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
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
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
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
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
Whilst taking a stroll along Nevsky Prospekt, the main thoroughfare in St. Petersburg, one cannot fail to notice the impressive Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. Built between 1801 and 1811 by the architect Andrei Voronikhin, the cathedral was constructed to an enormous scale and boasts an impressive stone colonnade, encircling a small garden and central fountain.
The cathedral was inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome and was intended to be the country’s main Orthodox Church. Some art historians assert that Emperor Paul I intended to build a similar church on the other side of Nevsky Prospect that would mirror the Kazan Cathedral but his plans failed to materialize. Although the Russian Orthodox Church strongly disapproved of the plans to create a replica of a Catholic basilica in Russia's then capital, several courtiers supported Voronikhin's Empire Style design.
Patriarch Kirill celebrates a divine liturgy marking the 200th anniversary of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in 2011
After the war of 1812 (during which Napoleon was defeated) the church became a monument to Russian victory. Captured enemy banners were put in the cathedral and the famous Russian Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, who won the most important campaign of 1812, was buried inside the church.
On February 21 1913 a solemn religious service was held in the cathedral to mark the 300th Anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty. It was attended by Tsar Nicholas II, his family and relations, as well as the elite of the Russian state, the State Duma, marshals of the nobility, representatives of the urban estate, and peasant elders made up the throng of four thousand. The Russian newspaper, Novoe Vremia reported, "It was all brilliance, the brilliance of the ladies' diamonds, the brilliance of the medals and the stars, the brilliance of the gold and silver of the uniforms." [Source: Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, Volume Two by Richard S. Wortman. Princeton University Press (2000) ]
The cathedral was named after the "miracle-making" icon of Our Lady of Kazan, probably the most venerated icon in all of Russia. The church housed this precious icon until the early 1930s. The Bolsheviks closed the cathedral for services in 1929, and from 1932 it housed the collections of the pro-Marxist Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism, which displayed numerous pieces of religious art and served anti-religious propaganda purposes.
Services were resumed in 1992, and four years later the cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Now it is the mother cathedral of the metropolis of St. Petersburg. In 2011 the cathedral marked its 200th anniversary. The interiors have been undergoing restoration work in an effort to restore this historic and holy cathedral to its original.
The cathedral's interior, with its numerous columns, echoes the exterior colonnade and is reminiscent of a palatial hall, being 69 metres in length and 62 metres in height. The interior features numerous sculptures and icons created by the best Russian artists of the day. A wrought iron grille separating the cathedral from a small square behind it is sometimes cited as one of the finest ever created.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 25 May, 2013
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