Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 30 - Church of the Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God, Podolsk Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches
Church of the Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God, Dubrovitsy Estate near Podolsk
The Dubrovitsy Estate is located near the town of Podolsk, just south of Moscow. The former estate of Prince Boris Alekseevich Golitsyn (1651-1714), Muscovite grandee and tutor to Peter I, is famous for one of the most astonishing monuments in Russian architecture. Unlike traditional Russian church architecture, the Church of the Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God is made in the style of European Baroque.
Construction of the church was carried out from 1690 to 1698 years by foreign artisans, possibly Italian-Swiss, as were many of the masters in St. Petersburg in the early 18th century, in a style that was unmistakably Catholic. The octagonal church was constructed out of local white stone and left bare. It is decorated with figures of saints, apostles and angels, contrary to Orthodox tradition of building, that had viewed statuary as potentially idolatrous.
Rather than the traditional cupolas, the church was topped by a shining gold crown which suggests the regal authority in honour of Emperor Peter the Great’s reign, and also symbolizing the crown of Christ.
As Joy Neumeyer notes, “numerous elements inside the church fail to conform to Orthodox canon.” Even more scandalous were the inscriptions from medieval Latin devotional poetry on the walls, thought to be the only use of Latin in an Orthodox church. In the mid- 19th century, the Moscow Metropolitan had the letters erased and replaced with Old Church Slavonic.
Interior view of the cupola, elaborately decorated with statues of saints, apostles and angels
Due to the structure’s flagrant disregard for Orthodox tenets, Patriarch Adrian (1627-1700) refused to bless it. But upon Adrian’s death in 1700, Peter replaced him with the reformist Stefan Yavorsky (1658-1722). The latter agreed to the blessing, and the church officially opened in 1704.
In 1929 the church was closed for worship. In September 1931 the bell tower was blown up. Further damaged during Soviet times, included the elaborate baroque icon screen. In the 1960s, it was decided to begin its restoration. In 1990, the Church of the Sign of the Most Holy Mother of God was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Most of the original Latin texts were returned during the church’s restoration in 2004, in connection with the 300th anniversary of its original dedication.
The first liturgy was held on 14 October 1990 by the Moscow diocese Archbishop Gregory (Chirkov). In 2000 the surviving icons of the iconostasis were returned to the church.
To review the other churches and cathedrals featured in this series (including the latest additions), please refer to the following link:
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 29 - Cathedral of the Annunciation, Voronezh Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches
The Cathedral of the Annunciation, Voronezh
The Cathedral of the Annunciation is located in the center of the city of Voronezh. Built by the Russian architect V.P. Shevelyova in the Russian-Byzantine style, construction was carried out between 1998 - 2009. The height of the cathedral at its highest point of 97 meters, makes it the third largest Orthodox church in Russia and one of the tallest Orthodox churches in the world.
The current five-domed cathedral with an attached bell tower was patterned after St. Vladimir's Cathedral, built in the late 19th century in a Russo-Byzantine style harking back to the works of Konstantin Thon and demolished by the Bolsheviks in the mid-20th century.
The church takes its name from the eponymous Ukrainian Baroque cathedral that was built in 1718-35 in place of an earlier church commissioned by St. Mitrofan of Voronezh; it was destroyed by the Soviets in the 1950s. The existing bell tower echoes the one designed for the old cathedral built by Giacomo Quarenghi.
Bishop Mitrofan was buried in the Annunciation Monastery in the presence of Emperor Peter the Great in 1703. When 14 years later his tomb was opened, Mitrofan's body was found to be whole and his relics were proclaimed to have healing powers. After he was formally canonized in 1832 and Emperor Nicholas I paid a visit to his shrine, his fame increased and large numbers of pilgrims from Central Russia started flocking to his tomb in Voronezh. The first Moscow church in his name was consecrated in 1895.
The Bolsheviks had Mitrofan's relics confiscated. It was in 1989 that the relics were returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2003, a monument of Saint Mitrofan was unveiled in front of the Annunciation Cathedral where his relics have found their final resting place.
To review the other churches and cathedrals featured in this series (including the latest additions), please refer to the following link:
Beautiful Orthodox Churches of Russia No. 28 - Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, Kazan Topic: Beautiful Orthodox Churches
The Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Kazan
The Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Kazan is undoubtedly the most valuable architectural monument and the one of the great spiritual symbols of Kazan. Decorated in the so-called Naryshkin style, this beautiful 18th Century cathedral was built to commemorate Peter the Great's visit to the city in 1726. Visitors to Kazan were delighted with the cathedral, which was visited by all Russian emperors and empresses, from Catherine II to Alexander III, by statesmen, public figures, writers, including Alexander Pushkin. The cathedral was described in the works of Alexander Humboldt and Alexander Dumas, and the world famous Russian opera singer, Feodor Chaliapin sang in the church choir.
In 1931, a campaign was launched to close the cathedral. In 1938, the mass arrest of priests and clergy took place in Kazan, including Archpriest Vasily Petrovich Ivanovsky, who had served the Russian Orthodox Church since 1908. During the same year a decree was issued which resulted in the transfer of the cathedral to the Central Museum of Tartarstan. The first floor of the cathedral would be converted to the anti-religion museum, while the second floor would be converted to a lecture hall. The Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral was officially closed in 1939. In 1964 a planetarium was opened on the ground floor of the cathedral. In 1967 the upper church was used as a restoration workshop for the State Museum of Tartarstan.
In 1989 the cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, the reconsecration taking place on July 25th of the same year. Since that time, the building has undergone a dramatic and extensive restoration. Nowadays it is one of the most popular places of worship in Kazan. Restoration of the cathedral’s historic interiors are still in progress on a large scale. The cathedral retained the ancient seven-tiered iconostasis with it’s magnificent ornamentation decorated accordingly to tradition of Russian baroque. This iconostasis was made between 1723-1726, and after the fire of 1815 it was restored by the artist Vasily Turin in 1824-1825. One of the most revered icons of local series is the icon of the most supreme Apostles SS. Peter and Paul.
Today, the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral features a vibrant and distinctive exterior decoration - the roofs are covered in bright blue and white tiling while the peachy walls are decorated with bright baroque floral patterns - a rare example of Russian baroque to have survived to this day. The lower chapel based in the tower was used in the winter (it is smaller and has no windows). The upper part of the church (reached by climbing the steep stone staircase) has tall ceilings and unusual for an Orthodox church - windows which let in a special ethereal light effect at certain times of day. The highlight of the cathedral is its huge iconostasis covered in precious metals and stones and the view over the town from the top of the church steps.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.