Christ the Savior Cathedral (Moscow)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Christ the Savior Cathedral

The Christ the Savior Cathedral ( Russian Храм Христа́ Спаси́теля  / scientific transliteration Chram Christa Spasitelja ) is a cathedral in the Russian capital Moscow . It is considered the central church of the Russian Orthodox Church and, at 103 meters, is one of the highest Orthodox sacred buildings in the world .

The cathedral, which stands on the left bank of the Moscow River to the west of the Kremlin , was originally built in 1883, destroyed during the Stalin dictatorship in 1931, and rebuilt largely true to the original from 1995 to 2000 .


First draft

The history of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior began in the early 19th century. The reason for its construction was the victory of Russia over Napoléon Bonaparte in the so-called Patriotic War of 1812. With the construction of a monumental Orthodox cathedral, which should overshadow all previous Russian church buildings, the then Tsar Alexander I wanted to express his gratitude for express the hard and costly victory achieved and at the same time demonstrate the power and the overwhelming size of the Russian Empire . The construction of churches as a token of gratitude for historical victories of Russia was a centuries-old tradition in the Tsarist Empire: For example, the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square was built around 1625 on the occasion of the expulsion of the Polish-Lithuanian occupiers; Ivan the Terrible had St. Basil's Cathedral , also located on Red Square, built in memory of his victory over the Kazan Khanate .

Because of the desired monumentality of the new cathedral, it was initially planned to erect it on the 70-meter-high Sparrow Hills , so that the cathedral should be visible from practically everywhere within Moscow. An ideas competition was held in 1813 for the design of the church, which was ultimately won by Alexander Witberg (1787–1855), a young and hitherto unknown painter and architect of Swedish descent. His design envisaged a church building with extensive column-supported portals and a height of almost 250 meters, the dome of which was to be reminiscent of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and the Kazan Cathedral of St. Petersburg completed in 1811 . All those who died in the war of 1812 were to find their final resting place under the portals of the cathedral.

In October 1817 the foundation stone was laid for the church. However, Witberg's design could not be realized. On the one hand, the building site on the Sparrow Hills proved in retrospect to be too soft and unstable for a building of this size; on the other hand, Witberg was accused in 1826 of infidelity in the procurement of the building materials and, after a lengthy process, was banished to Vyatka in 1835 . Construction work on the Sparrow Hills ceased in the late 1820s.

Second draft and completion

The construction project for a cathedral in memory of the victory over Napoleon was pursued after the failure of the first project. 1832 the renowned Russian-German architect presented Konstantin Thon (1794-1881) a new design for the church the Tsar Nicholas I in front. The project envisaged a site for the cathedral directly on the left bank of the Moscow River and in almost the immediate vicinity of the Kremlin. Architecturally, the new design differed considerably from the old one: the cathedral was supposed to tie in with the traditional Russian- Byzantine construction method for orthodox sacred buildings and thus blend in harmoniously with the overall image of Moscow's city center.

The Cathedral of the Savior on a photograph from 1903

On April 10, 1832, the Tsar approved Thon's draft. Since there was a convent on the building site at that time, the start of construction was delayed by a few years. Only after the monastery had been moved to the suburb of Sokolniki and its old buildings demolished, the foundation stone was laid on September 10, 1839 on the banks of the Moscow River. The construction, which had cost up to 15 million rubles in total, was financed both with funds from the state budget and through numerous private donations from believers. Due to the high complexity of the design and the difficult geological conditions, it took 44 years from the laying of the foundation stone to the completion of the church. In the course of the construction work, around 100,000 m³ of building ground had to be excavated for the foundation. A total of 40 million bricks were needed for the foundation walls of the cathedral .

The solemn inauguration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was originally planned for 1881, as the cathedral was largely completed by then. However, the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in March of that year prevented the ceremony. The inauguration took place two years later, together with the coronation of his successor, Alexander III. , on May 26, 1883. She was accompanied by fireworks and bells from all Moscow churches.

From inauguration to destruction

Nine months before the inauguration, on August 20, 1882, Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture was premiered with great success in the building . Since its inauguration, the cathedral has been the center of Russian Orthodox life in Moscow. Church services and ceremonies were held there on special occasions, for example in 1912 on the 100th anniversary of the victory over Napoleon and in 1913 on the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty's rule .

The monument to Alexander III.

After the death of Alexander III. In 1894 the Russian Orthodox Church decided to dedicate a monument to him as the tsar at whose time the cathedral was inaugurated and to erect it in front of the cathedral building. For this purpose, donations were collected in the then record amount of almost 2.5 million rubles. On May 30, 1912, parallel to the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the victory over France, the monument was unveiled in front of the cathedral on the side of the Moskva River. The monument, designed by Moscow architect Alexander Pomerantsev (1849–1918), showed the tsar sitting on the throne, surrounded by crowned, bronze double-headed eagles, the symbol of the national coat of arms of the Russian Empire. The building, which was supposed to symbolize the mightiness and invincibility of the tsarist rule, only survived six years: in the summer of 1918 it was dismantled by the Bolsheviks, who came to power during the October Revolution in 1917, as an undesirable status symbol of the tsarist empire.

