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Sunday, 27 July 2014
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 23
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

St. Catherine's Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo as it looks today
In 1835, Emperor Nicholas I commissioned his favourite architect Konstantin Ton to construct the St. Catherine’s Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo. The magnificent five-domed cathedral was constructed in the Russian Byzantine style and stood in the center of town on Sobornaya Square. During the consecration ceremony on November 24, 1840, the day of St. Martyr Catherine, the town square was renamed Cathedral Square in the presence of Emperor Nicholas I and his son Tsesarevich Alexander Nicholayevich (the future Emperor Alexander II).

This Cathedral was not only the central place of worship of the town, but also the tallest building in Tsarskoye Selo at the time. The facades of the five-dome building were finished with zakomaras (semicircular gables) with small semicircular windows; the entrance was constructed with an isometric tunnel entrance. 

The most significant and beautiful decoration of the interior of the Cathedral was the gold-carved five-tier iconostasis, consisting of the religious paintings by numerous prominent artists. Among them was Professor Feodor Brunei, whose famous works included "The Last Supper" installation, now on display at the Catherine's Palace. He has also painted St. Catherine the Martyr and Empress Alexandra depictions. Another prominent artist Egorov painted the icon Reincarnation of the Christ, centred behind the altar, and the icons of archangels Gabriel and Michael on the side gates of the altar. Feodor Brulov depicted Evangelists on the ceiling of the cathedral's dome and the Three Holy Ghosts icon, along with numerous secondary religious paintings. Other valuable icons located at the cathedral were Vladimir's Mother of God , framed in gold and silver, and decorated with precious stones. This icon was created in commemoration of the coronation of the Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna. Another sacred image, the Moscow Sanctum, was sent to this cathedral in 1867 by the Moscow Metropolitan Head of the Orthodox Church, St. Filaret. The main altar is also decorated by two remarkable art pieces: Van-Deik's Crucifixion, and The Holy Virgin by Paolo Veronese.

The cathedral was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1939
The vaults of the cathedral contained a vestry, a candle pantry, and a temporary burial crypt. In the east corner of the Cathedral, there was the last resting place of the hero of the Great Patriotic War of 1812, General Zaharjevsky (1780-1865). Protopresbyter Ioann Kochurov was also buried there in 1917, having been killed by Bolsheviks. He was later canonised, a wooden cross was mounted on his grave in 1995. 

The Cathedral could accommodate up to two thousands worshipers, who were called to masses by the church's main cast bell, that weighed 4,576 kilograms. The small stone chapel, located in the open marketplace, Gostinniy Dvor, was assigned to the Cathedral. The large square surrounding the five-domed Cathedral was a central place of people gathering for social and religious events, holidays and town meetings.

In 1922, a large number of valuables from the Cathedral was moved to the museum of Catherine Palace. Among them was the above mentioned Our Holy Lady by Paolo Veronese.

In 1938, the St. Catherine's Cathedral was closed, and in June of the following year, one year before its 100th anniversary, the Cathedral was demolished with explosives. It was replaced by a statue of Lenin and the main street was renamed after him. Lenin's statue stood for nearly 70 years on the site of the Cathedral. The original historical name of Broad Street (Shirokaya Street) was reinstated in 1990

In 1998, a plan was drawn up for the reconstruction of St. Catherine’s Cathedral. In 2000, A. A. Kedrinskii. the chief architect of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Preserve had completed the preliminary design of reconstruction of the cathedral. On November 3rd, 2003 a new wooden cross, made by the monks on the Solovetsky Islands was installed and consecrated on Cathedral Square at Tsarskoye Selo. In April 2004 the monument to Lenin was toppled by unknown persons from its pedestal and destroyed.

On November 26, 2008, Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, signed a decree on the establishment of the organizing committee for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo, which would include the reconstruction of the cathedral.

