Voices From Russia, Too

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

12 July 2011. RIA-Novosti Reports… St Basil Cathedral Seen Against the Backdrop of Russian History

In Moscow, 450 years ago, the Cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God, or, as it’s often called, St Basil Cathedral, was completed. It quickly became one of the most striking attractions of the capital. The anniversary date of 12 July (29 June OS) wasn’t picked out of a hat, for it was on this day in 1561 that the Cathedral was consecrated, as is indicated by the inscriptions located in the cupola of the central chapel of the cathedral, “The Cathedral of the Protection was consecrated on the feastday of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul”.

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Tsar Ivan Grozny (1530-84), one of the most brutal Russian rulers, founded the Church of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God on the Moat (the original name of St Basil Cathedral) to commemorate his victory in the wars to conquer kingdoms of Kazan and Astrakhan in 1552 and 1554, respectively. The image above is of a manuscript miniature from the Litsevoi Collection, “The consecration of the central chapel of the cathedral on the feastday of the Protection of the Mother of God”, dating, probably, from 1568 to 1576.

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We don’t know what existed on the site in Red Square before the building of the Protection Cathedral. The first reliable mention of the erection of a Church of the Protection of the Mother of God comes in the autumn of 1554; scholars believe that this was a wooden building. It stood for just over six months, and it was torn down before the start of the construction of the stone cathedral on the site in 1555, which stands to this day. The image above is a reproduction of an engraving of Adam Olearius (1603-71), a 17th century German traveller, depicts the Protection Cathedral.

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The Russian architects Barma and Postnikov (others say that Postnik and Barma were the name of a single person) built the Protection Cathedral. According to legend, Tsar Ivan Grozny blinded the architects upon the completion of the cathedral, so that they couldn’t create another building that would eclipse this outstanding masterpiece of architecture. Later, scholars proved this legend nothing but a figment of the imagination. The image above is a fragment of an engraving, A Procession on a Jackass, from the book Journey to Muscovy by Adam Olearius. On the left, you can see the Protection Cathedral.

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Red Square in the Second Half of the 17th Century

Apollinary Vasnetsov

Undated

The Protection Cathedral originally consisted of nine chapels standing on a single ground-floor, one in the centre, and eight surrounding it. In 1588, at the behest of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich (1557-98) the Blessed, the son of Ivan Grozny, built a tenth chapel over the tomb of the Holy Fool Basil the Blessed, after whom the church got its second, more popular, name. At the end of the 16th century, the present patterned cupolas were erected to replace the originals which were burned in a fire. In the 1680s, the belfry underwent reconstruction. In place of an open two-tier structure, a tower was built.

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A fire badly damaged the church in the reign of Fyodor Ivanovich, after which major reconstruction changed the face of the cathedral. At this time, in the basement arcades, there were 13 chapels; they were once sited along the moat around Red Square at the place of public executions during the reign of Ivan Grozny. Arches were erected over the previously-open external bypass gallery, and a hipped porch was placed over the white stone stairs. The image above is an engraving by Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817), The Protection Cathedral and the Spassky Tower in Moscow, from the series, Views of Moscow and its Environs (1797).

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A View of Red Square

Friedrich Hilferding

1787

In the reign of Tsaritsa Yekaterina Veliki, the cathedral underwent substantial repair, the hipped porch connected with the cathedral façade was painted, imitating the stonework inside the church, also there were pictures of saints and holy scenes, were are partially preserved in our time. A painted inscription dating from this time relates the consecration of the chapel of the Protection in the cathedral.

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Red Square in Moscow

Fyodor Alekseyev

1801

Repeatedly, the church was threatened with destruction, but each time it remained intact, and the devastating fires of the 16th and 17th centuries weren’t a serious threat to its continued existence. In 1812, the French ransacked the church. Related to this is one of the legends of the cathedral; supposedly, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) wanted to take the “Russian Wonder” back with him to Paris, but as it was a technical impossibility to move the cathedral from it site and take it away, he gave orders to blow up the church, and with it, the entire Kremlin. However, a sudden rain prevented this, extinguishing the burning fuses.

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Immediately after the war, the church was repaired and re-consecrated. A landscaped park and open-work iron bars, designed by the famous architect O. Bove, surrounded the area around the cathedral. The above image is an engraving by Friedrich Dürfeldt, Cathedral of St Basil the Blessed in Moscow (1810).

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Location of the church made it a part of and a venue for many turning points in Russian history. The above image shows the last Russian tsar, Nikolai Aleksandrovich (1868-1918), along with his wife Aleksandra Fyodrovna (1872-1918), during a visit to the cathedral in 1902.

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In 1917, the Bolsheviks hit one of the domes of St Basil’s during their shelling of the Kremlin. After the revolution, Fr Ivan Vostorgov (1864-1918), one of the cathedral clergy, was shot, church property was confiscated, its bells were melted down, and the church was closed. The above image shows the commander of the Moscow Military District, Aleksandr Evgrafovich Gruzinov (1873-after 1917), reviewing a parade of the revolutionary forces on 17 March 1917.

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In 1928, the Cathedral of the Protection became a branch of the State Historical Museum, and it remains so today. The above image shows the church in 1920.

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In Soviet times, the existence of the Cathedral of the Protection was threatened again. Some wanted to blow up the church due to the fact that it interfered with the passage of tanks through Red Square during parades and demonstrations, there’s a version that a skyscraper was planned to be built upon its site. Another legend of the history of the Cathedral of the Protection dates from that time… when Kaganovich presented Stalin with a project of reconstructing Red Square to ease the holding of parades and demonstrations by tearing down the Cathedral of St Basil the Blessed, Stalin told him, “Leave it there”.

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One way or another, St Basil Cathedral survived all those who tried to destroy it, now, it’s a major tourist attraction.

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Since Soviet times, no visitor left the capital without a photo like this. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-73) and his wife Matilde Urrutia (1912-85) took this snap to remember their visit to the Cathedral of the Protection…

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… along with guests of the Moscow Film Festival, such as Gina Lollobrigida (1927- )…

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… and another Italian actress, Sophia Loren (1934- ).

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In the 50s and 60s, the Cathedral underwent restoration work, during which researchers found the exact date of the building’s completion, 12 July 1561, in an old chronicle.

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In the 1990s, St. Basil’s Cathedral was a silent witness to the ever-churning political turmoil in our country’s history.

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During the August 1991 coup, tanks rolled up right against its walls…

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… and after that, there always seemed to be a demonstration protesting something. The above image is of a demonstration in late 1991. Pickets gathered on Red Square on the first day of the Fifth Extraordinary Congress of People’s Deputies.

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“A Cross-Procession of Repentance” (Крестовый поход покаяния) outside the Cathedral of the Protection, on the eve of the feastday of the icon of the Mother of God “of Kazan”, and on the 270th anniversary of the Russian Empire, in 1991.

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In 1993, the first President of the RF, Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), spoke at a public meeting in front of the cathedral.

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The Cathedral of the Protection is now included on the List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Russia. As a branch of the State Historical Museum, it offers regular tours, plus others on major Christian feastdays.

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For the anniversary of the cathedral, there was a large-scale restoration of the interiors of the church, and museum staff developed the first part of a new permanent exhibition. All of this will be open to the public on the day of the church’s anniversary.

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12 July 2011

RIA-Novosti

http://ria.ru/photolents/20110712/388222552.html

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