Russian Church in Urgent Need of Repair
by Paul Gilbert

The Orthodox Church of Archangel Michael in Cannes is in urgent need of restoration

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Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna & Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich

Considered the Pearl of the French Riviera - the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Cannes - is in urgent need of repair. Not only is groundwater destroying the foundations of the church, but seasonal rains have caused irreparable damage to its interior decoration. A century ago, the church was a center of Orthodox culture in the region, of which members of the Russian Imperial family took an active part. Today, the church is seeking funds to help with its restoration.

For many years, the only the Russian church in the French Riviera was the Church of St. Nicholas and Alexandra in Nice. This inconvenience prompted Russian emigrants in 1886 to organize the first church in Cannes. Alexandra Feodorovna Skrypitzine, wife of the consul of France in Russia - Eugene Tripet, installed at his villa "Alexandra" a place of worship where members of the clergy at Nice organized masses.

Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich & Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg

Services became more regular in 1889, with the arrival in Cannes of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna. Eventually, the small house church was too small to accommodate the growing number of parishioners due to the rapid growth of the Russian community in Cannes.

In 1893, the chaplain of the Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna, the Archpriest Gregory Ostroumov asked the Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich for assistance with the construction of a larger Russian church. Initiated and chaired by the Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich, the Building Committee, was composed of princes and notables. Committee members donated large sums of money to build the new church, and also pledged to pay for its upkeep by donating 250 francs each year for 10 years. The Russian community in Cannes helped with a lot of donations and two months later, the Committee had collected the sum of 60,000 francs. On April 23, 1894 plans for the future church were established.

For the construction of the church, Alexandra Feodorovna Skrypitzine, donated a plot of land measruing 1750 square meters in one of the best parts of the city.

With the start of the construction, many parishioners helped by equipping and decorating the church with icons, incense, banners and various other ornaments. It was built under the constant supervision of Father Gregory Ostroumov.

Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich & Mathilde Kshesinskaia

Members of the imperial family also made significant donations to the new church. The Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich donated the sacred vessels, the altar cross, the Gospel and a silver censer. Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich donated special materials for the church walls. Prince S.M. Golitsyn donated a cross and two old icons. Included among the relics donated to the church are those of St. John of Kronstadt, St. Seraphim of Sarov and Simeon Verkhotursk.

The church was built in six months, and on April 23, 1894 the new church capable of accommodating 400 people, was blessed by Archpriest Gregory Ostroumov. The ceremony was attended by the Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovich, along with the municipal officials on 22 November 1894. A plaque marking the event was placed near the entrance of the church, where it can still be seen to this day. Also on that day, a decree was passed to change the name of the street in which the church was located to that of Boulevard Alexandre III, in honour of the Russian emperor.

After the Russian Revolution, the church was the scene of many weddings, baptisms, and funerals of members of the Russian Imperial family and other aristocrats who were fortunate to flee Russia after 1918. The wedding of Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich to the ballerina, Mathilde Kshesinskaia took place here in 1921.

The first and last restoration of the church took place in the 1980s. But then the money was only enough to carry out cosmetic repairs to the building. The paint was peeling, and a large crack appeared just under the dome. The roof began to leak, and now, when it rains outside, the water drips inside the church.

Sadly, as each year passes, the church falls into disrepair. The crypt and the underground church are in a deplorable state. The walls and ceiling of the crypt, where the first rector of the church, Archpriest Gregory Ostroumov, is buried are literally corroded by moisture.

Grand Dukes Nicholas Nikolaievich Jr. & Peter Nikolaievich

Grand Duchesses Milica & Anastasia Nikolaevna

In the crypt of the church are buried members of the Russian Imperial family, including the grand dukes Nicholas Nikolaievich Jr. and his brother, Peter Nikolaievich, their wives, Anastasia and Milica Nikolaevna, daughters of King Nicolas 1 of Montenegro, and Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg (first Husband of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna).

If the drainage system is not repaired soon, ground water will flood the neighboring tomb where the remains of the two Romanov grand dukes lay. Many are asking, where they will find the much-needed funds for restoration. Time is running out. In addition to the foundation, repair to the roof, dome, facade is necessary. Precious icons also need restoration. The price tag for such repairs is estimated at half a million euros. Sadly, if the church cannot find the money, a couple of years from now, the Church of St. Michael the Archangel will no longer be called the pearl of the French Riviera.

by Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia
Sources: Православие.Ru, телевизионный канал
29 March, 2011