Construction began shortly thereafter and the first liturgy was held in the newly built cathedral on December 7, 2009. Patriarch Kirill performed the great dedication and consecration of the reconstructed St. Catherine’s Cathedral took place on June 27, 2010 (during the days of celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo). 

The central iconostasis of St. Catherine's Cathedral
In January 2014 the gilded domes had been completed. The interior of the cathedral is still under construction. The whitewashed walls pale in comparison to the central golden iconostasis. Restoration of the interiors will continue for many years to come.
On June 24, 2014 an exhibition was opened in the basement of the Cathedral dedicated to the history of churches and cathedrals of Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk and the surrounding area. The exhibition presented materials found during excavations, portraits of priests, original church plans, and other exhibits transferred from the Tsarskoye Selo Museum.
I visited St. Catherine’s Cathedral during my most recent visit to Tsarskoye Selo in June 2014. The cathedral once again dominates the skyline of this historic town, and is easily seen while walking from the railway station to the Catherine and Alexander Palaces. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 27 July, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:37 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 27 July 2014 9:09 AM EDT
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Sunday, 29 June 2014
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 22
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

A spectacular belltower and entrance gate with beautiful curving colonnades stretching on either
side lead to the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (currently under restoration) in St. Petersburg
In St. Petersburg, towards the southern end of Ligovsky Prospekt, at the point where it crosses the Obvodny Canal, stands the Cossack Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is in fact a complex of churches and chapels dominated by a spectacular belltower and entrance gate with beautiful curving colonnades stretching on either side.

The Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross stands on the site of one of St. Petersburg's oldest cemeteries and churches. Originally the parish church for the Coachmen's Settlement, the first wooden church, named after the Birth of John the Baptist, was erected here in 1719. 

View of the facade and iconostasis of the Tikhvin Church

The Tikhvin Church contains two side chapels: the Chapel of the Holy Royal Martyrs (left) which contains numerous icons of the Saints Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra, Tsesarevich Alexei and Saint Elizabeth, and the Chapel of Saint Alexander Nevsky (right)
In 1764-68, a second wooden church, with heating for winter services, was consecrated in the name of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God. In 1842-44, the Tikhvin Church was replaced with a new stone building by architect V. E. Morgan. A simple white one-storey structure with a single pale blue dome, is currently the only fully functioning church in the complex. 

The first stone church was built on the orders of the Holy Synod in 1794, by which time the area was predominantly populated by Cossacks serving in the Imperial regiments. Thus the church got its current name, and it remains a centre of the Cossack community in St. Petersburg to this day. The superb early neoclassical belltower and its two side chapels were built 1810-12. 

In 1848-51, the old Church of the Exaltation of the Cross was replaced by the modern cathedral. Designed by Egor Dimmert, the Cathedral took its cue from the belltower, and is a similarly elegant and symmetrical neoclassical structure. The five-dome Baroque style church with three side-altars was embellished with double pilasters along the facade, extended and reconstructed in 1848-52. The icons were painted by Korotkov; modelling was done by T. Dylev. 

The domes of the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross and a view of the dilapidated interior (now under restoration) at Easter 2014
The final church in the complex, the Church of Saints Kirill and Mefodiy, was built by church elder and merchant Ivan Shigalev in 1872 in memory of his wife.

In 1875, the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross founded a charitable society that supported a hospice, two orphanages and a Sunday school. From 1909, a children’s group was held here. 

In the 1930s all of the churches in the complex were closed, and their rich decorations plundered. The Church of Our Lady of Tikhvin was closed down in 1932 and accommodated a boiler-house. The Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was closed in 1938 and in 1939 its interior was completely reconstructed inside and, ironically, turned into restoration workshops. 

In 1991, the complex was returned to the Orthodox Church and the Cossack community. In the same year divine liturgies were resumed to the SS. Cyril & Methodius Church, and in 1993, they resumed in the Church of Our Lady of Tikhvin. In 2000, the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross became the Cossacks Cathedral. 

