Three stages in the history of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Recommendation points

Exactly 80 years ago – December 5, 1931 – an explosion thundered in Moscow, which destroyed one of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in the capital – the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. On this day, the capital for more than six decades lost one of its main attractions, which, along with the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Alexander Garden, occupied a very special place in the history of Moscow.

Three stages in the history of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior
Shalaev Alexey. Cathedral of Christ the Savior. 2005

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is a building whose history is truly unique, filled with dramatic events and is an important and significant page in the chronicle of the capital itself.

In general, the history of the main Orthodox church in Russia can be divided into three stages: construction (mid-19th century), destruction (from 1931 to 1994) and restoration (from 1994).

Construction of the Temple

The idea of ​​building a large church on the territory of Moscow came to Emperor Alexander the First right after the last soldier of the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte left Russia in 1812.

It has always been customary in our country to celebrate the victory in the war by erecting churches and cathedrals. For example, Yaroslav the Wise built St. Sophia of Kiev immediately after the victory over the Pechenegs, many cathedrals were built after the victory over the hordes of Mamai on the Kulikovo field, the Cathedral of the Intercession on the Moat (now known as the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed) was erected by Ivan the Terrible in honor of the victory over the Kazan Khanate, and the Cathedral in the name of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God reminds of the expulsion of the Polish-Lithuanian invaders from Moscow in the 17th century.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

Therefore, signing the manifesto on December 25, 1812, in which it was said: “In preserving the eternal memory of that unparalleled zeal, loyalty and love for the Faith and for the Fatherland, by which the Russian people exalted themselves in these difficult times, and in commemoration of Our gratitude to the Providence of God , who saved Russia from the death that threatened her, We set out to create a church in the name of the Savior Christ in the First See of Our Moscow City, a detailed decree of which will be announced in due time “, – Alexander the First continued the ancient traditions of the Russian autocrats.

However, until the moment when the emperor’s idea came true, many more years passed and the temple had to be completed by the brother of Alexander the First – Nicholas the First, then his son Alexander the Second, and the consecration of the cathedral took place only with the grandson of the winner of Napoleon – Alexander the Third.

The initial project for the construction of the Temple was approved in 1814, and the first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1817. Interestingly, such famous architects of that era as D. Quarenghi, A. Melnikov, A. Voronikhin, A. Vitberg, V. Stasov took part in the first competition for the design of the cathedral. And the sovereign chose from more than 20 options the project of the unknown, 28-year-old Karl Magnus Vitberg, who was not even an architect, but worked as an artist, was a freemason and, moreover, a Lutheran. To win the competition, Vitberg converted to Orthodoxy, and his original design was significantly different from the final construction.

The young artist designed the largest structure, the triplicity of which was supposed to symbolize the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It was assumed that the Temple will have an underground part in the form of a parallelepiped, an above-ground cruciform part and a round top. It was also supposed to immortalize the names of all the soldiers who died in the Patriotic War of 1812, to establish two triumphal columns, the material for the creation of which was to be the melted cannons of the French army. The temple was supposed to become the tallest building in the world at that time – the height of the cathedral, according to Vitberg’s project, was supposed to be 237 meters, the ground part was planned to be surrounded by colonnades, the length of each of which was to be 604 meters.

By the way, the Vorobyovy Gory were chosen as the site of the construction, according to Alexander the First – the “crown of Moscow”, the only place where, according to Vitberg’s idea, such a colossal structure could be located.

The emperor really liked the artist’s project, more than 16 million rubles were allocated from the state treasury for the construction, in addition, huge funds were collected in the form of donations.

The construction of the Temple on Vorobyovy Gory began on October 12, 1817, on the fifth anniversary of the French army’s departure from Moscow. The ceremony of laying the first stone was held in the presence of the Tsar, in a very solemn atmosphere and ended with a procession of the cross. The first few years, construction went on at a fast pace, up to 20 thousand serfs worked on the construction site at the same time.

However, Alexander the First still made a mistake, entrusting Karl Magnus Vitberg to manage the construction – the artist was an honest man, but too inexperienced and trusting, and the funds allocated from the treasury began to be simply plundered by contractors.

For 7 years, it was not possible to complete even the first part of the construction, problems with soil subsidence began – Vorobyovy Gory turned out to be a place, although beautiful, but too unreliable. As a result, after the death of Alexander I, his brother, the new emperor Nicholas II, was forced to stop construction altogether, and Vitberg was put on trial for embezzlement of state funds..

