Some of Russia’s most magnificent churches are found in St Petersburg. And among its most outstanding examples are the city’s Orthodox Cathedrals.
Built at the height of the Russian Empire’s wealth and power, these impressive buildings were designed by the city’s greatest architects, and no expense was spared in their construction or decoration.
In this latest article, we look at two more of these fascinating buildings, namely…
Prince Vladimir Cathedral
Standing at the Eastern edge of the Petrograd Side, in an area that saw some of the earliest settlement in St Petersburg, Prince Vladimir Cathedral is one of the city’s oldest churches, and one of its best preserved. With its attractive, gleaming white, five-domed design, Prince Vladimir Cathedral took over 40 years to build, and was eventually consecrated in 1789.
Photo: A.Savin, Wikimedia Commons
The first wooden church, to St Nicholas, was built on this site as early as 1708, and plans to build a stone cathedral were prepared on the orders of Empress Anna Ioannovna. However, it was not until 1766, during the reign of Catherine the Great, that work began on the cathedral. The design followed that of the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. However, a major fire in 1772 severely damaged the half-finished building, and it was not until 11 years later that work resumed on the project. The cathedral’s completion coincided with the unification of Russia and the Crimean Khanate, which is probably why the cathedral is dedicated to St Vladimir Equal-to-the-Apostles, the Kievan Prince who brought Christianity to Russia in 988 AD.
Prince Vladimir Cathedral has survived almost unaltered since then, continuing to function even through the darkest years of the Siege of Leningrad, when it became a sanctuary for some of St Petersburg’s greatest religious treasures, including the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, which was returned to Kazan Cathedral in 2001.
You’ll find the cathedral at 26 Ulitsa Blokhina, nearest metro station: Sportivnaya. It’s open daily from 8.00 am till the end of services. Well worth visiting along with the Peter and Paul Fortress (just ten minutes’ walk away), the cathedral contains a number of interesting relics, including a beautiful, jewel-clad Berlin Bible from 1689, a gift to Empress Elizabeth, and several historic icons. The Cathedral is active, with daily services and a good choir.
Alexander Nevsky Monastery
The Alexander Nevsky Monastery complex is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city. It was founded in July 1710 – seven years after the foundation of Petersburg – by Peter the Great. In 1712, the first wooden church was built on the site of the future monastery, and consecrated in Peter’s presence on 25 March 1713. The monastery began working shortly afterwards.
In 1724, a new church was consecrated, named after Alexander Nevsky, considered a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church following his military victories over German and Swedish invaders. His remains were brought to the church from the ancient city of Vladimir in a journey that took several months.
In 1750, Empress Elizabeth had a silver shrine built to house the holy remains. The shrine – using an incredible one and a half tons of pure silver – was decorated with symbols of the famous Battle on the Ice fought on Lake Peipus in 1242, and other of Alexander’s victories. The shrine was moved to a new cathedral in 1790, and in 1797, Emperor Paul gave the monastery its current rank – the highest in the Orthodox hierarchy – and name: the Alexander Nevsky Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the whole monastery complex was home to an impressive 16 churches. Today, only five survive. Like many centres of Orthodoxy, the monastery suffered at the hands of the Revolution. Happily, though, much has survived, and restoration work has been ongoing in recent years.
In January 1918, the Bolsheviks attempted to seize the monastery and its valuables, but were driven off by determined church-goers. However, the monastery was closed shortly after, and robbed and looted of its valuables.
Services resumed in the Church of St Nicholas – located in the graveyard behind Holy Trinity Cathedral – in 1985. On 3 June 1989, the remains of Alexander Nevsky were restored to the cathedral, and in the early 1990s, the monastery was the centre of celebrations of Alexander’s life and heroic deeds.
For many visitors, one of the major attractions is the monastery’s graveyards. The Tikhvin Cemetery contains many of the most famous graves, such as Tchaikovsky, Rubinshtein, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka and Dostoevsky, while the Lazarus Cemetery is the final resting place of several of the great architects who left their indelible mark on the city, including Starov, Quarenghi and Rossi.