This much neglected complex of churches is still in a very dilapidated state, restoration work is ongoing. Services are held in the Tikhvin Church daily, and in the Church of Ss. Kirill and Mefodia on Sunday mornings. Many male members of the Cossack community attend services in full Cossack uniform of the tsarist period.

Male members of the church in full Cossack uniform of the Tsarist period pose in front of the three monuments to last Imperial family of Russia:
Tsesarevich Alexiei, Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna
In the last decade, three monuments to the last Russian emperor and members of his family have been erected in front of the church. In 2002, the bronze bust to Emperor Nicholas II was unveiled (sculptor S. Alipov); in 2013, a bronze bust to the Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolayevich was unveiled; and in 2014, a bronze bust to the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was unveiled. 
To view all *22 churches featured in our Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia series, please refer to the following link:

Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia

*Each page contains 10 listings, when you reach the bottom of the page click on the 'Older' link (located in the bottom left hand corner) to view the previous lists
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 29 June, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:28 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 29 June 2014 9:17 AM EDT
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Sunday, 27 October 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 21
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

The Smolny Cathedral’s stunning blue-and-white building is undoubtedly one of the architectural masterpieces of the Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who also created the Winter Palace, the Grand Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, the Grand Palace in Peterhof and many other major St. Petersburg landmarks. 

The cathedral was built between 1748 and 1762 and served as the centerpiece of a convent, built to house the daughter of Peter the Great, Elizabeth, after she was disallowed to take the throne and opted instead to become a nun. However, as soon as her Imperial predecessor was overthrown during a coup, carried out by the royal guards, Elizabeth abandoned the idea of a stern monastic life and happily accepted the offer of the Russian throne. 

When Catherine II assumed the throne, it was found that the new Empress strongly disapproved of the baroque style, and funding that had supported the construction of the convent rapidly ran out. Rastrelli was unable to build the huge bell-tower he had planned and unable to finish the interior of the cathedral. 

On the orders of Emperor Nicholas I in 1832, work began on the final completion of the cathedral. The building was only finished in 1835 by Vasily Stasov with the addition of a neo-classical interior to suit the changed architectural tastes of the time. The Cathedral was consecrated by Metropolitan Seraphim of Novgorod and St Petersburg on 20 July 1835; its main altar was dedicated to the Resurrection and the two side altars were dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene and Righteous Elizabeth. 

In contrast to the light and vibrant exterior, the Smolny Cathedral’s interior strikes one with its unexpected austerity and cold solemnity. It has none of the lavish gilt carvings, so characteristic of baroque, neither does it have bright and vivid paintings, or abundance of fanciful ornaments. The reason for this lies in the cathedral’s construction that lasted nearly 100 years.

The cathedral's lavish Baroque exteriors give way to simple Neoclassicism interiors
In designing the interior, Stasov faced a number of challenges. It was 80 years since the construction of the cathedral began. The lavish baroque style gave way to neoclassicism. Rastrelli’s design at that time was regarded “old fashioned”, overloaded with decorative details and, on top of all that, costly. Stasov’s adherence to simple forms led him to introduce quite a few alterations in the design in his pursuit for simplicity and austerity. The white colour of the walls and restrained stucco emphasize the perfect proportions of Rastrelli’s architecture. The tall arches seem to carry the sturdy pillars with them, while hoisting the dome drum upward. All along the walls in the hall and in the dome drum are tall windows that make the huge cathedral appear incredibly lightweight and imbued with light.

Unfortunately, the cathedral’s interior has not survived – gone are its carved, white and gilded iconostases, its magnificent balustrades of crystal balusters, glowing in sunshine of a light filled hall, a carved pulpit, and bronze chandeliers. Only images of the Cathedral’s interior dating from the second half of the 19th century came down to us. 

The church was looted by the Soviet authorities in 1922, and in 1923, it was closed down for worship by the Petrograd Council. The iconostasis of the cathedral was dismantled much later in 1972. 

