The main temple of St. Petersburg – Kazan Cathedral

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Getting into the Vatican for the first time on the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, many Petersburgers experience the feeling, most often described by the French word deja vu or in Russian: “I’ve already seen this somewhere.” And this is not surprising – the colonnade surrounding the building of the famous temple of Rome resembles, albeit very remotely, the slender rows of columns of the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

This St. Petersburg temple is rightfully considered the main Orthodox cathedral of the Northern capital, being also one of the largest and, in the opinion of many guests and residents of the city, the most beautiful.

An example of the classical architectural style, a monument to the military glory of Russian soldiers, the burial place of Field Marshal Kutuzov, the storage place of war trophies and keys from the cities taken by Russian troops, the Cathedral of St. Petersburg and the former Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism – all this is Kazan Cathedral.

Its influence on the history of St. Petersburg is so great that the temple gave its name to both Kazansky island in the Neva delta, and Kazanskaya street, and the bridge of the same name, which connects the Spassky and Kazansky islands through the Griboyedov canal in the Central district of the city.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral View of the Kazan Cathedral from Nevsky Prospect

A bit of history

Any St. Petersburg resident would say with great pleasure that it was the Kazan Cathedral that became the prototype of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, however, of course, in fact, everything happened exactly the opposite..

The cathedral in St. Petersburg was founded in 1801 on the site of the old court church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos, while the history of the Roman temple goes back over four hundred years. By the way, it was in this court church with a simple wooden dome, erected in 1737 in a magnificent baroque style, that Tsarevich Pavel Petrovich was married in 1773, this temple was also the place where many victories of the Russian army were celebrated, so that the Kazan Cathedral became a real successor to the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.

Emperor Paul I, who hoped to turn St. Petersburg into a new world religious center by holding a competition for projects to build a new cathedral on the site of the court church, hoped that the temple would become an almost exact copy of St. Peter’s Cathedral, but the autocrat’s hopes were not destined to come true.

Yes, at first glance there is a similarity, but the Kazan Cathedral, as hegumen Alexander (Fedorov), a descendant of the architect of the cathedral, notes, hospitably opens its “wings” – rows of slender columns – in front of visitors and pedestrians passing along Nevsky Prospekt, while the Roman temple, on the contrary, hides behind its colonnade, a slightly more rounded, almost closed shape.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral Colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

The competition for projects for the construction of the St. Petersburg church began in 1799; such eminent masters of that time as architects P. Gonzaga, D. Trombara, C. Cameron and J. Thomas de Thomon presented their works. However, Pavel Petrovich did not approve any of the projects proposed by the masters..

Only a year later, Count Alexander Sergeevich Stroganov brought to Emperor Paul I the project of his former serf, at that time little-known architect Andrei Nikiforovich Voronikhin. As a result, it was this project that was approved and in 1801, at the behest and with the personal presence of Alexander I, who had already taken the throne of his father, the laying of the first stone of the future cathedral took place..

The construction of the church on Nevsky Prospect took ten years, which is not too long for such large structures. Such a fast pace of construction was largely due to the vigorous activity of Andrei Voronikhin, who, according to contemporaries, literally lived at the construction site, personally developed projects for barges for delivering stone and controlled all stages of construction. For the former serf, who until then was only engaged in interior decoration of the Stroganov Palace (which belonged to his patron and now a branch of the Russian Museum) and the reconstruction of the Stroganov dacha, the construction of the Kazan Cathedral became a chance to realize his most ambitious project.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral Stroganov Palace, view from Nevsky Prospect

By the way, many believed that Voronikhin was the illegitimate son of Count Stroganov. Indeed, why else would a nobleman so patronize an unknown young man – send him abroad to study, hire the best teachers in icon painting and, in the end, give him freedom? Voronikhin’s great-great-great-great-nephew, father Alexander, refutes such assumptions. Well, couldn’t the count just discern the talent of the future architect and spare no money for its development??

