Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea - Saint Petersburg, Russia - Cathedrals (June 9, 2011)

Momboisse Family Adventures Baltic Sea
Norwegian Cruise Tour
Partly Clear Skies 75
Sunrise 4:43 am - Sunset 11:13 pm

Tour Saint Petersburg, Russia
June 9, 2011

Spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral rises above the
Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva river

We woke to another unusual weather day for the Baltic, partly clear skies, mild temperatures and a calm breeze.  Today we will tour three Russian Orthodox Cathedrals in St. Petersburg using the Norwegian Cruise Tour Cathedrals of St. Petersburg.  We will visit the Peter and Paul Cathedral, The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and St Isaac's Cathedral. 

After navigating Passport Control we met our guide, who issued the required stickers for our cameras, $10 for pictures, and or $8 for video. Two of the cathedrals required stickers, one was "free." 

An itsy bitsy history of Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and St. Petersburg from Peter I to present.  

Prior to Peter I the empire had only some influence on church functions  Peter I reformed the Russian Orthodox Church, placing church operations under the authority of the state. 

Instead of being governed by a patriarch (highest ranking bishop) or metropolitan (regional bishop), the church was controlled by a committee called the Most Holy Governing Synod, made up of bishops and lay people appointed by the Emperor.

Tikhon of Moscow

The church remained this way until shortly after the Russian Revolution in 1917 when the decision to restore the patriarchy was made with the election of Tikhon as the 11th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.  

But the new ruling party of Russia declared in 1918, a separation of Church and State and freedom from "religious and anti-religious propaganda."  Orthodox priests and believers were tortured, sent to prison or labor camps, or executed. Some were subjected to mind control experimentation.  Thousands of churches and monasteries were taken over by the government and either destroyed or converted to secular use.   No new churches were built.  Practicing Orthodox citizens were prevented entry into prominent careers. 

In 1921, the Soviet government demanded that church valuables be given to the state to aid the starving population, eventually this demolished Eastern Orthodoxy in the Soviet Union.  By the beginning of World War II destruction of beautiful, ornate, Orthodox cathedrals, churches and icons became the norm.

By 1935 only 4 bishops remained in the Soviet Union, and of the 50,000 Russian Orthodox priests registered in 1918, only 500 remained.  

Under attack by the Germans in 1941, Stalin used the Russian Orthodox Church to increase support for the war.  A new Patriarch was elected and thousands of churches were allowed to function again.

By 1957, approximately 22,000 Russian Orthodox Churches were open, to have almost 1/2 of them closed two years later by Khrushchev.  In 1985 only 7,000 churches were active. 

Finally, during the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1988 on the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus', there was a marked shift in Soviet policy toward the church and many church buildings were restored to religious use. 

Over the course of the persecution between 1918 and 1988, numerous Orthodox churches in St. Petersburg were destroyed.  By divine providence, some were allowed to stand.

The Kazan Cathedral was transformed into an Atheism and Religion Museum, St. Isaac's Cathedral into a City Museum and used to hide the art from the Hermitage during 1941, and the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral became a museum. 

For whatever reason some of the churches in St. Petersburg were spared, we are very glad they were.  With the old city now surrounded by stark concrete Soviet style buildings, they give a uniqueness, beauty and spiritual witness to this charming city.  

Today the Russian Orthodox Church is again a self headed (autocephalous) church under the jurisdiction of Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia and falls under the umbrella of Eastern Orthodoxy. 

The Peter and Paul Fortress 

Our tour starts at the first and oldest landmark in St. Petersburg, The Peter and Paul Fortress, built between 1712 and 1733 on Hare Island along the Neva River. 

Both the cathedral and the fort were built at the request of Peter the Great. 

Our bus parked on Petrogradskaya Island by the Artillery Museum.  We would walk past families sunning themselves in the tall grass, cross the Kronverkskiy Bridge, and along one of the six curtain walls that links six massive bastions together forming the parameter of the stretched hexagon fortress. 

The guard tower is empty and we pass through the gate onto the grounds of the fort.  At the top of the 404 foot spire one can barely see the shape of the flying angel holding a cross, an important city landmark and symbol of St. Petersburg.  