The cathedral was blown up in 1931

The cathedral itself initially remained in existence after the revolution, after it was forcibly taken over in 1922 by the so-called Renovationskirche , a schismatic movement of the Russian Orthodox Church that supported the new rulers . The fate of the church was finally sealed a few years later, after the state power, with the approval of the party and state leader Josef Stalin , had the monumental Palace of the Soviets built on the site of the cathedral . Unlike the Cathedral of the Savior, this building should not represent the old tsarist empire but the new Soviet Union and reach a height of 415 meters, unimaginable worldwide. The church building that was to give way to the new palace was then closed and cleared. After the simple demolition of the cathedral had proved too laborious , it was blown up on December 5, 1931 on the orders of the party secretary Lasar Kaganowitsch , who at the time was in charge of most of the new construction projects in the new capital. Their ruins then had to be cleared for over a year. A few fragments ended up in museums or private collections.

The construction of the Palace of the Soviets , which began in the mid-1930s , ultimately did not go beyond the completion of the foundations, as the building ground was much too loose for such a gigantic structure and it finally came to a standstill with the beginning of the war against the National Socialist German Reich until further notice. After the end of the war, however, the project for the palace lost its originally high priority and became history after Stalin's death in 1953. Instead, the foundations were used to build the Moskva open-air swimming pool . This was completed in 1960 and offered bathing opportunities in a 13,000 m² large, year-round heated swimming pool.

Reconstruction in the 1990s

With the increasing return of Orthodox culture in the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s during perestroika , the public increasingly called for the redevelopment of the Savior Cathedral and its re-establishment as the religious center of Russia. In 1990 a citizens' initiative for reconstruction was formed. In 1992, by decree of the then President Boris Yeltsin, a foundation was set up that collected donations from all over the country for this purpose. A short time later the now dilapidated swimming pool was torn down. On January 7, 1995, the day of Orthodox Christmas , the foundation stone for the new building was laid in its place.

In order to keep the replica as true to the original as possible, not only old drafts and sketches were used, but also memories of contemporary witnesses and numerous photos of the old building from outside and inside, which were found in archives. Since the foundation walls were not built from individual bricks as originally, but from reinforced concrete, the reconstruction took five and a half years and was much faster than the construction of the original. The shell of the building could already be completed in mid-1997 and the interior decoration work began. On December 31, 1999, symbolic of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ , the new cathedral was opened to the public for the first time.

The inauguration took place on August 19, 2000 by Patriarch Alexius II. According to the reconstruction foundation, the construction costs amounted to around 170 million US dollars, all of which came from donations from organizations and private individuals. The reconstruction is considered one of the most ambitious construction projects of the 1990s by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov .

Architecture and equipment

Entrance gates of the cathedral
Detail shots of the entrance gates

The exterior of the rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral is largely based on the original building. The building is 103.5 m high in its central part, including the large dome and its cross. Viewed from above, the structure has the shape of an approximately 85 m wide cross on the same side. The inside of the up to 3.2 m thick foundation walls of the temple consist of monolithic reinforced concrete slabs, which were clad on the outside with a layer of brick and above it with white marble from the Urals . The four church bells - the smallest of them weighs five tons, the largest, which only rings on special occasions, just under 30 tons - were cast by the Moscow Likhachev works during the reconstruction .

Like the original building, the rebuilt cathedral was built in a historicist , so-called pseudo - Russian style, a style that was particularly widespread in Moscow in the late 19th century and which ties in with the traditions of old Russian architecture in conjunction with elements of Byzantine architecture . The old Russian component of the cathedral building can be recognized primarily by its facade: This includes the arched windows (60 in total) and gates (three on each side) typical of Russian Orthodox church buildings of the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as the decorative, spear-shaped kokoshniks -Ornamente (five per side) and the four pointed bell towers with onion-shaped domes. The dome construction, however, comes from the Byzantine church building tradition. The roof is crowned by a total of five domes, four of which are smaller, arranged symmetrically around the large central dome with a diameter of 30 m. The large and four small domes are supposed to symbolize Jesus Christ and the four evangelists Mark , Matthew , John and Luke . For the gilding of all five domes around 12 kg of gold leaf were used during the reconstruction - in contrast to the 400 kg of the original building, whose domes were gilded using a less complex process that was customary at the time.

When the cathedral was built in the 19th century, its facade was additionally decorated on all four sides with ornaments, which contained over 100 sculptures with motifs from the Old Testament and Russian history . The authors of these sculptures were well-known sculptors of the time, including Peter Clodt von Jürgensburg and Fyodor Tolstoy . During the reconstruction, the ornaments were recreated in a similar form by contemporary sculptors. Some of the preserved original sculptures can be seen in Moscow's Donskoy Monastery .