Be that as it may, the Kazan Cathedral became the most famous project of Andrei Voronikhin, who died in 1814. After the completion of the construction, the emperor personally granted the architect the Order of St. Vladimir of the fourth degree, and after the consecration of the temple in honor of the revered list of the miraculous and revered icon of the Mother of God of Kazan, Voronikhin received the Order of St. Anne of the second degree and a life pension.

The construction of the cathedral cost the treasury 4.7 million rubles, and finishing work in the interior lasted until 1829, when the temple had already become a monument of military glory and a place for storing trophies of the war of 1812.

The columns and the facade of the Kazan Cathedral were faced with the so-called Pudozh stone, which was mined in the Gatchina region. They say that at first it was so soft that it could be easily cut with an ordinary knife, but over time it hardened. However, the Pudozh stone turned out to be very capricious to restoration technologies and caused a lot of inconvenience during subsequent repairs..

The first repair work was carried out in the Kazan Cathedral in 1844-1845, then in 1862-1865 work was carried out on the restoration of wall paintings and samples.

On January 18, 1921, Metropolitan Benjamin (Kazan) consecrated the so-called “cave” winter side-altar, which bears the name of the Holy Martyr Hermogen, the former Patriarch of Moscow. In general, after the revolution, the Kazan Cathedral, of course, did not escape the fate of numerous temples and churches that were plundered and became the property of the state. Thus, the interior of the cathedral’s premises was badly damaged during the requisition of valuables carried out in 1922, and in 1932 the temple was closed and renamed the Museum of Atheism and Religion.

Since the Kazan Cathedral was seriously damaged during the blockade of Leningrad from air raids and shelling, large-scale restoration work was carried out in 1964-1968 to renovate the building.

Divine services were not held in the Kazan Cathedral until 1991, only in 1994 the cross was raised over the dome again, and the full consecration of the temple was carried out in 1998.

Today Kazan Cathedral is the cathedral of the St. Petersburg Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, it received this status in 2000.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral Illumination of the Kazan Cathedral

Interesting facts and legends

There are many interesting facts and legends in the history of the Kazan Cathedral. Some of them were later confirmed, others, on the contrary, were debunked by historians.

For example, it is believed that Voronikhin, creating a project for the construction of the Kazan Cathedral, in order to emphasize the national character of the building, decided to give the dome the shape of the famous Monomakh hat. Whether this is so is not known for certain, but the external similarity is certainly visible.

One of the most “high-profile” legends of the building is associated with the burial of Kutuzov – since the field marshal died suddenly, while on one of the military roads in Silesia, in the small town of Bunzlau (now the Polish Boleslawiec), the authorities had to urgently resolve the issue of transporting the body home … The body of Mikhail Illarionovich was immediately embalmed, the road from Prussia took almost two months, Alexander the First decided to give the field marshal the highest honors and bury him in the Kazan Cathedral. After a while, a rumor appeared that Kutuzov’s heart rests separately – in the Tillendorf cemetery, just three kilometers from Bunzlau. Allegedly, dying, Kutuzov ordered to leave his heart in Prussia so that the Russian soldiers who fought in Silesia would know that the field marshal was still with them.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral Portrait of Field Marshal Kutuzov by R. M. Volkov

This rumor was so tenacious that in 1913, when the country celebrated the centenary of the death of Prince Kutuzov, at one of the meetings of the Military-Historical Society of Moscow seriously considered the question of returning the Field Marshal’s heart to his homeland. For over a century and a half, this version was supported by such solid sources as the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

It was only in 1933 that the rumor about the Prussian burial was dispelled. As you know, the Soviet government was not distinguished by great respect for ancient graves and Sergei Kirov, who at that time was the first secretary of the Leningrad Provincial Committee, instructed a specially created commission to open the sarcophagus and find out for sure whether the heart of the great commander was in place. The commission opened the sarcophagus and it turned out that the rumor still had some grounds – the field marshal’s heart was buried here, but separately from the body – in a cylindrical silver vessel. By the way, as those present testified, unlike the completely decayed body, the embalmed heart was perfectly preserved.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral The grave of M.I. Kutuzov in the Kazan Cathedral

Another interesting fact: since the authorities of the USSR liked to hide their actions from the people, the commission’s find was not officially announced, and even during the Second World War, Soviet soldiers who were in the vicinity of Bunzlau decided to give Kutuzov’s heart military honors, believing that it was at the local cemetery.

