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 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
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