Here Lies Concepcion Arguello

by chris cunningham

The tragic heroine of San Francisco’s most famous love story, was born and raised on the Presidio. In 1806, when Concepcion Arguello was 15 years old, a seasoned Russian diplomat, Nikolai Rezanof, arrived in San Francisco Bay seeking aid for the starving Russian colony in Sitka, Alaska. As comandante of the Presidio, Concepcion’s father entertained him with the best Hispanic hospitality, despite well-justified suspicions of Russian intentions. Completely green in the ways of the politic world, Concepcion fell in love with the Russian, who in turn proposed marriage. Before sailing through the Golden Gate with his hard-won supplies, he reminded her that since he was Russian Orthodox and she a Roman Catholic, he would have to get permission from both the czar and the pope. The journey, he noted would take years, but Concepcion said she would wait.

Rezanof never returned. In time, Concepcion retired to a Domincan convent, disavowing all connection to the outside world, and burying her her sorrow beneath decades of silence and daily ritual. Then one day came bittersweet news: her fiance had not abandoned her. He had frozen to death in the snows of Siberia some 40 years before, enroute to petition the czar. Concepcion died in 1857 and is buried in Saint Dominic’s Cemetery in Benicia. Her gravestone, carved with the name Sister Mary Dominica is at the end of the second row. A larger monument for her stands besides it.

I really love this story, and there’s even a great poem about it from Bret Harte, but come on 40 years?! I think I would have moved on by then.