November 1962. During the excavation for the foundation of the Greek Church of St. Demetrios in Ligovsky Avenue, St. Petersburg, which was demolished in order to build Octyabrsky Concert Hall, the workers in surprise discovered a sarcophagus containing the embalmed corpse of a richly dressed man. A similar incident had never happened in the city.
The news was never published. Only after over 30 years, in March 1996, those who were immediately involved and did research on the remains discovered in 1962, spoke for the first time to Sankt – Peterburgskie Vedomosti newspaper. The discovered remains belonged to a distinguished representative of the Greek Diaspora, Demetrios Benardakis, whose name had been long forgotten.
“Bernadakis went down in the history of Russia, as a great businessman, one of the richest men of the 19th century, a benefactor and philanthropist, who made a great impact on Russian culture. He received great respect both in our country and Greece”, states an article published by Sergei Glezerov in Sankt – Peterburgskie Vedomosti newspaper. Adding that “One of the most glorious contributions by Benardakis in St. Petersburg, was building, at his own expenses, the Greek Church of St. Demetrios in Ligovsky Avenue. Following a personal order issued by Alexander II, Benardakis was buried there in 1870”.
Demetrios Benardakis body was embalmed in Germany and remained in the sarcophagus for 92 years. When the workers opened the sarcophagus, they had no idea what to do with the remains of an unknown person, wearing the attire of an old era. During the day, the remains were exhibited in an open space.
Then they were sent to forensic morgue No. 1. Ever since and for many years, the whereabouts of Benardakis’ body, remained unknown. All efforts to locate the remains were in vain.
“In search of Benardakis remains, representatives of the Federation of Greek Communities in Russia, contacted us in 2006”, states the expert of St. Petersburg Forensics Bureau, Yuri Galtsev and adds that “after thorough investigation, lasting two years, it was discovered that the remains of the well known Greek man were being used as educational anatomical concoctions. Unfortunately we were able to find and collect only individual parts”.
Experts from the Forensics Bureau of St. Petersburg, with expenses covered by the Benefit Foundation of State Duma MP, Ivan Savvidi, conducted forensic investigation, which lasted for one and a half year. The findings showed that they were indeed the remains of Demetris Benardakis. However, a secret was yet to be revealed; where did his heart disappear? Director of Forensics Department of I. Mechinkov Medical Academy, Yevgeny Misin, with regards to the secret, stated the following: “When in 1962 Benardakis body was held for 10 days at the morgue, our employees removed the heart, as a unique exhibit. Following that, other experts started studying Benardakis remains, who had no clues on his heart. Then the legend was born that his heart was buried in Greece separately. In reality, his heart had been preserved ever since in the Museum of our Faculty for educational purposes”.
Ceremony in memory of Demetris Benardakis in Alexander Nevsky Lavra
A few days ago a formal ceremony was held, in memory of Demetris Benardakis at Alexander Nevsky Lavra, with the participation of representatives of St. Petersburg Parliament, Consul Generals of Greece and Cyprus, representatives of the Greek community, Orthodox clerics, scientists, etc.
A memorial service was held at Lavra Holy Trinity Church, followed by an official ceremony, where Forensics Bureau experts officially provided the remains to the Greek part and certificate of authenticity. Dr. Yevgeny Misin handed in Benardakis’ heart to Greek community representatives, stating that there are two possibilities: to either remain at the forensics department museum or be buried along with the identified remains.
“After many years, justice prevails. Thanks to the activities of a team comprised of inspired individuals, the burial of Demetris Benardakis remains was made possible, in accordance with the doctrines of Christian faith”, stated Ivan Savvidi, president of the Federation of Greek Communities in Russia.
“This action bears a deep spiritual significance and is an important event in the social life, not only of St. Petersburg, but the all Russia as well”, he noted.
Source: ANA – MPA