Rasputin first arrived in the Russian capital, St. Petersburg, in 1904, after receiving an invitation to visit the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery thanks to a letter of recommendation written by well-respected members of the church elsewhere in Russia. However, when Rasputin arrived to St. Petersburg, he would have found a city in disrepair, which was a reflection of the state of the Russian Empire at the time. Interestingly, Rasputin’s influence and reputation preceded him in St. Petersburg. In fact, before arriving at St. Petersberg, there were rumors that he had been sleeping with many of his female followers, although there is no definitive proof this was happening.
These rumors later led to accusations that Rasputin was a member of the Kyhlyst religious sect, which believed in using sin as the primary means of reaching God. Historians still debate whether this is true or not, although there is considerable evidence that Rasputin enjoyed engaging in activities that one could classify as depraved. It’s quite possible Rasputin spent time with the Kyhlyst sect so as to try out their method of religious practice, but there is no evidnece he was an actual member. However, it’s also just as likely that political enemies of the Tsar, and Rasputin, exaggerated behavior typical of the time so as to damage Rasputin’s reputation and diminish his influence.
After his initial visit to St. Petersberg, Rasputin returned home to Pokrovskoye but began to make more frequent trips to the capital. During this time, he began making more strategic friendships and built a network within the aristocracy. Thanks to these connections, Rasputin met the Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, for the first time in 1905. He managed to meet the Tsar several more times, and at one point, Rasputin met the Tsar and Tsarina’s children, and from that point on, Rasputin became much closer to the imperial family largely because the family was convinced Rasputin possessed the magical powers needed to cure their son Alexei’s hemophilia.
Rasputin and the Royal Children
Alexei, the heir to the Russian throne and a young boy, was rather ill due to the fact that he had incurred an unfortunate injury to his foot. Furthermore, Alexei suffered from hemophilia, a disease characterized by anemia and excessive bleeding. After several interactions between Rasputin and Alexei, the imperial family, especially the Tsarina, Alexandra Feodorovna, became convinced that Rasputin alone possessed the powers needed to keep Alexei alive.
He had been asked on several occasions to pray for Alexei, and this coincided with an improvement in the boy’s condition. Many believe this is why the imperial family became so convinced Rasputin had the power to heal their sick child. Whether or not they thought he had magical powers is unclear, but this belief that Rasputin had some special quality that made him uniquely capable of healing Alexei helped boost his reputation and made him both friends and enemies in the Russian court.
Rasputin as a Healer
One of the theories as to what Rasputin did was that he simply had a calming presence around the boy that caused him to relax and stop thrashing about, something that would have helped stop the bleeding brought on by his hemophilia.
Another theory is that when Rasputin was consulted during a particularly serious moment when Alexei had suffered a hemorrhage, he told the imperial family to keep all doctors away from him. Somewhat miraculously, this worked, and the imperial family attributed this to Rasputin’s special powers. However, modern historians now believe this worked because the most common medicine used at the time was aspirin, and using aspirin to stop bleeding doesn’t work because it thins the blood. Therefore, by telling Alexandra and Nicholas II to avoid doctors, Rasputin helped Alexei avoid taking medicine that probably would have killed him. Another theory is that Rasputin was a trained hypnotist who knew how to calm the boy enough so that he would stop bleeding.