Friday, October 24, 2014

Domes, Domes and More Domes

Probably one of the biggest changes that resulted from Khrushchev leaving office was the re-emergence of religious practices. This also opened opportunities for the restoration and reconstruction of historical places of worship, monasteries, convents, and rectories. And Orthodox churches are among the most beautiful, both inside and out. One of the questions that arises when visiting these sites is, ‘What is the difference between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church?’ There are literally hundreds of websites that talk about the differences in belief associated with Catholicism and with Orthodoxy, some with truly heated debates of the issues. The provides a rather succinct list without assigning value to either side. There isn’t quite as much vitriol about how the church governances are structured: the Catholic Church is headed by the Pope in Rome, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is headed by the Patriarch in St Petersburg (Leningrad). Although the Russian government has been accused as making the Russian Orthodoxy the ‘official religion’, we
saw all sorts of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.

There is a great deal of symbolism in the number and color of the domes of an ROC. One-come represents Jesus; the two-dome style represents Jesus and Mary; the three-dome arrangement signifies the persons of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a five-dome configuration denotes Jesus and the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; 13 domes represent Jesus and the Disciples. And what about the colors? Although not strictly assigned, a gold dome stands for the light of God and his divine nature; traditionally, black domes are a reminder of the suffering of Jesus and the martyrs; blue is associated with the "God bearer," or mother of Jesus, Mary; and white or silver is another symbol of the light of God but also symbolizes righteousness, purity and holiness. In any case, these domes are beautiful.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral doesn’t follow any of these rules. The Cathedral complex was
Art in Saint Basil's Cathedral
designed as ‘bonfire rising into the sky’ which is nothing like any other Russian architecture. It was originally known as Trinity Church (later Trinity Cathedral), containing eight side churches situated around the ninth, central Church of Intercession. In 1588 the tenth church was built over the grave of a local saint, Vasily (Basil), giving the Cathedral its name. The interior of the Cathedral is highly decorated, with alters depicting saints, sacraments, and other religious scenes. There are at least ten alters, each painted to reflect the church to which they belong. Also there is art in each dome; a saint, angel or deity looks down on the parishioners from that celestial height. The passageways and ceilings exterior to each of these rooms are adorned with Jacobean style flowers and designs in vivid colors. During Soviet supported atheism, Saint Basil’s was confiscated from the ROC and turned into a museum. Since 1929 it has been operated as a museum but in 1990 it became a part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, females don’t have to cover their heads upon entering. This is not true of other churches we visited.

Some of the most beautiful churches are on the grounds of the Kremlin. There are six churches within these grounds and when you see them all in one day, it’s very confusing
Cathedral of the Annunciation
trying to tell one from the other. Surprisingly, several were not designed by Russians but by an Italian commissioned by the Tsars. The Cathedral of the Annunciation has undergone much renovation throughout its life. Begun in about 1397 by the Grand Duke Vassily I, it was completely redone some 90 years later when Ivan the Great wanted something new. The masons he hired blended Greek and Russian styles into the design. In the 16th century Ivan the Terrible added four side chapels, two more domes, and gilded the lot. He was not allowed into the church because he married four times (three was the church’s limit), so a porch was built for him to worship under during the services (it’s a very posh porch). Since the Cathedral was the ‘family’ church of the Grand Dukes and Tsars, it was connected by passageways to the private quarters of the royal family.

Cathedral of
the Assumption
The Cathedral of the Assumption, (also called Cathedral of the Dormition) the oldest church in the Kremlin, is the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is where the Tsars, Grand Dukes and emperors were crowned and also the place of consecration of the Patriarchs, Metropolitans and Bishops. Begun in the mid-15th Century, it was finished by Bolognese architect, Aristotle Fioravanti after an earthquake completely destroyed it. Fioravanti began work quickly and the church was built and consecrated in a year; this was the fastest any such structure had ever been completed. The church has five gold cupolas, representing Jesus and the four Gospels; there are huge frescoes on the east and west sides. It is open to the public, but unless you attend a service you may not be able to visit the church.

