She was 15, he was 42. She was the governor’s daughter in San Francisco-before-San Francisco, and he was a Russian sea captain thousands of miles from home. In the unlikeliest of loves, they found each other, until fate tore them apart forever.
In the days when the port towns on the San Francisco Bay were little more than remote outposts of faraway empires, Maria Concepción Argüello was born at the Presidio, the daughter of José Darío Argüello, the Spanish governor of Alta California.
Meanwhile, Nikolai Rezanov was a Russian statesman, born half a world away in St. Petersburg. A gentleman, diplomat and explorer, Rezanov found himself in Alta California in 1806, where he met with Concepción’s father, and fell in love with the beautiful young woman.
She returned his love, with whirlwind speed, and the two were engaged at the Mission Dolores. But before they could be married, he had to return to Russia and complete his diplomatic mission.
Unbeknownst to Concepción, Nikolai died just a year later in 1807. He was buried in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Concepción remained faithful to her lost love her whole life, never marrying and spending many years as a nun. During her lifetime, she would see the tiny outpost in which she was raised become independent twice, and turn into a booming, gold-rich metropolis. When she passed away in 1857, she was buried at St. Catherine Convent’s cemetery, and was later moved to where she now rests at Saint Dominic’s Cemetery, in Benicia.
A portrait immortalizes the two lovers at the Post Interfaith Chapel in the San Francisco Presidio. San Francisco musician/composer Candace Forest created a chamber musical, Viva Concha! Rose of the Presidio which was premiered in San Francisco in 2006. The musical was heavily researched and historian Eve Iversen, who is considered the foremost expert on this story, was the historical consultant on the project.
In Russia, a popular rock-opera called “Juno and Avos” tells the story of their ill-fated love.