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
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