The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is the highest orthodox temple in the world and the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russians. It is the ideal place to attend an Orthodox Mass or to climb its domes and admire a beautiful panorama of Moscow. The history of this cathedral is one in which reality surpasses fiction. Do you want to know why? Keep reading and you will find out.
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The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of Moscow is the most important cathedral in Moscow, even before the Cathedral of St. Basil, with a unique and bizarre history that dates back to the nineteenth century and still continues to this day. In addition, it is the highest orthodox temple in the world.
Its official name is Cathedral Temple of the Christ the Saviour (the Redeemer) of the Patriarch of Moscow. In fact, it is the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russians, the highest representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Cyril I of Moscow, who has been there from February 1, 2009.
The location of the temple in Moscow is really centric, near the Kremlin and next to the Moskva River, in a magnificent surrounding. It is a must-visit site if you are in Moscow, both in its exteriors and interiors. Its style is the so-called Neo-Russian and its Byzantine architecture. It was inspired, saving the distances, in the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), located in Istanbul, Turkey, the former Byzantine Empire.
Also, many later churches were inspired on the architecture of this Cathedral, as a kind of a Temple among Temples.
1. The first Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of Moscow
The Cathedral’s history begins in 1812, after the victory of Russian troops over Napoleon’s French army.
Tsar Alexander I wanted a temple to be erected in Moscow, with the name of Christ the Saviour, in honor of those who fought and died in the Patriotic War of 1812, as a tribute and as a gesture of thanks to the sacrifice of the Russian people. It was also erected as a historical monument. For this, the Tsar signed a manifesto expressing his gratitude to Divine Providence.
However, after some historical ups and downs and circumstances inherent in the works and designs, it was not until 1839, already in the time of Tsar Nicholas I, when the first stone was laid.
The temple was commissioned to the prestigious and trained architect Konstantin Ton, a native of St. Petersburg, after other projects that didn’t materialize. He tried to capture the Russian national tradition in the field of ecclesiastical buildings on a large scale. It was built for almost 44 years, between 1839 and 1883, when it was completed and opened to religious worship.
Thus, on May 26th, 1883, preceding the coronation of Tsar Alexander III, the temple was consecrated for the first time.
As an interesting fact, the largest dome of the Cathedral was gilded with a new technique of those times: gold electroplating.
In this photo you can see the appearance of the cathedral in the summer of 1931 before being demolished:
2. From a cathedral to the world’s largest skyscraper
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, which included religious persecution, the closing and demolition of temples, as well as Stalin’s rise to power, he ordered that the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour be demolished with explosives. Such barbarity took place in 1931 and there are graphic testimonials of the explosion:
On the same site that Stalin projected, for the glory of the USSR, the Palace of the Soviets, a sumptuous mega-building, was destined to be the tallest building in the world, with 415 meters high, plus a statue of Lenin of another 100 meters, which never came to see the light, despite the works being initiated. Another proof of its magnitude is that it would have had an auditorium for 21,000 people.
Later, between the 40s and 50s, the Seven Sisters were built in Moscow, the seven large skyscrapers that were part of the Stalinist architecture, and which are still standing.
Having demolished the Cathedral in 1931, it took almost a year and a half to dismantle the remains after the explosion. It was not until 1937 when the works of the Palace of the Soviets, interrupted by the German invasion of 1941 during the Second World War, were undertaken. The colossal building never saw the light, largely due to lack of funds. Part of the Cathedral’s marble was used later for the nearest stations of the Moscow metro.
3. From skyscrapers to the world’s largest pool
Later, in 1958, during the government of Nikita Khrushchev, a gigantic outdoor swimming pool, the largest in the world, with hot water and 129 meters in diameter, was erected in the same place. It was open all year. The Moskva Pool subsisted until 1994, date in which the site where it was located had to return to its origins.
4. The Cathedral reconstruction: a return to its origins
Despite criticism in 1965 for the destruction of the cathedral made by the first Soviet astronaut (and first human being to travel to outer space in 1961), Yuri Gagarin, it was not until the late 1980s, when important members of the society and the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow capital met to promote the reconstruction (or recreation, better said) of the temple.
The initiative had the support of the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, and also of the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and in the early 90s, as well as with the full blessing of the Russian Orthodox Church, significant public funds would be collected, but also the contributions of other private funds or donations also helped. It is estimated that almost one million Muscovites donated their money.
