Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches
Unlike most churches in St. Petersburg after the Revolution, the Transfiguration Cathedral was never closed
During my recent visit to St. Petersburg I had the opportunity to explore several areas of the city that were new to me. Within the vicinity of my hotel I stumbled across several beautiful Orthodox churches, including the magnificent Transfiguration Cathedral. Located next to a beautiful square on Preobrazhenskaya Ploschad, just off Liteiny Prospect, the Transfiguration Cathedral occupies an area that was once the home of the Russian Imperial Army's Transfiguration Regiment in St. Petersburg.
On the night of the 24th November 1741, Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth came to gain support from the soldier's regiment for a coup against Empress Anna Ioannovna and her appointed successor Ivan, who at the time was 2 months old.
As a sign of gratitude, Empress Elizabeth commissioned the construction of a church after her accession to the throne on the 7th December 1741. Mikhail Zemstov was commissioned as architect to design and build the church, but construction was actually carried out by Antonio Trezzini after the sudden death of Mikhail. Construction began in St. Petersburg on the 9th June 1743 when Empress Elizabeth laid the first stone of the foundation. On the 5th August 1754, on the eve of the Feast of Transfiguration, the church was consecrated and declared a Cathedral by order of Empress Elizabeth.
On the November 12, 1796, during the reign of the Emperor Paul I, the regimental Transfiguration Cathedral received the honorary title "of all the Guards."
The magnificent fence which surrounds the cathedral is dominated by 102 bronze cannon barrels, set on 34 granite bases and surmounted with gold double-headed eagles with crowns. After the Revolution the eagles were removed but were restored in recent years
The Cathedral's interior, including the marvelous gold iconostasis and altar vestibule were designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli. This iconostasis was rescued from a fire that almost burnt down the Transfiguration Cathedral on August 8th, 1825. Construction of a new church on the site in St. Petersburg began in 1827 designed by Vasily Stasov and was consecrated on 5th August 1829.
According to Stasov's plan a beautiful square was laid out around the new church in 1830. From 1832-1833 under Stasov's direction a fence was built around the cathedral commemorating the victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, the basis of which was formed by the barrels of Turkish cannons taken from Turkish fortresses. Preserved on the barrels is the engraved coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire, and on some of the barrels can be seen the names given to the cannons.
The fence consists of 102 bronze cannon barrels, set on thirty-four granite bases, and three barrels per base. They are set with the muzzles facing downwards to signify that they will never again be used in combat. All of the middle barrels are decorated with gold double-headed eagles with crowns. All the groups of barrels are linked by massive decorative chains. The two sides of the main gate are decorated with shields with bronze depictions of the medals presented for the war. Also, around the cathedral stand twelve cannons and two Unicorn (long-barreled) cannons, which are the properties of the Preobrazhensky regiment.
In 1886 a chapel (restored in 1988) was built in the fence by the architect Ivan Blazheyevich Slupsky. In 1916, construction of a burial-vault for the burial of officers fallen in World War I was planned by the architect Sergei Osipovich Ovsyannikov, but the project was never realized.
After the 1917 October Revolution the cathedral remained open for worship. In 1918 it became a parish church, and the banners, ordnance, and war trophies being kept there were removed and transferred to the Artillery Museum; since 1950 those relics have been part of the Hermitage collection. Also during the 1920s many valuable icons were removed.
The interior of the Transfiguration Cathedral
From 1922 to 1926 (under Antonin Granovsky's Union of Church Regeneration) and from 1935 to the spring of 1944 the cathedral was in the hands of the Renovationists; and from 1939, after the closing of the Church of the Savior on the Sennaya, it was the main Renovationist church in Leningrad. During the Siege of Leningrad an air-raid shelter capable of holding 500 people was constructed in its basement, where first aid was given to the wounded. A restoration of the facades and the interior was carried out between 1946 and 1948.
In the cathedral are kept the regimental relics and war trophies, and on the walls are bronze plaques with the names of officers of the Preobrazhensky regiment fallen in battle. Under glass in separate cases are the Preobrazhensky uniforms of Alexander I, Nicholas I, and Alexander II, as well as a saber that Alexander II was wearing during an attempt on his life on March 13, 1881 (March 1, O.S.), which still has some of his blood on it.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 07 July, 2013