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The Blessing of the Waters—Visit to Grouzine-Visit to Velmogie
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Krasnoe, September 1st, 1837. SINCE I wrote to you last, we have been paying some visits, of which you will probably like to have an account. I will, however, begin my letter by relating a curious ceremony, that of blessing the waters, which we witnessed here, and which is performed every where in Russia on the 13th, (or, according to their style, the 1st,) of August and the 18th, or, as they consider it, the 6th of January. The ceremony on the 1st of August is in commemoration of the death of the Virgin Mary, and a fast of fourteen days commences with the month.
About ten o'clock in the morning, at the conclusion of mass in the church, the priest, followed by the congregation, came down to the piece of water below the garden. He himself bore the cross, and two banners belonging to the church, with sacred
devices, were also carried at the head of the procession. A service was then performed: that part of the fifth chapter of St. John, which relates to the pool of Bethesda, was read as a lesson, and the priest, standing upon a small platform, reverentially dipped the cross three times in the lake, after which he sprinkled the people around with the water thus consecrated, and the procession then returned to the church. The greater part of the people, however, remained at the edge of the water, which, from their proceedings, it might have been supposed, was now endowed with the miraculous virtues of the pool of Bethesda. Horses were brought down from every side, and compelled to swim in the lake; women dipped their babies in the water; young men, girls, and boys dashed in, and swam about in every direction, all except a few little children retaining their clothes. The girls appeared to swim quite as well as the boys. The day was luckily bright and fine for the exhibition of this singular scene.
On the 14th we went to spend two or three days at Grouzine, a place some thirty miles hence, belonging to an uncle of M-, General Constantine Poltoratzky, from a second visit to whom we only returned two days ago. I was introduced to Constantine Markitch, as he is called in Russian phrase, who is one of the most universally popular men I ever met with, and one of the most agreeable and amusing. His lady and his son were old acquaintances, as we
had dined with them in Petersburg a few days after our arrival.
The former was a Princess Galitzin, and descended, through her mother, from the kings of Georgia, her great-grandfather having been the last who sat upon the throne, from which he was driven by the Russians. His son, Madame Poltoratzky's grandfather, attempted to regain his crown, but was overcome and thrown into prison, where he died, and his grandson, her uncle, enjoys the title of Prince of Georgia, with large estates in Russia, given to the family in lieu of their lost dominions.
The house is large and handsome, though it might be better arranged in the interior, and the garden upon which it looks is extensive and prettily laid out, with a piece of water running through it. Here we spent two days much as they might have been spent in a large English country house, except that we dined at four instead of half-past six, and supped at eleven. The whole establishment is on a very handsome footing, with all appliances for making a visit in the house agreeable. Nothing could exceed the kindness of our reception; we repeated our visit the following week, and before we came away, promised our host and hostess when we leave Krasnoe, which will be in about a fortnight, to spend some time with them at Yaroslav, of which province the general is military governor.
On the 23d we went to visit another uncle, about sixty miles hence, at a place called Velmogie. We
travelled all the way with the same horses. The road was exceedingly bad, and when we reached our journey's end, we found we had, from ignorance, made a detour of seven or eight miles. That we had done so was not wonderful, as villages were few and far between, and our road was, in some places, a mere turf track through brushwood. At one spot, where we had to cross a small river, we found the bridge out of repair, no parapets, and only a road over it just wide enough for the wheels to pass, and any thing but smooth or safe. Russian coachmen, however, manage to drive heavy carriages through roads and over places which we in England should consider impracticable for wheels, and we met with no disasters. We, of course, were obliged to bait the horses, and we stopped for this purpose at a village about half-way, for there was no town on the road. In default of an inn we put our horses in the priest's stable, and bought from him hay and corn: luncheon, which we had brought with us, we ate in the carriage, since we could not well take meat into a priest's house during a fast.
The morning after our arrival at Velmogie, we found our windows looking out upon ornamental ground, laid out in excellent taste, such taste, indeed, as I have never hitherto seen in Russia. The garden was well laid out, the trees and shrubs judi
* Or since ; landscape gardening is not greatly in vogue, and little understood in Russia.
ciously planted, and there was a handsome piece of water which had the effect of a river. The chief fault which I noticed, was the ordinary error of having more grass than can be kept neat and wellmown. The great beauty of the place, however, arose from the ornamental ground extending beyond the garden, which in this country is rarely seen. The view from the house is bounded by a natural bank, which lies covered with wood in a very happy position, so as to shut out a bare and ugly line of country, while it encloses between itself and the garden, a very pretty sweep of cultivated land. This bank is laid out in walks, and at the end of it, on a small elevation above the water is built, among the trees, a small Grecian temple, which contains a family monument, and which forms a very handsome point of view from the house. The kitchen-garden and hot-house abounded in fruit; gooseberries and currants, of which the crop was enormous, raspberries and strawberries, besides cherries, which were very fine, grapes, melons, and water-melons. This latter fruit, which is seldom seen in England, is grown in great quantities in Russia: they are always put for some time before they are to be used, into the ice-cellar, and are brought to table as cold as possible, when they are excellent. Cherry-trees, at least those of choice sorts, are always planted in a house, (without glass,) the roof of which is taken off in summer, and put on again before winter, to protect the trees from