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Sunday, 25 January 2015
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 27 - St. Sophia (Ascension) Cathedral, Tsarskoye Selo
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

The St. Sophia (Ascension) Cathedral in the district centre of Sofia, a settlement, which was later merged with Tsarskoye Selo, was one of the first purely Palladian churches to be built in Russia. Rather paradoxically, it may also be defined as "the first example of Byzantinism in Russian architecture".

The cathedral was founded in July 1782 at the instigation of Catherine II of Russia as a reminder of her lifelong Greek Plan. The Tsarina, eager to liberate Constantinople from the Turks, wished to have a replica of the Hagia Sophia in the proximity of the Catherine Palace where she spent her summers. But the first project - an exact copy of the Hagia Sophia - was very expensive.

Then the Empress called upon her favourite architect, Charles Cameron, to design this "Byzantinesque" church, but the Scottish architect, though well versed in the Palladian idiom, had a vague idea of what Byzantine architecture stood for. His design called for an austere and monumental whitewashed exterior, with Doric porticoes on each side, probably a reference to the works of Lord Burlington.

Construction works, supervised by Ivan Starov, lasted for six years. In the eventual variant, the five wide domes were placed on squat drums, vaguely reminiscent of the Hagia Eirene. The spacious interior of the church was dominated by four massive granite columns with gilt bronze ionic capitals. The church was consecrated on 28 May 1788 in the presence of the Empress. During the two decades that followed, the Imperial Academy of Arts had the interior adorned with Neoclassical paintings. A detached two-storied bell tower was added considerably later, in 1905, to a design by Leon Benois.

The iconostasis of St. Sophia Cathedral as it looks today
In 1784, the cathedral was to be the chapter church of the newly established Order of Saint Vladimir. The first dean was archpriest Andrey Samborsky - the religion teacher of tsarina's grandsons.

In 1817, Alexander I of Russia gave the cathedral to a hussar regiment of his Hussar Life Guard Regiment, which was quartered in Sophia. During the rest of the 19th century, the regiment had the cathedral transformed into a sort of military museum, its walls lined with marble plaques honouring the hussars' victories. Near the altar, for instance, were placed the banners captured by General Cherniaev from the Khan of Kokand.

In 1934, the Soviets had the cathedral closed down, and turned into a storehouse. The marble plaques and precious furnishings were nationalized or stolen.

In 1989, the Russian Orthodox Church resumed worship there. The same year, a bust of Alexander Nevsky was added nearby, by way of commemorating the 750th anniversary of the Battle of the Neva.

The complete consecration after the restoration took place on May 19, 1999.

In 2003, a granite monument to the His Majesty's Life-Guards Hussar Regiment was erected south of the cathedral. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 25 January, 2015


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:37 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 28 January 2015 7:58 AM EST
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Sunday, 7 September 2014
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 26 - Gothic Chapel (Peterhof)
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

The Gothic Chapel which served as the domestic church of Emperor Nicholas I and his family, is situated in Alexandria Park at Peterhof
Situated in the western section of Alexandria Park at Peterhof, the spot for the the Church of St. Aleksander Nevsky was chosen by Emperor Nicholas I himself. The church is more commonly referred to as the Gothic Chapel or Gothic Capella.

The plans for the church were designed by the German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the Gothic Revival style in 1829. Completion of the chapel was under the direction of Adam Menelaws, after whose death in September 1831, the role was entrusted to Ludwig Charlemagne. The Gothic Chapel consecrated in July 1834. 

The chapel served as the home church of Emperor Nicholas I and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (nee Princess Charlotte of Prussia), and their family, while they were in residence at the Cottage Palace at Peterhof, worship was held only during the summer months.

The sculptor Vasily Demut-Malinovsky designed 43 copper figures lining the walls. The iconostasis was designed and painted by Timophey Neff. The chapel housed numerous icons donated by members of the Russian Imperial family. Above each portal a window with beautiful stained glass, executed at the St. Petersburg Glassworks.

The restored interior of the Gothic Chapel at Peterhof
In 1918 the church was closed. In 1920 the building housed a museum, but later closed. In 1933 the former chapel housed an exhibition on the history of the Alexandria Park. The building was badly damaged during World War II, in which most of the original art perished. A gradual restoration of the Gothic Chapel took place between 1970 - 1999, and then re-opened as a museum. 

Further restoration work began in 2003, after which, on 4 June, 2006, the church was consecrated by Metropolitan Vladimir (Kotlyarov) of St. Petersburg and Ladoga.

In September 2006, the remains of Empress Maria Feodorovna (formerly Princess Dagmar of Denmark) lay in state at the chapel for two days, before being reburied next to her husband at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg.

This tiny masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture with eight pointed towers crowned with gilded Orthodox crosses is now part of the Peterhof State Museum Preserve. The cost of admission is 250 Rubles. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 07 September, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:53 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 8 September 2014 9:19 AM EDT
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Sunday, 17 August 2014
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 25
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the Novo-Tikhvin Convent in Ekaterinburg
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is located at the Novo-Tikhvin Convent in Ekaterinburg. This beautiful cathedral has an unusual and unique story.
In 1809, Emperor Alexander I signed a decree on the establishment of the Novo-Tikhvin Convent. It was decided to construct the main church in honour of the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky - the patron saint of the emperor. Construction began in 1814, but after 20 years, the two-storey building had to be disassembled due to cracks in the walls. Moreover, the number of sisters grew rapidly at Novo-Tikhvin Convent during that time, therefore a larger church was needed.

