Saint Basil’s Cathedral – Moscow – Russia

Saint Basil’s Cathedral – Moscow – Russia

The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat (Russian: Собор Покрова пресвятой Богородицы, что на Рву), popularly known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral (Russian: Собор Василия Блаженного), is a Russian Orthodox church erected on the Red Square in Moscow in 1555–61. Built on the order of Ivan IV of Russia to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, it marks the geometric center of the city and the hub of its growth since the 14th century. It was the tallest building in Moscow until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600.

The original building, known as “Trinity Church” and later “Trinity Cathedral”, contained eight side churches arranged around the ninth, central church of Intercession; the tenth church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local saint Vasily (Basil). In the 16th and the 17th centuries the church, perceived as the earthly symbol of the Heavenly City, was popularly known as the “Jerusalem” and served as an allegory of the Jerusalem Temple in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the Patriarch of Moscow and the tsar.

The building’s design, shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, has no analogues in Russian architecture: “It is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to fifteenth century … a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design.” The cathedral foreshadowed the climax of Russian national architecture in the 17th century.

The church has operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928. It was completely secularized in 1929 and, as of 2011, remains a federal property of the Russian Federation. The church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.
It is often mislabeled as the Kremlin due to its location on Red Square in immediate proximity of the Kremlin.

Structure

The small dome on the left marks the sanctuary of Basil the Blessed (1588).
Foundations, traditionally for medieval Moscow, were built of white stone, while the churches themselves were built of red brick (28×14×8 centimeters), then a relatively new material (the first attested brick building in Moscow, the new Kremlin Wall, was launched in 1485). Surveys of the structure showed that the basement level is perfectly aligned, indicating use of professional drawing and measurement, but each subsequent level becomes less and less regular. Restorators who replaced parts of the brickwork in 1954–55 discovered that the massive brick walls conceal an internal wooden frame running the whole height of the church. This frame, made of elaborately tied thin studs, was erected as a life-size spatial model of the future cathedral and was gradually enclosed in solid masonry.

The builders, fascinated by flexibility of the new technology, used brick as decorative medium inside and outside, leaving as much brickwork open as possible; when location required use of stone walls, they decorated it with brickwork pattern painted over stucco. A major novelty introduced by the church was the use of strictly “architectural” means of exterior decoration. Sculpture and sacred symbols employed by earlier Russian architecture are completely missing, floral ornaments are a later addition; instead, the church boasts a diversity of three-dimensional architectural elements executed in brick.

Naming

The building, originally known as “Trinity Church”, was consecrated on 12 July 1561, and was subsequently elevated to the status of a sobor (similar to Roman Catholic ecclesiastical basilica, but usually and incorrectly translated as “cathedral”). “Trinity”, according to tradition, refers to the easternmost sanctuary of Holy Trinity, while the central sanctuary of the church is dedicated to Intercession of Mary. Together with the westernmost sanctuary of Entry into Jerusalem, these sanctuaries form the main west–east axis (Christ, Mary, Holy Trinity), while other sanctuaries are dedicated to individual saints.

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