A commission specially created by Nikolai the First, which included well-known Moscow engineers and earthwork specialists, recognized that the construction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the slopes of Vorobyovy Hills according to Vitberg’s design was impossible. Engineers warned that numerous springs and sandy soils could lead to foundation settlements and such a large building could eventually collapse..

View of Vorobyovy Gory from Luzhnetskaya Embankment

The sovereign listened to the unanimous opinion of experts and a second competition was announced for a new project of the Temple, and the Alekseevsky Monastery was chosen as the site for its new construction. Architects K. Ton, A. Tatishchev, F. Shestakov, A. Kutepov, I. Tamansky took part in the second competition for the construction of the cathedral. Konstantin Ton became the winner.

It should be mentioned that the project of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for Karl Magnus Vitberg became both the main triumph in life and the main tragedy – the court found him guilty of embezzlement and sent him to Vyatka, under police supervision. Returning to St. Petersburg in 1840, the architect learned that his project had been finally rejected and the construction of the cathedral had begun according to a new plan and in another place. After such disappointment, Vitberg still built Orthodox churches in Tiflis and Perm, but died in obscurity and poverty..

Interestingly, according to Witberg’s project, the names of all soldiers who died in the war of 1812 were to be immortalized in the Temple, and the Ton’s project provided for the mention only of the names of officers who distinguished themselves in hostilities.

By the way, the place for the new construction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was personally chosen by Emperor Nicholas I – on the banks of the Moscow River, not far from the Kremlin. In 1837, the sovereign established a special Commission for the construction of a new Temple. The Alekseevsky Monastery and the Church of All Saints, located in the place chosen by the emperor, were destroyed, and the monastery itself was transferred to Sokolniki.

A rather gloomy legend is connected with the destruction of the Alekseevsky Monastery, a 17th century monument: one of the nuns predicted that the new Temple, erected on the ruins of the monastery, would not last even 50 years. Looking ahead, it can be noted that the prophecy came true – 48 years after the consecration, the Temple was blown up.

Reproduction of the painting “Alekseevsky Monastery at the Prechistensky Gate” by an unknown artist

The ceremonial laying of the first stone of the new construction took place in August 1839, on the anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, the stone for the foundation was transported from the Sparrow Hills, a gilded plaque with the names of all the members of the commission was installed on it, the ceremony was attended by Metropolitan Philaret and the emperor with the great dukes. Active construction began on September 10, 1839, this time almost all funds were allocated only from the treasury, the donations were not at all as large as at the beginning of the first construction.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior took 44 years to build and cost the state over 15 million rubles. The vaulting of the large dome was completed in 1849, and the scaffolding around the building was removed only in 1860. For more than 20 years, work on the interior decoration of the Temple continued: such famous artists as V.I.Surikov, V.P. Vereshchagin, I.N. Kramskoy and other artists from the Imperial Academy of Arts worked on the painting. The decoration of the outer walls of the temple with high-relief statues of saints was entrusted to such famous sculptors as A.A. Ivanov, A.V. Loganovsky and N.A. Romazanov.

In 1880, the temple received the official name – Cathedral in the name of Christ the Savior, the staff of the clergy and the clergy was drawn up, and an estimate for the maintenance of the cathedral was approved, which amounted to 66,850 rubles annually. By 1881, work on the construction of the embankment and the area around the Temple was completely completed, the installation of external lanterns was completed.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1881

On May 26, the Day of the Ascension of the Lord, in 1883, a solemn ceremony of consecration of the Temple was held, which was attended by Emperor Alexander III and his family. The consecration was conducted by Metropolitan Ioanniky of Moscow, all the flowers of the Russian clergy were present, a solemn procession and festive fireworks took place. By the way, on the same day, in the Kremlin, the coronation of the All-Russian Throne of Emperor Alexander III took place..

The interior of the Temple, late 19th century

On June 12 of the same year, the ceremony of consecration of the chapel in the name of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker took place, and on July 8, 1883, the second chapel of the cathedral was consecrated – in the name of St. Alexander Nevsky. Since that time, regular services began in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior..

The temple immediately became an important center of the religious and cultural life of the whole country: it was in this cathedral that Tchaikovsky’s “Overture of 1812” was first performed, which was written by the composer to commemorate the victory of Russia in the Patriotic War with Napoleon, the choir of the Temple, organized in 1901, was considered the best in country, it sounded the voices of Konstantin Rozov and Fyodor Chaliapin.

