The Yermolov Family Vault in Orel

In 2012–2013 the Institute of Archaeology conducted rescue excavations in Orel. The sites explored included the Tomb of Yermolov Aleksey Petrovich (1777–1861), which is a site of federal significance; the side chapel of the Trinity Church; and the family vault of the Yermolov, a famous military dynasty of the 19th century.

The vault located in the socle part of the Trinity Church right side chapel is composed of six brick crypts divided by partitions. Two of the six burial crypts were not used.

Documental sources indicate that in addition to the grave of General Alexey Petrovich Yermolov (1777–1861), the vault contains graves of his father, Petr Alekseyevich Yermolov (1747–1832) and his son Claudius (Omar) Alekseyevich Yermolov (1823–1895). Varvara Nikolaevna, Claudius’ wife (1825–1897), is buried in the fourth crypt.

The rescue excavations began after the restoration works of 2012, when after removal of the church floor planks it was established that there were holes in the arches of several crypts, several crypts were filled up with construction debris and, possibly, looted.

After visual examination and primary photo-making, it was decided to do remote survey of the vault internal space to document precise location of all features and create a 3D-model.

At the initial stage of the excavations substantial destruction in the crypts of the general himself (A.P.) and his father (P.A.) were recorded, the zinc sarcophagus had visible marks of break-in, fragments of the coffin and the skull were lying on the ground where the coffin of Petr Alekseyevich had been located. The crypt of Claudius, General Yermolov’s son, also bore looters’ marks. The crypt of Varvara, Claudius’ wife, had not been plundered. The construction debris filling two empty crypts yielded fragments of general epaulets of the 19th century, an icon, an icon mounting and coins of 1898, 1937 and 1972.

The analysis of the items collected from the debris inside the crypts, which were not contemporary with the burials demonstrated that the looters had broken into the crypts of General Yermolov and his father for the first time after the church was closed in 1938. A coin of 1937, a chemical pencil and other artifacts of that period were found. During the Great Patriotic War the crypts were plundered again, one of the crypts even contained a headlight of a German military motorcar. Penetration into these two crypts could have taken place at the end of the 1970s, when the church was being repaired (a coin of 1972 and a newspaper fragment belonging to that period were found).

After removing the 20th century debris, the zinc coffin of General Yermolov was found to be empty. Bone remains and fragments of his uniform were found lying on the crypt floor. The remains of the general’s father, Petr Alekseyevich, were inside the coffin, but the coffin and the remains were very heavily damaged by fire. The grave of Claudius Alekseyevich was also disturbed.

Fragments of uniforms were found in all crypts. The buried individuals could be identified with fair confidence by the cutout of the garments and the buttons. The civil uniform belonged to the general’s father who was an official of the Orel Province. Fragments of the military uniform with buttons were found in the crypt of General Aleksey Petrovich. One of the photographs made in his lifetime features the general wearing this uniform. Claudius was also dressed in a general uniform with buttons of artillery troops. General epaulets with golden threads discovered in one of the reserve crypts could belong both to Aleksey Petrovich and his son Claudius as both were generals.

Anthropologic examinations demonstrated that the bones belong to three individuals (closely related) who were heavily-built, physically fit and quick in movement even at an old age. The skeleton of the individual identified as Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov exhibited a number of features typical for a professional cavalryman of the end of the 18th – 19th centuries.

Using the method of anthropological reconstruction, appearance of two individuals whose skulls had been preserved was reconstructed. It was established that these individual are Petr Alekseyevich Yermolov (the general’s father) and his grandson Claudius Alekseyevich. Paleogenetic studies confirmed lineal relation through the paternal line between the individuals, which agrees nicely with the fact that the remains belong to the Yermolov family members from three generations.

Therefore, the comprehensive research confirmed that the bone remains found in the crypts belong to the Yermolov family members. After the identification, the remains were reinterred in the crypts where they had been at rest. The formal opening ceremony of the restored vault of General Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov and his family members took place on January 17, 2014, in the Orel Trinity Church.

A.V. Engovatova, M.B. Mednikova,
O.A. Radyush, T.Yu. Shvedchikova,
I.K. Reshetova, E.E. Vasilyeva

Digital Version of the Booklet