In the 1970-80s, the Smolny Cathedral became a branch of the State Museum of History of Leningrad. It housed a display celebrating Leningrad’s past and present industrial achievements. In January 1990, a concert and exhibition hall was established in the Smolny Cathedral, affiliated with the Museum of the History of Leningrad. In 2004, the Smolny Cathedral became part of the State Museum St Isaac’s Cathedral. 
On April 7th, 2010, for the first time in 90 years, a divine liturgy was celebrated in the Smolny Cathedral. 

Divine liturgies are held in the Smolny Cathedral throughout the year
Today the Smolny Cathedral is still used primarily as a concert hall, with performances by the Smolny Cathedral Chamber Choir. The surrounding convent houses various offices and government institutions. On October 2nd, 2013 the St. Petersburg city authorities voted to return full ownership to the Russian Orthodox Church. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 27 October, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:05 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 27 October 2013 2:41 AM EDT
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Sunday, 29 September 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 20
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 23 minutes, 11 seconds
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

The Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady Feodorovskaya was built in St. Petersburg to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty.  

In 1907, a decision was made to build a cathedral in the capital to commemorate the upcoming Romanov tercentenary in 1913. In 1909, a building committee was established, which was adopted under the august patronage of Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich. The site was chosen at the intersection of Poltava and Mirgorodskaya streets, near the Nicholas Railway Station (today the Moskovsky Station), with construction carried out between 1909-1913. 

The foundation of the cathedral took place on August 5th 1911, in the presence of the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. After attending a liturgy service the Grand Duke placed several coins from the reign of Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich into a prepared recess.

On March 14, 1913 the grand raising of the cross on the central section of the cathedral was carried out, followed by a liturgy headed by the Patriarch of Antioch, Gregory IV. Among the many bells in the bell tower of the cathedral, some were dedicated to each member of the family of Nicholas II and coats of arms of famous Russian cities.

On September 7, 1913, the lower church was sanctified. On January 15, 1914, the consecration of the upper church by Metropolitan Vladimir (Epiphany) was performed in the presence of Emperor Nicholas II, who arrived with his daughters Olga, Tatiana and Maria. Also in attendance were the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, her daughter, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, along with other members of the royal family and government. 

The new bells bearing the names and images of the Holy Royal Martyrs were delivered in the Fall of 2010
The magnificent five-domed cathedral was built in the neo-Russian style of the 17th century, and includes two churches: the upper and lower. The upper church is dedicated in honour of Our Lady Feodorovskaya, the patron saint of the first Romanov tsar, Michael Feodorovich. The side chapels were dedicated to the heavenly patrons of the members of the Russian royal family: Saints Nicholas and  Tsarina Alexandra, Blessed Prince Mikhail of Tver and St. Alexis of Moscow. Today, the north section of the upper church is dedicated to the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church, the south - to the Holy Royal Martyrs.

The lower church is dedicated, as before, to Saint Alexander Nevsky and Mary Magdalene - the heavenly patrons of the Emperor Alexander III and his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna.

After the Revolution, the cathedral suffered under the hands of the Bolsheviks and Soviets, who not only desecrated the cathedral, but virtually demolished it. As a result, the cathedral ceased to exist as a place of worship for the next 70 years.

After 1918, the cathedral became a parish church up until 1932. It was at this time that the abbot, Archimandrite Lev (Egorov), now glorified in the face of the Russian New Martyrs Church, along with many members of the clergy and parishioners were arrested for "counter-revolutionary activities and anti-Soviet agitation," the parish was abolished and the church became a dairy.

Over the years the interiors of the cathedral were greatly modified to accommodate the dairy. Additional floors were added, while the cathedral’s dome was demolished. An extension and add-ins for production purposes were also constructed. The bells which contained the names of members of the royal family were completely destroyed. The clergy’s house, built in 1915-16 was also destroyed by the Soviets.

