Protecting pilgrims: Duhovnia Russian Mission Building

Soon after their conversion to Christianity, Russians began performing pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and by the 1800s the annual number of pilgrims reached into the thousands. In response to this influx, in 1847 the first Russian Ecclesiastical Mission was sent to Jerusalem. The mission did not enjoy recognition from the Turkish government and was a private venture of the Russian church. At the time Russia had neither a consulate nor any other institution in Palestine to protect or provide assistance to the Russian traveler. In 1857 the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem was officially inaugurated, this time with recognition from the Sultan of Turkey. Its purpose was to offer Russian pilgrims spiritual supervision, provide assistance and sponsor charitable and educational work among the Orthodox Arab population of Palestine and Syria. In 1863, a building was constructed in the Russian Compound to host the mission and serve as a hospice. With the outbreak of World War I, priests and the entire staff of the mission were expelled from Palestine and all the churches were closed. - K.S.