5 December 2016: A Curious Tragedy in San Francisco

Exactly 114 years ago today, on 5 December 1902, The San Francisco Call reported the tragedy concerning Michael Bellavin, the 29-year old brother of the only Orthodox Bishop in North America, the 37-year old Bishop Tikhon, the future Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and Saint.

In 1902 the young man had heard the new Italian prima donna, Jolanda Villafiorita, singing in the local theatre ‘Tivoli’. Michael began attending every opera at which she sang, buying her flowers and sending her letters of adoration written in Italian. At one performance where Jolanda (better known by her stage name Tina de Spada) was not singing but listening from her box, Michael went up to her and told her that he loved her. However in October 1902 the news came that Jolanda’s father had died in Italy and the singer decided to return to her mother in Milan. Michael was literally heartbroken by the forthcoming separation and died. The story was reported by the local press, including in The Call, The Examiner and l’Italia, with headlines like: ‘Love inflicts a fatal wound. Russian dies because he is flouted by Tiny de Spada. Her departure so affects him that heart stops beating’.

Bishop Tikhon asked all to pray for the repose of his brother’s soul. Perhaps we should do the same.