Russian investigators say they plan to exhume the remains of Tsar Alexander III at the request of the Orthodox Church, the latest twist in a macabre effort to authenticate the remains of his son, the murdered last tsar, and his slain children.
The investigation will try to ascertain whether remains believed to be those of Alexei and Maria, two of Tsar Nicholas II's five children, are genuine and can be laid to rest in St. Petersburg. They were discovered in 2007, some distance from the other five members of the imperial family discovered earlier.
The church is also keen for further proof that the remains of Nicholas himself, whose family dynasty ruled Russia for 300 years, are bona fide.
All seven, including Nicholas's wife Alexandra, were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 along with their servants in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals.
Their bodies were first thrown into a mineshaft and then burned and doused in acid before being buried elsewhere after the Bolsheviks thought locals had seen them dispose of the corpses.
Russian investigators who have conducted DNA tests say they are satisfied the remains of the two children are genuine. But the Orthodox Church, which has grown increasingly powerful under President Vladimir Putin, has demanded more proof.
"The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation together with representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church plans to exhume the remains of Emperor Alexander III, who was buried in 1894 in the Peter and Paul Cathedral," the investigators said in a letter to the museum complex.
The letter, dated Oct. 19., said investigators were acting after Patriarch Kirill, the head of church, asked Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to ensure extra testing was done to identify Nicholas's own remains.
A spokeswoman for the museum confirmed to Reuters it had received such a letter.
The Russian government had earlier floated the idea of burying the remains of Alexei and Maria in St. Petersburg this year alongside those of their three sisters and their mother and father. That plan was put on ice after the church objected.
Vladimir Solovyov, the lead investigator on the case, told the Interfax news agency on Monday that the exhumation would not take place before mid-November at the earliest.
A spokesman for the patriarch declined to comment, saying he was not authorized to do so.
In September, investigators said they exhumed the remains of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra as part of the same probe.
The wife of Tsar Alexander III's late grandson Tikhon, Olga Kulikovskaya-Romanova, said she was categorically opposed to the idea of exhuming the remains of Nicholas's father.
"The emperor ... must lie in the place where the lord laid him to rest," she said in a statement.