects of the Russian crown for generations, were also educated here, as well as girls born on the territory of the then Yugoslavia.


Tolstoy’s Ancestors and Descendants
Two great grandsons of Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Oleg and Ilija, were students of the Cadet Corpus in Bela Crkva. There are about 300 descendants of the famous writer today in the world, and the descendants of Leo Nikolayevich born in Serbia make the main branch of the family tree.
The aristocratic Tolstoy family originates from the old German family of Indris, whose representative came to Chernigov in mid-XIV century. The forefather of the Counts Tolstoy was his great grandson Andrei Kharitonovich, with the nickname Tolsty (fatty). For the occasion of the marriage of the Great Prince of Moscow Vasily II Vasiliyevich Tyomniy (Blind) in 1433, he was introduced into aristocracy.


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