Archangel Michael Cathedral (Moscow)

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Archangel Michael Cathedral
Location in the Kremlin

The Archangel Michael Cathedral ( Russian Архангельский собор , Transliteration Archangel'skij sobor ) is one of the cathedrals in the Kremlin in Moscow . It was built in the years 1505-08 and, in addition to the two neighboring cathedrals - the Dormition of the Virgin - and the Cathedral of the Annunciation - shapes the architectural image of the center of the fortress, the Cathedral Square. The Archangel Michael Cathedral is known, among other things, for the fact that almost all Russian tsars are buried in it before Peter the Great .


The Archangel Michael Cathedral, together with the Cathedral of the Annunciation, closes the ensemble of the Cathedral Square from the south side. Due to its location near the Kremlin Gardens on the slope of the banks of the Moskva River , it is clearly visible not only from Cathedral Square , but also from outside the Kremlin from the south. For example, if you look at the Kremlin from the opposite bank of the Moskva River, you can see the cathedral between the Great Kremlin Palace and the Ivan the Great bell tower . Immediately to the right of the Archangel Michael Cathedral runs Borowizki Street, which leads inside the Kremlin to the gateway in the Borowizki Tower of the same name .


The probably first predecessor of today's cathedral was a wooden church, which was built on this site around 1250. It was dedicated to the Archangel Michael , whom Russian princes traditionally revered as their patron saint in wars. Nothing has been reported about the exact shape of the church. All that is known is that it was demolished by 1333 in order to replace it with one of the Kremlin's first stone sacred buildings. After less than a year of construction, the then Moscow Grand Duke Ivan Kalita had the newly built, also relatively small church consecrated to the Archangel Michael in 1333. Ivan was later buried in this church as the first Russian monarch. Since all Moscow grand princes have been buried here since then, the burial place in the church became scarce towards the beginning of the 16th century. This prompted the Grand Duke Ivan III. , who at that time had already initiated a major expansion of the Kremlin, into a new construction of the Archangel Michael Church as a cathedral.

Just as was the case with the Dormition Cathedral built two decades earlier, Ivan invited an architect from Italy to Moscow to build the Archangel Michael Cathedral . It was a Milanese named Aloisio Lamberti da Montagnana , who in Moscow was usually called Alewis Nowy , literally “Alois the New”. The foundation stone for the new cathedral was laid on May 21, 1505. The remains of the grand dukes who had been buried there up until then were temporarily transferred from the previously demolished church to the neighboring Johannes Klimakos Church (which gave way to today's Ivan the Great bell tower a little later) . As Ivan III. died in the fall of 1505, he was buried in the new cathedral, the base of which was presumably already completed by that time. The construction of the cathedral was completed in 1508, and the consecration by Metropolitan Simon took place on November 8, 1509.

The Kremlin's Cathedral Square (Archangel Michael Cathedral on the left) in 1797. A drawing by Giacomo Quarenghi

When building the cathedral, Alewis Nowy was inspired in many ways by the Renaissance architecture of his home country, which can still be seen in the architectural details of the church. Originally the building had an outside gallery behind a row of arcades , which gave it an almost exotic shape by Moscow standards. However, this detail disappeared during one of the later reconstructions of the church. The Archangel Michael Cathedral was particularly heavily modified in the second half of the 16th century, when two small church buildings (today disorganized) and the so-called court chamber were added to the south facade. In the 1560s, the interior walls of the cathedral were also painted with frescoes for the first time .

During one of the most momentous major fires in the Moscow Kremlin in 1737, the cathedral was badly damaged and has since been rebuilt without the original side galleries. After all, the church had to undergo extensive restoration in the 1770s after a huge new tsar's residence was planned and a foundation was excavated for it near it - where the complex of the Great Kremlin Palace stands today. Due to the insufficient strength of the subsoil in this area, this construction measure led to a slight inclination of the cathedral building in the direction of the Moscow River. To prevent the church from sliding down the slope, a special support structure had to be added to its southern facade, which can still be seen today. These and a number of other problems with the planning of the new Tsar's palace led to the halt of this project shortly afterwards.

The cathedral in the 1880s

The Archangel Michael Cathedral served as the burial place of the Moscow Grand Dukes and later, after the unification of all Russian principalities to form Tsarist Russia , of the Russian Tsars until the 18th century, when Tsar Peter the Great proclaimed the Russian Empire and the capital of the empire in the the newly founded Saint Petersburg was relocated. From then on, the Peter and Paul Cathedral there served as a burial place for Russian tsars; Peter II, who died young in Moscow, was the last ruler to be buried in the Archangel Michael Cathedral.

In 1918, the cathedral, along with all other Kremlin churches, was closed to believers by the new Bolshevik state power, which moved its headquarters from Petersburg to the Kremlin. Much of the church treasures from the cathedral's sacristy were transferred as exhibits to the armory of the Moscow Kremlin , where the most representative of them are still on display today. After a restoration carried out between 1953 and 1955, the cathedral reopened its doors as a museum. With the end of the Soviet system , it was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church ; Since then, services have been held there several times a year (including for Radonitsa , the Russian memorial service for the dead on the ninth day after Easter ).


