Fr. Sebastian Dabovich & the mystery of St. Tikhon’s miter

This photo of St. Tikhon's miter appeared in the San Francisco Call on April 22, 1900. The paper reported its value as $2,000. I'm not certain, but this may be the same miter Tikhon gave to Dabovich in 1905.

In 2009, I wrote an article on the miter (crown) which Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin gave to Fr. Sebastian Dabovich at the Dabovich’s elevation to archimandrite in 1905, and which Dabovich later auctioned off to raise money for the Serbian war effort in 1912. Today is the anniversary of Dabovich’s birth, and the miter’s whereabouts remain a mystery, so I thought it would be a good time to run a revised version of that original article.

If you read one of the many articles on the life of Fr. Sebastian Dabovich, you might run across a story about his miter (that is, his archimandrite’s crown). Dabovich had been elevated to archimandrite by St. Tikhon in 1905, and Tikhon gave Dabovich a miter on the occasion. According to Bishop Nicholai Velimirovich, who became friends with Dabovich years after this happened, the crown was worth 1,000 roubles in gold. In 1900, the San Francisco Call claimed that one of Tikhon’s miters (which may or may not be the one he gave to Dabovich) was worth $2,000 — that is, over $50,000 in today’s money.

Bishop Nicholai reported, “But Fr. Dabovich quickly sold that precious gift and gave it to the church towards paying its debts” (quoted in Fr. Damascene Christiansen’s article on Dabovich).

That’s one version of the story. Here’s another, from Fr. George Gray’s Portraits of American Saints: “[Dabovich] sold St. Tikhon’s mitre (which he had been awarded when he was made an archimandrite) and used the money in an attempt to alleviate St. Tikhon’s sufferings at the hands of the communists.”

So Bishop Nicholai has Dabovich selling the miter right after he got it — presumably 1905 or ’06. But the other story puts the sale sometime after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

As it turns out, neither story is accurate — and they’re both off by about half a dozen years. What really happened is this: In 1912, Serbia was in the midst of the Balkan Wars. And although he was born in America, Dabovich was a patriotic Serb. In October, he decided to auction off many of his most valued personal possessions to raise money for the Serbian war effort. Here’s an article about the auction, from the Los Angeles Times (October, 25, 1912):

The Balkan war between the Serbs and Turks, has developed many cases of self-sacrifice among the Serbs in and around Los Angeles, but probably none greater than that of Father Sebastian Dabovitch, bishop of the Orthodox Eastern Catholic Church, who has for two years been working among the Slavs and Greeks of this city, to induce them to higher ideals in living. He has built a small chapel on Boyle Heights and has just begun to get his work on a better fotting, when he feels called upon to sacrifice his personal belongings for the benefit of the hospital work in the Serb army.

At the meeting of the Friday Morning Club this morning, in the Woman’s Clubhouse, the following historic relics will be offered at auction to the highest bidder above the minimum price named:

A bishop’s gorgeous miter, handmade and painted in Russia, by nuns, to be sold to the highest bidder above $100; a jeweled pectoral cross and chain, made by a Serb jeweler in Bosnia, minimum bid. $100; twelve sacred hand-paintings on panels of steel minimum $50 for the set; beautiful icon of the Savior, which belonged to a Russian nobleman, who had it with him in the campaign against Napoleon at Moscow, minimum, $50. Four decorations — Order of St. Sabbas, from the King of Servia; Order of Danilo, from the King of Montenegro; Order of St. Anne, from the Emperor of Russia; a medal from the Emperor of Russia, in memory of Alexander III; minimum bid for all, $25. A handsome medium-size hand-made rug, made by the Christian peasant girls of Macedonia; minimum bid, $50.

These were Dabovich’s most prized possessions, and it must have pained him to auction them off. The whole lot was being offered for a minimum of $375, which works out to a little over $8,000 in today’s money. The minimum of $100 for the miter is roughly $2,000 today. Actually, that suggests that Dabovich’s miter might not be the same one featured in the 1900 San Francisco Call article. I mean, the miter in the Call was valued at $2,000 in 1900; it’s almost inconceivable that the minimum bid a dozen years later would be a measly hundred bucks. Most likely, then, Tikhon gave Dabovich one of his backup miters, or something.

Dabovich wasn’t alone in trying to raise money for the war effort. A few days before the auction, the Greeks and Serbs of Los Angeles had combined to raise a whopping $10,000 — equivalent to $218,000 today.

When I wrote that initial article on Dabovich’s miter, I poked around a bit to see if anyone knew what became of it. My searches turned up nothing: the miter appears to have simply vanished. I can’t imagine that it was ever destroyed, so presumably it’s either in a museum somewhere, or it’s sitting in someone’s private collection. One possible clue is the fact that the auction took place at the Friday Morning Club, which is a distinguished LA-area women’s organization. It still exists — in fact, it’s the oldest women’s club in America — and it’s possible that the club still has some record of who bought the miter. At least, it’s worth checking.

If anyone out there has any idea where the miter is today (or, for that matter, any of the other items Dabovich auctioned off that day) please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.

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