Foreign Churches in St. Petersburg:
History and Fate

Numerous foreign churches, rich in history dot the Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg

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Unlike Moscow, known as the third Rome, Russia’s “Northern capital” has long been famous for a unique abundance of different religions – and, therefore, a rich variety of foreign churches along the city’s main street.

It all started when the plans of building St. Petersburg were only on paper. In order to help build the city, Peter the Great invited thousands of foreigners from all over Western Europe, offering them a freedom of belief. The result of the initiative is the city’s large collection of religious monuments.

One of them is the Roman Catholic church of St. Catherine, named in honor of Catherine the Great. It took 20 years to build the church and three architects were consecutively in charge before it was finally completed in 1783.

The church is connected to many important personalities from imperial Russia. For example, the last Polish king, Stalislav Ponyatovsky, was buried in the church for 140 years before his body was returned to Poland.

The church also boasted a large parish: 30,000 people attended St. Catherine in the early 20th century. However, it was closed for 57 years throughout Soviet times, serving as a vegetable warehouse, book storage and even apartments. A fire in 1984 put an end to plans to convert it to a concert hall. The church was finally rebuilt only in the 1990s. Now it is operating daily. Outside the church there is a year-round market selling beautiful paintings, whatever the weather.

However, not only Catholic churches were welcomed by Russian monarchs residing in St. Petersburg. There is also an Armenian church at the Nevsky Prospect. Built from 1771-1776 by the German architect Georg Veldten, it was the first of its kind in the city.

An Armenian merchant named Ovanes Lasaryan, who bought jewels for the court, paid 50,000 roubles and Catherine the Great granted permission to begin construction.

Above the church doorway there is an intricate relief “Baptism of Tiridates III”. The latter is the 3d century Armenian ruler who proclaimed Christianity as Armenia’s state religion.

During World War II, the church was headquarters for anti-aircraft batteries.

The Lutheran church, a couple of blocks on, is unusual for its Romanesque style, which is very rare in St. Petersburg. The church was designed by Aleksandr Brullov in the 1830s for the city’s thriving German community.

The four-column portico and round arches give it a unique appearance. The congregation these days actually sits on the second floor, because in the 1950s the building was converted to a swimming pool. As it was too expensive to remove the pool, church officials simply laid a new floor over the top.

Now it is the Lutheran headquarters for all Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia.

There is even a Dutch church along Nevsky – between sandwich stores on the one side and jewelry retailers on the other. It was closed down in 1969 and now houses a military bookshop downstairs. Designed in the 1830s, its neo-classical cupola is barely visible from the street. The upper floor is even residential.

One more foreign church in St. Petersburg, and the oldest non-Orthodox church in St. Petersburg, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Catherine for the Swedish-speaking community was founded in 1703.

In 1745 its congregation split after a dispute between its Swedish and Finnish members. The latter left this church, became independent and built their own church building, which later became known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Mary.

In 1789 the Swedish constructed a new church building which, in its turn, was replaced in 1885 by the current one designed by Carl Anderson.

Prominent Swedish families such as the Nobels belonged to this church.

After the revolution, the church was turned into a basketball club. Now its religious services have been restored.

Source: Russia Today
20 May, 2010