However, there were also controversies over its high budget in the midst of the economic crisis. It is estimated that almost 200 million dollars came from public funds.
The new Cathedral would be based on the original criterion and project of Konstantin Ton, whenever possible, adapted to the most advanced technology of the late Twentieth century, and built much faster than in the Nineteenth century.
The works began in 1995 and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was consecrated again in the year 2000, after its destruction in 1931, in a grand ceremony held on August 19 by Patriarch Alexis II, coinciding with the Day of Transfiguration.
As a place of worship of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is worth mentioning the funeral of Boris Yeltsin, in 2007, the first State funeral since Tsar Alexander III in 1894.
In addition, it is also a place of pilgrimage. It is estimated that every year more than a million people visit the cathedral to venerate the relics of St. Nicholas of Bari, patron of Russia, from the Italian city with the same name.
5. What to see in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of Moscow
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour stands out for its stone facade and white marble, with four columns, as well as its five golden domes (with Orthodox cross included), the highest of which reaches 103 meters.
They are visible and prominent, from many points of the city, following the Byzantine models, and it has capacity for around 10,000 people.
You can travel it in less than an hour, though this will depend on your love of history and religious landmarks.
In the interior decoration of this majestic temple, you can find granite and stones pieces of all colors and possible tones. Also, the emphasis in made on the icons, the choirs and the belfries. Naturally, you can’t miss the superb iconostasis.
In addition, the temple is divided into several chapels and galleries, along with the Cathedral, which has portals of varying size. I highly recommended to visit to the Church of the Transfiguration.
Different spaces of the cathedral recall the Patriotic War of 1812 in their images and sculptures, and those who gave their lives for Russia.
Thanks to Yandex Maps, it is possible to visit the cathedral inside:
6. Entrances and hours
You can get to the cathedral by walking around 20-25 minutes from Red Square. Also by metro: by taking Line 1 (red) and getting to Kropotkinskaya station.
Keep in mind that when entering the temple:
- The entrance to the temple is free. Also, in some times of the year, like the beginning of June, it is more difficult to visit because it is full of pilgrims.
- Guided tours are organized from the cathedral itself, explaining its history and its different chapels, and it also allows access to the cathedral museum and the viewpoint, located about 40 meters away, from which you can have a beautiful panoramic view of the Kremlin and the Moskva River. The price of these visits for foreign tourists is 600 rubles per person for groups of 10 people and 1,300 rubles per person for groups of less than 4 people. Prior reservation is required through the numbers +7 (495) 637-29-67 and +7 (495) 637-28-47. For more information on the guided tours, you can visit: http://fxxc.ru/excursion/ (in Russian). For more information you can write to this information email: [email protected].
- Opening hours: usually from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., though in summer it usually closes later. It is best to check the official website: http://new.xxc.ru/kontakty. Keep in mind that there may be access restrictions during celebrations or religious services.
- Tourist information: in May 2017, a tourist information center in Moscow was opened on the outer esplanade of the cathedral. It opens every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
This cathedral is an ideal place if you want to attend an Orthodox religious ceremony. In the following link you can get to know the religious services hours of this cathedral: http://new.xxc.ru/bogosluzheniya (in Russian, but you can use your browser’s automatic translator).
7. Rules that you must know before visiting the Cathedral
As in other temples of its importance, and out of respect for the religious tradition, it is necessary to observe some important rules to access the Cathedral:
- Clothing: Men can’t enter with shorts. Women are advised to wear a headscarf or veil over their heads (take it in your bag just in case). The shoulders have to be covered, both men and women. It is not advisable to wear clothing with cleavages or mini-skirts. At the entrance there is a person who controls the clothing and who performs security control.
- Masses: visiting an Orthodox temple in a touristy way and wandering around it during a liturgical celebration is in very bad taste. The liturgy is very silent, meditative, concentrated and ritual, so freedom of movement is very restricted. Nor should you forget that the faithful must always stand together during the celebration.
- Photographs: taking pictures inside are not allowed.
In February 2012, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour made news in the media around the world after three women from the feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, as part of their protest against the re-election of Vladimir Putin, entered the cathedral, made the sign of the cross, bowed before the altar, and began to interpret a song. A minute later they were arrested by guards and later sentenced to two years in prison.
In summary, the visit to the Cathedral is essential for its high artistic, religious and architectural value. Also because of its location and its history, you can’t miss the visit to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of Moscow.