Unique Treasures at St. Basils Cathedral

An exhibition of church masterpieces at the Intercession Cathedral, also known as the St. Basils Cathedral
marks the 450th anniversary of Red Square in Moscow

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An exhibition of church masterpieces at Moscow’s Intercession Cathedral on Red Square opened a string of ceremonies devoted to the 450th anniversary of that unique church listed among UNESCO’s cultural heritage sites.

Located just a step from the Kremlin wall, the Intercession Cathedral, also known as the St. Basils Cathedral, the name it got from a medieval saint and wonderworker, is regarded as a symbol of Moscow. It was built in 1561 on the order of Czar Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates.

The Intercession Cathedral is like no other church in Russia. People dubbed it a “stone flower” for its dazzling beauty.

The legend has it that when the church was unveiled, the czar, struck by its divine splendor, ordered to blind its architects, Ivan Barma and Postnik Yakovlev to prevent them from recreating anything of the sort anywhere else.

But there are other versions. One has it that the St. Basils Cathedral was built by a specially invited foreign architect. Valery Ivanov-Tagansky, a writer and historian, gives his view:

"Here is a phrase I came across, looking through memoirs by a Dutch traveler, Cornelis de Bruijn, who visited Russia in the early 18th century: “This wonderful church was built by an Italian architect”. Andrei Batalov, a Russian architecture historian, believes that there are strong reasons to assume that architects from England or Germany were invited to erect the Intercession Cathedral."

"The above version is backed by the cathedral’s layout, which follows the “ideal church” scheme proposed by Leonardo da Vinci. Its eight cupolas surrounding the central dome form two overlapping squares or an octagonal star. A similar layout is characteristic of many Renaissance-era churches. It reminds one of the Star of Bethlehem, which in Orthodox icon painting is a symbol of the Holy Mother of God."

Today, the Intercession Cathedral is both a functioning church and a museum. It is always crowded, especially now that it is showcasing rare church treasures. On display are a diskos, a round Eucharistic dish symbolizing the one from which Jesus Christ took bread during the Last Supper and then broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: “Do this in my memory”. There is also a potir, a communion cup that Christ gave to his disciples, saying: “Drink from it, all of you”.

Tatyana Saracheva, an art expert and museum keeper, says that the divine Eucharistic vessels inspired many masters to create the most admirable jewelry pieces.

"It is only at certain rare moments that the items used during church services are brought out so that worshippers can see them. What makes our exhibition so valuable is that it offers a chance to marvel at those unique treasures as long as you wish."

Among the exhibits are 16th -century icons from the very first iconostasis of the Intercession Cathedral along with gem-encrusted crosses and Gospels – gifts from grateful parishioners.

Sources: The Voice of Russia
6 January, 2011