Entrance portal on the west facade

Although the cathedral has lost much of its original appearance in the course of several renovations since the 16th century, characteristic style elements can still be recognized today, which - despite its similar basic structure - significantly differentiate this cathedral from the two neighboring churches. The foundation walls of the church were built from brick , which originally gave the cathedral , which was later clad with white limestone , a dark red facade color. The structure of the Archangel Michael Cathedral was based on the Dormition Cathedral and thus on other typical Russian cathedrals of that time, which is particularly reflected in the symmetrical arrangement of the five church towers. The larger, central onion dome traditionally symbolizes Jesus Christ , the four smaller towers around it stand for the four evangelists .

The “European” style elements, which were new for the time, are, however, even more pronounced in the Archangel Michael Cathedral than in the Dormition Cathedral, which was also built by an Italian: next to the arcade gallery in the lower part, which later disappeared of the facades - arched niches arranged in rows are reminiscent of them today - it is the characteristic semicircular niches with shell-shaped stylized ornaments that close the facade at the top, directly below the Sakomary , again typical of Russian church building . The massive cornice , which separates the façades in their middle in two rows of narrow arched windows, creates the impression of a two-story building, although the interior of the cathedral consists of one continuous floor up to the domes. The entrance portals of the cathedral on the north and west façades are also considered to be Italian influenced: They consist of arched borders made of white limestone that are coated with paint and decorated with very neat plant ornaments. Overall, the style of the exterior design of the Archangel Michael Cathedral is an unusual mixture of traditional Russian sacred architecture and a renaissance variety that is particularly typical of Venetian church buildings .

Two small apses , which were previously consecrated as churches, have been attached to the east facade of the cathedral since the late 16th century . A small annex on the south facade has also been preserved to this day: in the 16th and 17th centuries, the so-called court chamber ( Судная палата ) was located here, in the basement of which insolvent serf peasants from the cathedral's properties were held. In 1826, today's extension was built in its place, which was used by the clergy as a lounge in winter, as the cathedral was not heated until the middle of the 19th century.


King's Gate

The interior of the cathedral was largely built in a manner typical of Russian churches: the vault of the central chancel , which extends below the central dome, is supported by a total of six columns. The sparse daylight, supplemented by several large chandeliers , enters the room through narrow windows arranged in two rows one above the other.

The walls and vaults of the chancel are, as is typical of the other Kremlin churches, painted with frescoes, of which only individual fragments date from the 16th century. In the period from 1652 to 1666 the cathedral was repainted by a large group of local masters (including some from cities such as Yaroslavl , Kostroma or Veliky Novgorod , but also icon painters from the tsarist's armory ). The thematic focus of the frescoes are depictions of several Russian princes as well as motifs of the life and work of the eponymous Archangel Michael . The interior frescoes are complemented by facade paintings above the western entrance portal, which have the Last Judgment as the theme.

Another striking detail in the interior of the cathedral is its four-tier, 13-meter-high wooden iconostasis with gold-plated carvings, which was created between 1678 and 1681 and was partially renewed at the beginning of the 19th century. Here especially the embellished with numerous ornaments fall Zarentor ( Царские врата ) on the lower rank. Most of the icons date from the 17th century and also contain depictions of the Archangel Michael, but also the Mother of God , John the Baptist and other particularly venerated saints. The iconostasis is completed with a crucifix above.


Tsar graves
Reliquary of Tsarevich Dimitri

In total, there are 46 tombs inside the cathedral, spread over the entire chancel and the former sacristy behind the altar, in which 53 people - including grand dukes, tsars and some of their family members - found their final resting place. This makes the Archangel Michael Cathedral one of the largest monarch necropolises in the world. All tombs have a similar structure: the remains of those buried here rest about 1.5 meters below the ground in sarcophagi , above each of which is a large white stone block The names and dates of life engraved on it are set up in Old Church Slavonic script. To protect the stone, the blocks have also been encased in special bronze covers since the beginning of the 20th century . On the wall above the tombs are icons with not always authentic representations of those buried here.

All Moscow grand princes since Ivan Kalita († 1340) and almost all Russian tsars since the creation of tsarism by Ivan the Terrible († 1584) and up to the immediate predecessor of Peter the Great, Ivan V, have their final resting place in the Archangel Michael Cathedral . († 1696) found. An exception is Tsar Boris Godunow († 1605), who was originally also buried here, but was dug up again during the Polish-Lithuanian invasion . Today he and his family rests in the Trinity Monastery of Sergiev Posad . As the very last Russian tsar, Peter II († 1730) was buried in the Archangel Michael Cathedral, who died when Moscow had once again become the seat of the tsar's court for a short time.

List of tsar and grand duke burials in the Archangel Michael Cathedral

(see also: graves of European monarchs )

In addition to normal tombs, there are two reliquary shrines in the cathedral . In one of them rest the bones of the prince and martyr Michael von Tschernigow (1179–1246), who is venerated as a saint . The better known shrine contains the remains of Tsarevich Dmitri (1582–1591). It was made in 1813 to replace a silver shrine from 1630 that was stolen during the war against Napoléon . However, the lavishly decorated lid that is exhibited in the Kremlin's armory has been preserved to this day .

See also


Web links

Commons : Archangel Michael Cathedral  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Coordinates: 55 ° 45 ′ 0.7 ″  N , 37 ° 37 ′ 3.7 ″  E