A rich library was collected in the cathedral, excursions were regularly conducted and such significant events for the country as the 500th anniversary of the death of Sergius of Radonezh, the 100th anniversary of victory in the Patriotic War of 1812, in 1913 the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanovs were celebrated, the opening of the monuments to Alexander III and Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol.

And the main patronal holiday of the cathedral – the Nativity of Christ – before the 1917 revolution was celebrated by Orthodox Moscow as the most important holiday of Victory in the war of 1812.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, 1909

It was in the Temple, in the alarming 1917, that the Local Assembly took place, at which for the first time in the last 200 years the Patriarch of Russia was elected – His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, who is now canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Cathedral interior, 1902

Since 1902, general education courses for workers have been operating in the Temple; during the First World War, donations were collected in the cathedral for Russian soldiers, refugees and the wounded..

In 1918, state support for the Temple was completely stopped, and later it existed only at the expense of the parishioners, by the decision of Patriarch Tikhon, the Brotherhood of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was created, which aimed to preserve the Orthodox shrine.


The brotherhood did not manage to defend the Temple – in 1931, on July 13, at a meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the USSR, chaired by Mikhail I. Kalinin, it was decided to demolish the cathedral. The reason for this decision was the construction of a colossal monument to the new, Soviet Russia – the Palace of Soviets: “The place for the construction of the Palace of Soviets is to choose the area of ​​the Cathedral of Christ in Moscow with the demolition of the temple itself and the necessary expansion of the area.”.

The plan for the reconstruction of Moscow was adopted on June 2, 1931, so that at the meeting only the official approval of the decision took place, which was a completely logical continuation of the anti-religious policy of the Soviet state. Indeed, the massive destruction of churches that took place throughout the country in those years could not but affect the main Orthodox symbol of the capital – the Cathedral of Christ the Savior..

The explosion that destroyed the cathedral thundered on December 5, 1931. The walls of the Temple, almost 3.2 meters thick, resisted after the first explosion, so the demolition team had to repeat their work.

December 5, 1931, explosion of the Temple

The explosions were heard a few blocks from the cathedral and really shocked Muscovites, not only Orthodox, but simply considered the Temple an important part of the history of the white stone.

The poet Nikolai Arnold wrote a verse that became an expression of public opinion on the destruction of the Temple:

Goodbye keeper of Russian glory,
The magnificent temple of Christ,
Our golden-headed giant,
That shone over the capital …
… There is nothing sacred for us!
And isn’t it a shame,
What’s the “cast gold cap”
I lay down on the block under the ax.

Only the dismantling of the ruins of the cathedral took almost a year and a half. After the place was cleared, work began on the construction of the Palace of Congresses, which was to become a real masterpiece of Soviet architecture.

Palace of Congresses project

Of course, the statue of Lenin was supposed to crown the giant tower of the Palace. This decision – the construction of a communist “temple” on the site of the Orthodox, was very symbolic, the project of the new palace was approved by Stalin personally. According to the project of B. M. Iofan, who won the competition announced by the Soviet government, the building with a height of 420 meters was supposed to become the tallest in the world, the main administrative building of the USSR, the center of the so-called “New Moscow”.

Comparison of the size of the blown up Temple and the planned Palace of the Soviets

The construction of the Palace of Congresses began in 1937, the workers managed to dig a huge foundation pit, and the construction of the foundation began, which was complicated by difficult soil and quicksand. Until 1941, the construction of the foundation was completed, the designer Nikolai Nikitin was responsible for the work, who made all the necessary calculations.

The Great Patriotic War thwarted plans for the construction of the Palace of Congresses, but many historians believe that the main reason for freezing the project was Stalin’s decision to abandon the construction of new symbols of power and keep more traditional landmarks. Proof of this is the history of the House of Soviets in Leningrad, built on Moskovsky Prospekt. As a result, a military institute was opened in the building, while the central authorities remained in the Smolny Institute and the Mariinsky Palace..

During the defense of Moscow, the metal structures of the future Palace of the Soviets were melted down into anti-tank hedgehogs and any work on the construction of the building was stopped.

Officially, the authorities announced their refusal to build the Palace only at the end of the 1950s; in 1957-1959, a competition was held for projects of a new administrative building, the same Vorobyovy Gory were chosen as the place for the construction of which. And on the site of the foundation pit, dug back in 1937, in 1960 there was a swimming pool “Moscow”, the construction of which to the project of architect Dmitry Chechulin began in 1958.

Swimming pool “Moscow”

Orthodox residents of the capital have repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with the construction of an outdoor pool on the site of the shrine, there was even a saying: “There was a temple, then – trash, and now – disgrace.”.