It was in the Kazan Cathedral in 1913 that the anniversary of the Romanov dynasty – the 300th anniversary of the family – was solemnly celebrated and a festive divine service was held. Unfortunately, the organizers of the celebrations did not manage to foresee that such a large number of people would come and 34 people died in the stampede (only according to the official version). Of course, rumor immediately saw this as a bad sign for the ruling dynasty, and this is exactly the rare case when she was right – before the events of 1917, the Romanovs did not have much.

The legend is also associated with the main shrine of the Kazan Cathedral – the revered copy of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Previously, it belonged to Tsarina Praskovya Fyodorovna, the widow of Tsar Ivan V, half-brother of Peter the Great, then inspired the people’s militia, led by Prince Pozharsky, and was kept in the court church of the Nativity of the Virgin. After the temple was closed in 1932 and turned into a museum, the shrine changed its “place of residence” many times and returned to the cathedral only in 2001. Some historians argue that the Soviet authorities sold the precious icon, and the current one is an ordinary copy with little value. Even the possible locations of the shrine were named – the Uniate temple in Fatima (Portugal) and even the house chapel of the Pope.

Only numbers

The height of the Kazan Cathedral is 71.5 meters, the width is 56.7 meters, the total length is 72.5 meters, and the length of each of the majestic wings of the colonnade is 42.7 meters.

The colonnade of the north facade consists of 96 columns.

Another 56 columns, made of pink Finnish granite, mined in the north of Karelia, with gilded capitals and Corinthian orders, are installed inside the temple. The weight of each column is about 30 tons, and the height is 10.7 meters.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral Interior of the central part of the Kazan Cathedral

The facing of the iconostasis of the main chapel took 40 pounds of silver, which was taken from the French and sent to Petersburg by the Don Ataman M.I. Platov. After the revolution, the silver iconostasis was lost, currently the facing is completely restored..

To build the cathedral, 11 private houses had to be demolished, which stood on Nevsky Prospekt until 1801.

The temple has three entrances: the northern one (from the side of Nevsky Prospekt), the main one, the western one (from Kazanskaya Street), and the southern one. Opposite the main entrance to the Kazan Cathedral, there is a small square, which is bounded by a semi-ring of a cast-iron grate about 171 meters long.

In 1813-1814, 107 trophy banners of the French army and standards of the defeated regiments of Napoleon’s army, as well as 93 keys to cities, fortresses and castles taken by the Russian army, and the staff of Marshal Davout were put on display to the public. In 1914, most of the military collection was transferred to the Moscow Historical Museum.

In 1837, in honor of the 25th anniversary of victory in the Patriotic War, monuments to Mikhail Kutuzov and Barclay de Tolly were erected in front of the Kazan Cathedral, and Alexander the First announced his desire to immortalize the image of military leaders back in 1818.

In 1893, the funeral service for the composer P.I.Tchaikovsky was held at the Kazan Cathedral.

The main temple of St. Petersburg - Kazan Cathedral Monument to M.B. Barclay de Tolly in front of the Kazan Cathedral

And finally, a very beautiful (albeit somewhat pessimistic) legend is associated with the empty pedestals located to the right and left of the main colonnade. In fact, this is due to the fact that Andrei Voronikhin’s project was never fully completed – according to his plan, these places were to be occupied by bronze figures of archangels (their plaster copies were made, which were completely dilapidated after a few years). The people believed that until a wise, reasonable, fair and honest politician appears in Russia, these pedestals will be so empty. As you can see, there are no such in our country yet..

But the Kazan Cathedral itself remains one of the most beautiful adornments of Nevsky Prospekt and the main temple of the Northern capital, causing admiration for its graceful columns, grandeur and unique aura.

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