Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches
Earlier this week the Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas at Kronstadt marked its 100th anniversary, therefore it seems only fitting that this beautiful and historic cathedral should be this weeks selection.
The cathedral was built in 1903-1913 as the main church of the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Imperial Navy and dedicated to all fallen seamen. On October 27, 1901 the 14,000 strong garrison of Kronstadt was summoned for the groundbreaking on Anchor Square. Earthwork and work on concrete foundations and a granite base continued through 1902; the walls were laid down in a massive ceremony May 8, 1903 with the Emperor Nicholas II in attendance.
Despite social unrest that culminated in the Russian revolution of 1905, the cathedral was structurally complete in 1907; heating and ventilation were made operational in 1908, enabling year-round work on the finishes. In 1907 , the architect brothers Vasily and Georgy Kosyakov switched to producing detailed drawings and instructions to craftsmen and suppliers of interior finishes. On August 19, 1908 they presented the revised album of these drawings to Emperor Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra who responded with numerous amendments and changes that were implemented by spring of 1909.
In the summer of 1909 the external finishes were completed, and the scaffolds removed. The building was clad in black granite (base and columns) and yellow brick (walls) with terra cotta inserts. Inside, the iconostasis was made of marble from the Urals. The four portals were decorated with mosaic images of Theotokos, Saint Nicholas, Peter, Paul, John of Rila and Mitrofan of Voronezh by Foma Raylian. Most of interior paintings were executed by the school of Mikhail Vasilyev; icons were painted by Alexey Troitsky. The adjacent park was designed by E. G. Gilbikh.
The cathedral was equipped with an independent central heating and a central vacuum cleaning system employing a complex network of pressurized manifolds and valves. Electrical lighting employed 5 thousand light bulbs.
The cathedral was consecrated in a public ceremony attended by Emperor Nicholas II and his family June 10, 1913. The total cost reached an unprecedented amount of 1,955,000 roubles, not including donations in kind and unpaid labor by the seamen and civilians.
The cathedral operated as such for only 16 years. On October 14, 1929 it was closed by the Soviets; the valuables were nationalized to the state treasury. A small portion of these relics were displayed at the Navy Museum and the State Russian Museum in Leningrad.
In 1930—1931 the cathedral was desecrated: its crosses and bells were toppled over and hauled to the foundries. One bell, weighing 4,726 kilograms (second largest) remained in place — either due to technical difficulties or deliberately, as an emergency alarm signal. Internal marble items, including the iconostasis and the memorial boards with names of the fallen seamen, were ripped out, broken or cut and reused for ordinary construction needs. A small number of memorial boards ended up in the Navy Museum and were "written off" in 1970.
In 1932 the cathedral hall was converted to a cinema, frivolously named New Star but later renamed Maxim Gorky; in 1939 the cinema was upgraded to a House of the Officers (akin to a community center) of the Kronstadt garrison. During World War II the cathedral was closed; the dome received three direct artillery hits. Post-war "reconstruction" of 1953—54 converted the cathedral to a functioning concert hall. This time, the builders added a suspended ceiling that isolated the hall from the dome; it remained in place up to the end of 2007. A reduction of military personnel in the 1960s made the concert hall redundant; in 1980 the cathedral reopened as a branch of the Central Naval Museum.
The Church attempted to repossess the cathedral in the 1990s. After the building was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church the first cross to be reinstalled on the main dome was made in 1996 but was not erected due to financial problems. The second attempt, in 2002, employed a heavy helicopter and nearly ended in a disaster: a seven-meter cross fell from the dome and was damaged beyond repair; there were no human injuries. The third cross was successfully erected November 24, 2002. Three years later, November 2, 2005, the Church served the first Divine Liturgy in the Naval Cathedral since 1929. From 2008 the cathedral was operational, but was opened only on special occasions. In 2009, at Patriarch Kirill's initiative a board of trustees was established to restore the cathedral. In the ensuing years, the building underwent extensive repairs and improvements after decades of neglect.
On May 28th, 2013 His Holiness Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia performed the rite of consecration of the Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. A divine luturgy was attended by Patriarch Theophilios III of Jerusalem and Svetlana Medvedev, wife of the Russian Prime Minister, as well as delegations from the North, Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific fleets of the Russian navy.
Up until 1996 Kronstadt was closed to foreigners due to the fact that it was the base for the Soviet Baltic Fleet. I had the opportunity to visit the Naval Cathedral at Kronstadt in the late 1990s. Dominating the main square of the city, I was struck by its size, and on a clear day the cathedral is visible from Peterhof and St. Petersburg. Upon entering the cathedral I was disheartened to see this once glorious building reduced to a museum filled with showcases and mementoes of the Soviet navy. It is interesting to note that no memory of the Russian Imperial Navy was to be found in the museum. After years of restoration it seems only fitting that the cathedral is being given a new lease on life and a reminder of the brave men of the Russian Imperial Navy who sacrificed their lives for their country and their tsar.
Source: The Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas at Kronstadt. Official Site of the St. Petersburg Diocese [in Russian].
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 02 June, 2013