The new Cathedral was laid in 1838. It was designed by the amous Ural architect, Mikhail Pavlovich Malakhov (1781-1842) together with St. Petersburg architects Visconti and Charlemagne.

Due to a lack of funds for the construction of the church, the nuns visited towns and villages of the region with the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God asking for donations. Fortunately, many Ural merchants and factory owners helped.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1854. Designed in the style of late classicism, it was one of the largest and most beautiful churches in pre-revolutionary Russia. It was designed to hold four thousand parishioners, however, due to a lack of heating during the cold winters, services were only held from May to October. By 1918, the convent had more than a thousand sisters.

When in 1918, Tsar Nicholas II with all of his family were kept under arrest in the Ipatiev House, the nuns of the Novo-Tikhvin Convent prayed for them, asking God to relieve their sufferings, to strengthen them, and to give them the strength to bear everything with Christian humility.

The sisters' help came not only through prayer but also through deeds: disregarding their own safety, they supported the Tsar and his family by passing over various foods to them through the guards on a daily basis. On June 18th of 1918, a month before their murders, the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna made the following entry in her diary: "The kind nuns are now sending milk and eggs for Aleksey and for us, as well as cream."

On July 16th, 1918,while making their daily visit bearing food for the August family, the nuns were told not to come any more. That night, the Tsar and his entire family perished as martyrs at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

The Novo-Tikhvin Convent was closed by the local Soviet in 1921, but the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral managed to remain open until 1930. It was the last Russian Orthodox church in the district to close, and during the 1920s welcomed more than 5,000 faithful on a daily basis. During the Second World War years the church was used as an ammunition depot. After the war, the church housed the department of nature, a planetarium and the Regional Museum complete with a full skeleton of a mammoth, mounted on a pedestal directly under the central dome of the church.

In 1991, a movement began to return the building to the Russian Orthodox Church, which included a 33-day hunger strike by local Orthodox Christians. But the restoration of the cathedral did not begin until 2006 due to a lack of funds. The builders, restorers, and painters faced a daunting task as the interiors of the church had been seriously altered during the Soviet era.

The façade of the cathedral remained unchanged, however, the interiors suffered terribly. Before the Revolution, the church was known for its unique frescoes, but during the years when the building was used as a warehouse, the unique frescoes disappeared, wiped out by their Soviet caretaker. Restorers were unable to recover them, and forced to re-paint the walls. Floors installed during the Soviet period had to be removed using a special crane. 

Some 60 painters and about 100 people helped to paint the new frescoes in a variety of patterns. These included novices of the Novo-Tikhvin Convent, and experts from Moscow, the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, St. Petersburg, and Minsk.

The walls of the church were revived with marble and onyx, the floor is made of garnet. All stonework was brought from Italy because the Ural minerals lack the quality and colour needed. The iconostasis required white and pink marble to recreate a floral design. The doors of the cathedral are decorated with fine patterns of carved wood.

Last year, after a restoration which took more than seven years, the oldest church in the Urals reopened. The consecration of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the Novo-Tikhvin Convent in Ekaterinburg took place on May 19th, 2013 by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia Kirill. More than five thousand people came to the service. 

Situated in the southern outskirts of Ekaterinburg, the Novo-Tikvinsky Convent welcomes pilgrims and visitors. Each year on the night of July 16/17 a liturgy is held in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs, whom the nuns of the convent had shown such kindness in their final days. 
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 17 August, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:21 AM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 17 August 2014 7:09 AM EDT
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Sunday, 10 August 2014
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 24
Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches

Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus arrives at the Church of St. Nicholas in Khamovniki
The Church of Saint Nicholas is a late 17th-century parish church situated in a former weavers sloboda in the Khamovniki District of Moscow. 

The main five-domed church was built in 1679-1682; the bell tower and refectory were completed around 1694. The bell tower is one of the highest tent-style bell towers in the Moscow region. In 1757 a side annex was constructed dedicated to Saint Dmitry of Rostov.

The church is an example of late Muscovite Baroque that preceded short-lived Naryshkin Baroque of the 1690s. It belongs to a numerous class of bonfire temples – church buildings without three internal load-bearing columns, crowned with layers of small circular kokoshnik-type gables. Each gable is a symbol of a heavenly fire (biblical thrones – angels or seraphs); a tightly packed group of gables is an architectural metaphor for the Throne of God. 

A view of the gilded iconostasis and royal door leading to the sanctuary of the church
The church was severely damaged by the fire of 1812 and reopened only in 1849. The church has operated continuously since 1849. It was never closed during the Soviet period although it lost its main bell (restored in 1992). It was restored externally twice, in 1949 and 1972. Father Pavel Lepekhin served here one of the longest continuous tenures in the 20th century Orthodoxy – from 1915 to 1960. 

Today, the Church of St. Nicholas in Khamovniki vies with St Basil’s Cathedral for the title of most colourful in Moscow. The ornate green-and-orange-tapestry exterior houses an equally exquisite interior, rich in frescoes and icons. Leo Tolstoy, who lived up the street, was a parishioner at St Nicholas, which is featured in his novel Resurrection. The famous Russian author was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 10 August, 2014


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:30 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 9 August 2014 12:18 PM EDT
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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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