A Gentleman in Moscow - Part Four

Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior (LEO Design)

Reigning over the Moskva River, at the Northern foot of the Patriarshiy Bridge (and not far from the Kremlin), stands the regal white marble Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It looks like it's stood here for a century—but has it? Actually, no. 

The Cathedral was commissioned in 1812 by Tsar Alexander I to commemorate Napoleon's empty-handed retreat from Moscow.  It was to be an expression of "our gratitude to Divine Providence for protecting Russia" and a memorial to those who died in the war. After a change of site, change of architect, change of design and a change of tsar (to Nicholas I), construction finally began in 1839.  Interestingly, in 1882, Tchaikovsky premiered his brand new 1812 Overture at the still-unfinished site. Though the composer had always intended to reveal his masterpiece at the Cathedral, due to construction delays, the piece made its world premier in a tent next to the still-unfinished building. (In 1891, in his final months, Tchaikovsky traveled to New York to conduct the piece at the dedication of Carnegie Hall).

Bronze "Overdoor Saint" on Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior (LEO Design)

When Tsar Nicholas I succeeded his brother (Alexander I) in 1825, he engaged a new architect, Konstantin Thon, to re-design the building, using Constantinople's Hagia Sophia (built AD 360) as his inspiration.  The church was finally finished and consecrated in 1883, one day before the coronation of another tsar, Alexander III.

Alas, this was not the only change in the air. World War One was around the corner, not to mention the Russian Revolution which would successfully eliminate Russia's monarchy. The Tsar and his family were imprisoned, slaughtered, and a new regime rose to power—one that sought to eradicate religion in the new Soviet Union. In 1931, Joseph Stalin ordered the cathedral be blown-up and a grand monument to his predecessor, Vladimir Lenin, be built in its place. (With German invasion and World War Two in the near future, this "Palace of the Soviets" was never built. A public pool was constructed on the site instead.)

Bronze Door and Sculptures on Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior (LEO Design)

After the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Orthodox religion—long suppressed underground—re-gained its visible place in Russian society. From 1995 to 2000, the Cathedral was rebuilt (at enormous expense) and has become a Moscow landmark, once more. In 2000, at the Cathedral, the last tsar, Nicholas II, his wife and five children were canonized by the Russian Orthodox church. In 2007, former Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, laid-in-state in the Cathedral.

Alas, the Cathedral's complicated history is still unfolding. In 2018, it was discovered that the new Cathedral's foundations are sinking—requiring analysis and a massive effort to re-build the church's support structure.

More from Moscow tomorrow.


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