The consecration of the cathedral was performed by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill on September 14, 2013
In 1992, the parish was revived, the Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady Feodorovskaya was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church the following year. It was not until August 2005, however, that the transfer of the cathedral was completed. It was at that time that the dairy was evicted from the building.

The full restoration of the church began two years later, in 2007. By March 27, 2011 the restoration of the bell tower was completed, which included the installation of the replica bell ensemble of the 19th century. On April 28, 2013, the reconstruction of the mosaic image of the Savior above the main entrance to the cathedral was completed.  

As an object of cultural heritage of national importance, the cathedral was restored at the expense of the state budget. Much of the work, such as new icons, utensils and more, was made by private charitable donations by trustees and members of the parish who raised more than 2 million Rubles.

The consecration of the Cathedral of the Icon of Our Lady Feodorovskaya took place on September 14, 2013 in St. Petersburg. The dedication and Divine Liturgy was performed by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the construction of the cathedral and the 400th anniversary of the Russian Imperial House of Romanov. 
Video (in Russian) shows the history and restoration of the historic cathedral dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 29 September, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:46 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 29 September 2013 6:20 AM EDT
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Sunday, 25 August 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 19
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

Vladimir Mother of God Cathedral, St. Petersburg
Completed in 1783, the beautiful and historic Vladimir Mother of God Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in St. Petersburg and presents a truly fascinating combination of baroque and classical architectural styles. The church is crowned with five onion-shaped cupolas, which rise into the sky above Vladimirskaya Ploschad in one of the most historic areas of the city. An impressive four-tiered bell tower stands adjacent to the church. The church is also home to one of the oldest and most elaborate iconostases in Russia.

The church was built to shelter the historic Vladimir Mother of God icon. The icon traveled to Jerusalem, Constantinople and then Kiev, where Prince Andrey Bogolyubskiy bought it and brought it to the ancient Russian city of Vladimir after which it is named. Subsequently the icon was credited by the Orthodox Church with freeing Moscow from the control of the Mongols.

The founding of the cathedral dates to 1746 in the house of a certain Yakimov where the first iconostasis was assembled. On August 25, 1748 a new wooden church was dedicated in the name of the Vladimir Mother of God. On the following day Empress Elizabeth attended a special church service in honour of the new church's opening.

Because the construction of the current stone church dragged on for more than 20 years and several different architects were involved in its design and construction, the cathedral is not credited to any one architect.

With its unique combination of baroque and classical features, the church is an important addition to St. Petersburg's architectural history. No other church in the city can claim a design quite like the Vladimir Mother of God Church, with its five different-sized onion-shaped cupolas rising into the sky and topped off with glistening Orthodox crosses, and including five sections, two stories and three porticos.

In 1831, a stone portico was added to the main building with two stairways leading to the second floor, designed by A. Melnikov. In 1833, another two-story portico was built on the northern and southern facades of the church including a two-story room for a staircase, designed by A. Golm. In 1848-1849 a fourth tier was added to the bell tower to a plan by architect F. Rusk. In 1850-1851 a fence was installed around the church, and two stone chapels were also added. The Vladimir Mother of God Church, bell tower and chapels were also gilded at this time.

The church was closed in 1932, the building was transferred to the State Public Library. The former church housed the department of anti-religious literature. During the years 1930-1940, it was one of the few places in Leningrad where one could read a copy of the Bible.
Although most of the church's treasures were looted during the Revolution, the incredible Baroque iconostasis  (transferred from the Anichkov Palace chapel in 1808) on the church's upper level survived. It is one of only a very few of its kind in Russia is now an architectural monument and well worth seeing, and was created in the middle of the 18th century by Italian sculptor Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

The Vladimir Mother of God Icon Cathedral is located in one of the favourite areas of the city's intelligentsia, and has had many notable parishioners, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