Built unlike traditional Orthodox churches, the Peter and Paul is similar to the shape of a ship with the tail spire the mast.  Also unusual the large windows that line the walls allowing the sun to pour into the nave.  The style is called early Baroque with Dutch influence.  It was built to Peter the Greats specifications.  Who could argue? 

Inside the cathedral the iconostasis (a flat wall of icons) is unique to the Orthodox churches we will visit. This one is more three dimensional incorporating 43 icons and rising into a canopy over the sanctuary.  It is patterned after Bernini's canopy in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.  

Video Saint Peter and Paul 

A carved pulpit (also unusual for an Orthodox Church) stands in the nave in front of the iconostasis; next to it is the Tsar's place, a carved wooden canopy with drapes where the Emperor or Empress would stand during services. 

The Royal Doors Saint Peter and Paul's

The pilasters throughout the church are painted to look like marble, and the vaults are adorned with fresco paintings of angels.  Inside the cathedral is the burial vault of many in the house of Romanov, including Peter I, Alexander II and Nicholas II.  the cathedral was closed in 1919 and turned into a museum in 1924.  Today it is still officially a museum with a few religious services resumed in 2000. 

Outside we pass art classes of students young and old.  Actors dressed in period costume. Haven't we learned yet, no pictures without dollars?  I guess not, the "empress" shakes her finger at us and scowls. 

Stopping at the old monument to Peter the Great we take a few pictures and then exit out the Neva Gate to the Commandants landing.  From this vantage point is a spectacular view across the Neva to the Hermitage.  Along the curtain and Tsar's Bastion is another popular "beach" for sunbathers, packed today with families.  The area of the Neva is reminiscent of San Francisco Bay with colorful sail boats. 

Back on the bus we cross the Troitskiy Bridge to the Palace Embankment and drive around the Mikhaylovskiy Garden and the Russian Museum to the church called Savior on the Spilled Blood, also known as the Church of the Resurrection of Christ.

Savior on the Spilled Blood

The massive, ornate, colorful, exquisite Russian Orthodox Church is built over the sight of the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881.  The site of the murder is marked by a special chapel, where part of the carriageway and rail that was stained with blood can be seen. 

Every inch of the church is a work of art.  But there is not one single painting inside, all the walls are almost entirely covered with mosaics. 

The initial construction took 24 years with the church opening in 1907.  Before the Revolution of 1917, the only services that took place there were memorial services.  On October 30, 1930, Stalin closed the church for services, after which it was ransacked, looted and the interior icons terribly damaged.  It served briefly as a museum housing an exhibition of revolutionary propaganda, it held the props from the Maly Theatre of Opera and Ballet for a time, was a warehouse for food, and even a temporary storage space for the dead.

The church was scheduled for demolition, as it was deemed an unsuitable symbol of Christianity in the midst of an atheistic country. It suffered damage and disrepair during Soviet rule, but miraculously survived.  In 1997 it was reopened after 27 years of restoration but has not been reconsecrated so for the time being it is a museum of mosaics.  

Starting from the outside, the area around the base of the church is grey granite interspersed with twenty slabs of dark (blood) red granite topped with red brown Siegersdorf brick.  Against this background amid casings, gables and arches are hundreds of mosaics of differing shapes and sizes depicting various biblical themes, saints, coats of arms or heraldry emblems.  Atop the square body of the church are eight onion domes, topped with bright colored enameled sheets, or tiles, some of brass, and gold.  This is just the outside.  

We enter the church from the north-west portico next to the Griboyedov Canal on the very edge of the embankment, crossing under the bell tower which stands over the spot where the emperor was assassinated.

In order to erect the tower, the body of the church was extended beyond the line of the embankment into the canal.  We pass the exact spot of the murder which is covered by a canopy and look forward into the vastness of the mosaic covered nave. 

Savior on Spilled Blood

Every inch of the inside is covered ceiling, archers, vaults, domes, walls, floor, nooks and crannies.  Colorful marble, semiprecious stones of all kinds, bronze, silver, and gold form the mosaics, and not a single painting.  