There is no doubt that the Cathedral of the Archangel was designed by Italian architect, Alionzo Lamberti da Montanyano, (Alevisio Novi in Russian). Overlaying
Cathedral of the Archangel
Renaissance styles onto traditional Russian forms, Novi created a highly original structure. Decorative details unusual in Russian architecture include cornices, pillars with capitals, and a false arcade. The Archangel Michael was the patron saint of the Muscovy rulers in the 1300s, thus Ivan the Great had this Cathedral built to house burial vaults of the Russian royalty. Within the cathedral is a 14th Century icon showing the Archangel Michael in full armor. Buried here are the forefathers Romanovs, Ivan the Terrible and his sons, as well as other luminaries from Russian history.

Church of the Disposition
of the Robe
The Church of the Deposition of the Robe is a small edifice that was once the private chapel of the Moscow Metropolitans and Patriarchs. Its name refers to the robe of the Virgin Mary. This relic supposedly saved Istanbul (Constantinople) from invaders on several occasions. While the relic is not housed here, there is a Russian icon that was used in the same manner to protect Moscow; that icon is in this church. Currently, there is an exhibition of Russian folk art that includes early icons designed to be taken on trips by priests.

The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles is part the Patriarch's Palace, built by Patriarch Nikon (1652 - 1658). Although the atrium of the church led directly to the Patriarch's stone cell, the Cathedral was the grand entrance to the Palace which rivaled the Terem Palace in affluence and extravagance. The outside of the Cathedral is rather plain, but inside there is a five-tiered iconostasis along with 12th Century images of Peter and Paul.
Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles
Church of the Nativity
From the 1300s through the 1800s there were eleven small, ‘family’ churches; of these, the Church of the Nativity is the oldest remaining. It, along with the Chapel of Lazarus, was built by Princess Evdokiya to honor the Russian forces that defeated the Mongol Horde. The church was generally used by female servants and occasionally by some of the royalty. Unfortunately, the Church and Chapel were neglected and much of their art was lost. These cupolas are my favorite in the Kremlin simply because they are so colorful and there are so many of them.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior has several remarkable stories associated with it and while all are basically the same, it’s the details that lend interest. One thing you notice when you enter an Orthodox Church is that there are no
Cathedral of Christ the Savior
pews, benches or chairs; people stand throughout the ceremony, coming and going as they wish. The only people sitting are the choir and the officiants; they have to be there for the entire service, so they need to sit. This Cathedral is a huge place with one central area bounded by the iconostasis on one side and six pillars that hold the dome. Our tour was of the rebuilt Cathedral, not the one originally consecrated in 1883. The first Cathedral was on the site of the Alekseevskiy Convent, near the banks of the Moscow River. With the rise of communism, it became a target of the Soviet government and was leveled. However, the faithful confiscated (stole) as many of the icons as they could, made intricate drawings of the interior decorations and hid these artifacts away before the destruction of the church. Once the rubble was cleared away, foundations were poured for a monumental building on the same grand scale as the Seven Sisters. Now, depending who you read, the foundations were never stable and continuously cracked thus the building was never built (this was
One of the Seven Sisters
caused by Divine intervention); or World War II began and once ended, Khrushchev was not interested in the project. Since this area still belonged to the government, it was decided that the site should house the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool. Again, either the Hand of God or the peccadilloes of man led to a multitude of deaths in the pool and it was closed. In 2000, the reconstructed Cathedral of Christ the Savior was opened to its large congregation. Although you do have to be part of a tour to visit the observation deck, we were allowed to see the church (and photography isn’t allowed) and participate in the service; there is a basement museum with traveling exhibits as well as lower chapels that you are free to wander through on your own, as well.

Blue topped chapel at entrance to Red Square

There are many other very cool churches in Moscow that visitors are welcome to see. You must, however, remain quiet, cover your head if you’re female, and only take photos if you ask permission.

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