A vigorous restoration of the church began in the 1970s, including restoration of the facade and icons. Nevertheless, the effects of years of neglect have been difficult and slow to correct. In 1990, after the church had been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, the first services where conducted in what observers described then as a gloomy and cold environment where there were only two icons donated by church parishioners. Moreover, the church did not have a cross for more than a year after it reopened.
In May 2000, the church received the status of cathedral. Today, a magnificent view of its domes and bell tower can be enjoyed from the 7th floor bar of the Hotel Dostoevsky, which is situtated directly across the street.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 25 August, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:40 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 25 August 2013 10:36 AM EDT
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Sunday, 18 August 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 18
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is situated on the banks of the Neva River in St. Petersburg 

Situated on the bank of the Neva River in St. Petersburg, the magnificent Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is among one of my personal favourites. There is virtually no information on this church in English, the research for this article was based entirely on Russian language sources, plus my own personal notes taken during my recent visit to St. Petersburg in June, 2013.  

The monastery has a long and interesting history which dates back to the reign of the Empress Anna Ivanovna (1730-1740). Over the centuries, it was rebuilt numerous times by successive owners. From 1766, the land was a farmstead of the Pskov-Pechersk Dormition Monastery. In 1874, the farmstead was purchased by the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. 

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was built between 1895-1897 according to the plans of Basil Kosyakov in the Russian-Byzantine style. It is reminiscent of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral at Borki, erected on the site of the train disaster in which Emperor Alexander III and his family miraculously survived. The five-domed church could accommodate up to 2,000 worshippers. It was the first church to be built in St. Petersburg in which the domes were covered with sheets of aluminium. Kosyakov used 14 different types of brick, tile and mosaic in its construction. The entire monastery complex, which also includes the metropolitan's chambers was completed in 1900. It was at that time that work on the interiors commenced. The frescoes were created between 1902-1903 by Moscow masters Snegiryov, Strunnikov and Yalovlev under the leadership of F.A. Sokolov. It is believed that the creation of the mural painting was done by Viktor Vasnetsov, the icons made by the sisters of the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.

In 1956, the church's interior was converted into Leningrad's first artificial ice rink. Photo: Life Magazine

In 1935, the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was closed by the Soviets, the monks were all arrested. For years, the church was used as a military warehouse, however, the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was to face even further and greater indignity. In 1956, the interior of the church was converted into Leningrad’s first artificial ice rink. The great frescoes were whitewashed, and later painted over with oil paints.   

In June 1991, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexei II, the buildings were returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Regular church services resumed at the end of 1993. In 1996, a comprehensive restoration of the church began. In January 1998, the main dome was crowned with a new cross. In 2003, the restoration of the iconostasis was completed. Remarkably, many of the original frescoes were recovered using sophisticated technology, a process that continues to this day. During my visit to the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in June of this year, restoration was nearing completion, the interiors are simply stunning to behold. 

Today, the church plays a striking role in the panorama not only of the Vasilevsky Island, but also the entire mouth of the Neva River. It is interesting to note that cruise ships which ply the waters of the Baltic Sea now dock directly in front of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tourists scramble to the decks of their respective vessel to photograph this architectural gem of the Tsarist period. 

Years of painstaking work have restored many of the church's original frescoes 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 18 August, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 1:20 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 6 September 2013 10:42 AM EDT
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Sunday, 4 August 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 17
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches


The Church of Our Lady of the Sign is situated in the Arbat district of central Moscow. It is one of the most striking churches in the Moscow region for its combination of ornate 17th century Naryshkin Baroque and 18th century Classicism styles. The church is unique for it spans three lives, three generations, and three different outlooks.

The church was built by Ivan Romanov, who profited from a royal marriage. Ivan's father was the legendary Nikita Romanov, whose sister Anastasia married Ivan the Terrible in 1547. For Anastasia's wedding, Nikita received in addition to the boyar's title, some 8,000 acres of land. The church rose on the land donated by the tsar, within walking distance of the Kremlin.

