Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches
The Church of St. John the Baptist at Chesme Palace is located in the far south area of St. Petersburg. Considered by some to be St Petersburg's single most impressive church, it was built under Catherine the Great as the house church for the Chesme Palace, a resting post between St. Petersburg and the Summer Palace in Tsarskoye Selo.
The church was designed by the German-Russian court architect Yury Felton. It was consecrated in 1780, on the tenth anniversary of Russia's naval victory over the Turkish fleet at Chesme Bay, which occurred on the birthday of John the Baptist, hence the church's name. At one point, the church was also in the possession of the knights of the Order of St. George when it was given the third name, "St. George’s Church."
In 1916 the body of Grigorii Rasputin rested in the Chesme Church before his burial at Tsarskoye Selo.
A wedding-cake structure with striped crenellated walls and five gothic turrets in place of traditional onion domes, this truly unique church has survived almost fully intact to this day, despite the fact that it was turned, along with the Chesme Palace, into part of a forced labour camp by the Soviet government - the cross on the central turret was replaced with a hammer, tongs and anvil to symbolize the toil of the proletariat. In 1923, the church was closed and used as a storehouse. Just before the Second World War, the complex was given over to the Institute of Aviation Technology, which still occupies the nearby palace to this day.
During 1970–75, the church was fully restored under the supervision of the architects M.I. Tolstov and A.P. Kulikov. In 1977, the church became a museum of the Battle of Chesme, with artifacts from the Central Naval Museum. The building was eventually returned to the Orthodox Church in 1990. The interior, which originally had Italian icons, was destroyed in a fire in 1930. However, it was restored when the church was refurbished. Inside the church, there are many iconic paintings and one particular painting of interest is that of Christ’s arrival in Nazareth. When it was a naval museum, there was a vivid painting, in rich colours, depicting the sea battle and Russian victory over the Turks, in place of the “Christ the Saviour in the iconostasis-less altar apse”. Sadly, nothing remains of the original interiors.
Today, the church is extremely popular with local worshippers. Regular services are held, and numerous visitors come to pay their respects to the war dead. It is interesting to note that the church has been used as a burial site for war heroes almost since its consecration, and the area around the church became a graveyard for soldiers who died during the Siege of Leningrad (1941-43).
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 May, 2013