Swimming pool “Moscow” shortly before demolition


The public movement for the restoration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior began to operate in the late 1980s, after the beginning of perestroika.

In February 1990, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church blessed the restoration of the shrine, and on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, on December 5, 1990, a granite “Zakladnoy” stone was installed on the site of the future construction site. The fund that collected funds for the construction of the cathedral was founded in 1992, according to the decree of President Boris Yeltsin “On the creation of a fund for the revival of Moscow”, in the list of objects of which the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was also included.

Already in 1994, the restoration of the Temple began. It is interesting that during the construction the foundations of the Palace of Soviets were used, the construction of which became a formal reason for the demolition of the cathedral. His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia was elected head of the Public Supervisory Council for the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

The initial project for the restoration of the main church in Moscow was drawn up by the restorer Alexei Denisov, however, as is often the case in our country and has already happened during the construction of the Temple in the 19th century, the construction site was surrounded by rumors, accusations of corruption by the authorities, waste of funds donated for the construction and scandals.

As a result, Denisov left the project and the famous sculptor Zurab Tseretelli took over the leadership of the restoration of the Temple, who deviated from the project approved by the Moscow authorities. In particular, not marble, but bronze high-relief compositions were installed (the originals left over from the destroyed Temple were preserved in the Donskoy Monastery), instead of a gilded roof, a coating based on titanium nitride was installed.

One of the fragments of the destroyed Temple kept in the Donskoy Monastery

Appeared in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and such modern attributes as an underground two-level parking, designed for 305 cars and a car wash.

Modern view of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior

On January 7, 1996, a solemn laying of the last bricks took place in the wall of the main entrance of the cathedral, which was attended by Patriarch Alexy II, Boris Yeltsin and Yuri Luzhkov.

On August 19, 1996, on the big Orthodox holiday – the day of the Transfiguration, Patriarch Alexy II consecrated the lower Transfiguration Church and its main throne and the first liturgy took place. After that, regular services began in the Temple, the interior decoration of which was not yet completed, services were held every Sunday and on holidays.

On September 7, 1997, during the celebration of the 850th anniversary of Moscow, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior became the center of celebrations, a prayer service was held on the square in front of the cathedral, after which the patriarch consecrated the walls of the Cathedral.

In 1999, the construction of the upper part of the cathedral was completed, and already on August 19 of the same year, it was in the Temple that the canonization of the royal family, shot by the Bolsheviks in 1918, took place. At one time, in the former cathedral, Nicholas II, together with his family, solemnly celebrated the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanovs and it was in the restored Temple that the last Russian emperor was canonized.

Artists under the leadership of Zurab Tseretelli began painting the cathedral in April 1999, and in December the interior decoration of the Temple was fully completed..

Interior of the Temple, 2009

Since December 31, 1999, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior has been open to all believers and those wishing to see firsthand the largest Orthodox church in the Russian Church, capable of accommodating up to 10 thousand people at a time.

Only in 2010 was the replacement of the plastic medallions in the tympans of kokoshniks temporarily installed before the consecration of the cathedral with bronze ones. Protodeacon of the temple Alexander Ageikin noticed that in modern conditions, given the current ecology of the capital, white-stone medallions, created in the 19th century from special, rare marble, cannot serve for a long time, so it was decided to install bronze medallions, which will be the main difference between the restored Temple and the destroyed predecessor.

Such bronze medallions and bronze high reliefs instead of marble ones completely contradict the historical project of Konstantin Ton. Experts say that the restored Temple became not an exact, but a conditional external copy of the cathedral destroyed in 1931.

Bronze Temple Sculptures

The restored Temple hosts the most ambitious divine services in the country, it was here that the funeral service for Patriarch Alexy II, President Boris Yeltsin, singer Lyudmila Zykina, cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, choreographer Igor Moiseyev, actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Soviet writer and Russian writer Mikhonov were performed here. The new Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill was elected in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Easter service, 2011

Currently, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior is the property of Moscow, the city government receives income from the operation of individual commercial components of the complex and manages the building. In 2004, the transfer of the cathedral to the permanent and gratuitous use of the Russian Orthodox Church was announced, and the Board of Trustees of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was also created..

In addition, the cathedral has the status of a courtyard of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, there is a Museum that belongs to the Museum of the History of Moscow.

Rate article
Tips on any topic from experts
Add comment

By clicking the "Submit comment" button, I consent to the processing of personal data and accept privacy policy