Ivan Romanov, who had commissioned the church, died childless. His estate passed into the hands of the Naryshkins, relatives of Peter the Great's mother, Natalia. The Naryshkins, anxious to stress their ties to the royal house, rebuilt the old Romanov church in the 1690s, but kept its dedication fo Znamenie, the favourite icon of the Romanovs. When the Counts Sheremetievs acquired the church in the 18th century, they did not change the name nor its exterior appearance. They only altered the interior to suite their Westernized tastes. The Romanov church, built in the Naryshkin Baroque, thus became part of the Sheremetiev's estate. In time, the Sheremetiev's became Russia's richest aristocrats and the builders of famous palaces.

The Church of Our Lady of the Sign has a sweeping wingspan of terraces. It displays a vertical flight of superimposed octagons which create an impression of a circular building as the narrowing octagons sweep upwards. The church also shares a wealth of white stone ornaments applied to red brick walls that typifies the Naryshkin Baroque. The classical interiors of the church is a contribution of the Sheremetiev's, whose lives spanned the transition from Old Muscovy to Imperial Russia. 

The recently restored iconostasis of the Church of Our Lady of the Sign  

In 1812, the church was destroyed by fire, but later rebuilt, it was reconsecrated on September 21, 1847. In 1929, the church was closed by the Bolsheviks, its refectory destroyed. During the Soviet years it housed a hospital kitchen, a dining room, and various administrative offices. The facade of the church was sporadically restored in the 1950s and 1970s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the church was returned to the Moscow Patriarchate.

In 2004, exactly 75 years after being closed by the Bolsheviks, the first liturgy was held in the church. In 2007, major restoration of the facade of the church was completed. In 2010, 10 bells were restored and raised to the belfry. Current restoration includes the House of the Clergy. A restoration of the church's original 17th century interiors will require a lot of work and significant financial resources. This includes the reconstruction of the lost Baroque carvings, and gilded iconostasis of the 17th century, and the restoration of icons and frescoes. 

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 04 August, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:58 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 4 August 2013 9:28 AM EDT
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Sunday, 7 July 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 16
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



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:54 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 11 July 2013 2:46 PM EDT
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Sunday, 9 June 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 15
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

The Church of the Saviour Not Made by Human Hand was named after a legendary Byzantine icon, a copy of which was brought to St. Petersburg by order of Empress Anna Ioannovna. This large neo-classical church on Konyushennaya Ploshchad - "Stable Square" - is an integral part of the architectural ensemble that once made up the Imperial Stables. The first wooden church was built on this site in 1737, while the current building was designed by Vasiliy Stasov and erected in 1817-1823. Significantly expanded and altered forty years later by the serf architect Pyotr Sadovnikov, the church retained its neo-classical grandeur, with soaring Doric columns and deep porticos beneath bas-reliefs depicting Christ's entry into Jerusalem and the bearing of the cross.

In the last years of his life, the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was a regular visitor to the church from his nearby apartments on the Moika Embankment. After his fatal duel with Georges Dantes, his body was carried from this church to his final resting place at the Svyatagorsky Monastery, and to this day the bells are rung to mark his birthday and the day of his death.


During the Soviet years, the church became Police Precinct No. 28, with toilets installed on the site of the alter. The building was returned to the Orthodox Church in 1991, and has since been fully restored.

Although the building's facade is in chronic need of restoration, the interior of the church is richly decorated with marble and gilt, and worth a quick inspection. The church is fully functioning, with ceremonies to mark all Orthodox holidays, as well as the anniversary of the Icon of the Saviour Not Made by Human Hand (August 29), a copy of which takes pride of place in the church's iconostasis. The church is also regularly used for concerts by pupils of the church's Sunday school.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 09 June, 2013


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:15 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 8 June 2013 3:57 PM EDT
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Sunday, 2 June 2013
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 14
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

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:52 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 2 June 2013 10:15 AM EDT
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