Under the guidance of architect Alfred Parland the mosaic designs were commissioned to be sketched and created by Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and others.  

We exit the back and notice the bricks riddled with bullet holes, a reminder of a time when the Soviet leaders wanted this spectacular church brought to the ground.  

Back on the bus, we turn onto Nevskiy Prospekt pass the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan and the Admiralty Gardens before parking in St. Isaac's Square by the statue of Tsar Nicholas I. 

St. Isaac's Cathedral is named in honor of the patron saint of the Romanov family, St. Isaac of Dalmatia.  It is the fourth largest domed cathedral in the world.  The first three St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's in London and St. Maria del Fiore in Florence we had the pleasure of climbing in August of 2001.  Would have loved to make it four for four, but St. Isaac's was not open for climbing. 

Video St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac's Cathedral was designed by August de Montferrand and constructed on swamp land which required some ingenious engineering.  10,000 twenty foot tree trunks were sunk into the ground to make a foundation for the base of the cathedral.  The porticos, pediments and main center dome were supported by 112 enormous red granite columns that were raised with an equally enormous wooden framework.  The outside doors and pediments are decorated with bronze reliefs of the life of Christ.  This massive church took 40 years to built, mainly by the efforts of the serfs who worked under dangerous and difficult conditions sometimes in excess of 13 hours a day. 

The cathedrals main dome raises 333 feet is plated with pure gold and surrounded by 24 statues.  The technique used to cover the dome with gold was similar to spray painting; unfortunately the "spray" emitted toxic mercury vapors which caused the death of numerous workers.  

Inside we appear as ants looking upwards at the soaring pilasters, vaults and dome.  The inside design is made of about 800 pounds of gold, 1000 tons of bronze, 35,000 pounds of malachite along with untold pounds of lapis, slate and marble. 

The main iconostasis is designed with Carrara marble, lapis, and malachite. Columns which separate individual icons, have five levels to the top mural of The Last Judgment by Fiodor Bruni. 

Look all the way to the top of the center dome to view the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, in the lantern.  

Decorated with over 382 works of art, sculpture, painting and mosaic, the walls, vaults and domes bear works made by Russian artists, Bruillov, Bruni, Basin and Shebuyev among others.  

The bottom level of the iconostasis is traditional:  to the right is Christ the Pantocrator, next to Him, the patron of this church, St. Isaac the Dalatian, to the left is the Teotokos and Child, next to her is "Made Without Hands," and St. Catherine, most of these designs by Timoleon Karl von Neff. 

This cathedral that stands out for its grandeur was sanctified in 1858 and became the main church in Saint-Petersburg.  In 1859 a miracle-working icon of The Tikhvin Mother of God was found in the city's outskirts, and transferred to St. Isaac's. 

During the early years of Soviet rule, St. Isaac's functioned as one of the first anti-religious museums in the country.  The dove in the dome was covered by the Fourcault pendulum which demonstrated the earth's rotation.  

During World War II the church was hit by an artillery shell.  During the Siege of Leningrad, the church was used to hide art from the Hermitage and Summer Palace of Tsarskoye Selo.  Finally in the 1960's the church began to be renovated and today is a state museum dedicated to Russian architecture and fine art.  it is also a venue for special Orthodox occasions and Orthodox music.  In time this magnificent Orthodox masterpiece may be returned to its original grandeur of 1858.  

Now it is time to return to the ship and say goodbye to this beautiful city.  Tomorrow Estonia

For an interactive map and guided walking tour covering many of our tours please be sure to download the GPSmyCity App from the iTunes store. The App covers an extensive library of articles and walking tours from over 470 cities worldwide, and now features articles from Adventures of a Home Town Tourist covering Carmel and Monterey (with more cities on the way).
All photography or video by L A Momboisse and R M Momboisse unless listed below: 

Picture of Peter and Paul Fortress - Wikimedia Free Documentation License
Picture of Tikhon of Moscow - Wikipedia Public Domain 
Aerial View of St. Peter and Paul Fortress - Use License
Picture of the Royal Doors Saint Peter and Paul's - Use License

Picture of Savior on the Spilled Blood - Use License