Christ the Savior Cathedral, preserved part no.1, Donskoy Monastery, Moscow.jpg Christ the Savior Cathedral, preserved part no.2, Donskoy Monastery, Moscow.jpg Christ the Savior Cathedral, preserved part no.3, Donskoy Monastery, Moscow.jpg
Sculptural ornaments of the original cathedral

The interior of the cathedral reaches a ceiling height of 79 m in the area of ​​the main dome and offers space for up to 10,000 people. The volume of the interior is around 524,000 m³, making the Savior Cathedral the largest Russian Orthodox church building in the world. The central element of their rooms is the altar with an almost 27 m high iconostasis in the form of a chapel. Its central part is dedicated to the birth of Christ, while to the side of it icons depicting the canonized Prince Alexander Nevsky (north altar) and St. Nicholas of Myra (south altar) can be seen.

Interior view with a view of the iconostasis

What is particularly striking about the interior is the painting on its interior walls. Overall, the frescoes inside the church take up an area of ​​over 22,000 m². When they were originally built, they were created by over 30 famous Russian painters of the 19th century, including Vasily Surikov , Ivan Kramskoi , Vasily Vereschagin , Henryk Siemiradzki and Evgraf Sorokin . The interior of the rebuilt cathedral was also very elaborately painted based on the original, with all motifs being dedicated to the figures from the Old and New Testaments and the saints venerated in the Russian Orthodox Church. The largest fresco, up to 16 m in diameter, is located directly under the main dome and represents the Trinity of the New Testament. All the frescoes that adorn the interior today were made from 1997 to 2000 under the direction of the Russian Academy of Art and its President, Georgian -Russian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli , created.

The Church of the Transfiguration of Christ (Russian: Преображенская церковь ) also belongs to the architectural complex of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior , which was built in August 1996 in memory of the women's monastery that existed on this site until 1839. This church was completely enclosed in the building when the cathedral was rebuilt and is now located in the basement. It is one of the few components of the temple that did not exist in the original form. In addition to the Church of the Transfiguration, there is a museum in the basement that informs visitors about the history of the cathedral, its construction, destruction and reconstruction, and offers guided tours through the building and to the bell towers for groups of visitors. Parts of the original frescoes that adorned the interior walls before they were demolished in 1931 can also be seen in the museum. In addition, the basement houses a conference hall for the Russian Orthodox Synod , an event hall, several celebratory dining rooms as well as supply and service rooms.


When it was first completed in 1883, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was considered the center of religious life in Russia. Even after its rebuilding, it assumed the role of the central church of the Russian Orthodox Church. Its chief is always the Patriarch of Moscow and all of Russia . At all important Orthodox festivals, he conducts solemn services there, which are also attended by high-ranking Russian politicians. In addition, regular church services are celebrated on Saturdays from 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m.

Other recent solemn events that have taken place in the Savior Cathedral include the funeral services for the late ex-President Boris Yeltsin on April 25, 2007 and Patriarch Alexius II on December 7, 2008, the annual World Council meetings of the Russian People , the signing of the Convention on the Union of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad with the Moscow Patriarchate on May 17, 2007 and the enthronement of Patriarch Kyrill on February 1, 2009.

On February 21, 2012, members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot , including Nadezhda Andrejewna Tolokonnikowa , Yekaterina Stanislawowna Samuzewitsch and Marija Vladimirovna Aljochina , broke into the church and held a short happening in the altar area with chants and prayers against Patriarch Kyrill and the designated Russian President Vladimir Putin . The performance led to the arrest and in August of that year three musicians were sentenced to two years' imprisonment in a camp for "hooliganism out of religious hatred". The verdict sparked global protests and discussions on the issue of freedom of expression in Russia under Vladimir Putin.


Individual evidence

  1. 15 million Russian rubles at the end of the 19th century had roughly the same purchasing power as 265 million euros today; see. Archived copy ( Memento of the original dated February 8, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. Moskva s eë svjatynjami i svjaščennymi dostoprimečatel'nostjami . Moscow 1888, p. 90.
  3. Andrei Demin, S. 184th
  4. Lost Moscow: Cathedral of Christ the Savior; Retrieved January 26, 2008
  5. Novyje Izvestia , January 25, 2006; Retrieved on January 26, 2008 ( Memento of the original from March 24, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  6. ^ Official cathedral website; Retrieved on January 26, 2008 ( Memento of the original from January 23, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  7. Die Zeit : Punk Against Putin , April 1, 2012.
  8. ^ Süddeutsche Zeitung : Two years in prison for "Pussy Riot" , August 17, 2012.


  • Chram Christa Spasitelja . Profizdat, Moscow 2001, ISBN 5-285-01301-3
  • Andrej Dëmin: Zolotoe kol'co Moskvy , pp. 181-189. Veče Publishing House, Moscow 2006, ISBN 5-9533-1454-X .

Web links

Commons : Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 55 ° 44 ′ 41 ″  N , 37 ° 36 ′ 20 ″  E

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on February 3, 2008 .