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
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