ST. PETERSBURG # 6

August 9, 2010 - Saint Petersburg, Russia

On this, our sixth visit to St. Petersburg, I found myself with very few tours left to escort. In the past five weeks, I have done a pretty good job at getting on every excursion I was interested in. However, there was still one that I had yet to do – St. Petersburg Cathedrals. Now, if you can remember all the way back to my first St. Petersburg entry, then you’ll recall that I had the chance to visit many of the cathedrals in the city during the Highlights of St. Petersburg tour, although, this only provided the chance to see the outside of the buildings. Today, I was able to witness the interiors – equally as lavish and majestic as the colorful marble, granites and gold which make up their exteriors.

For our first stop, I found myself back at St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the masterwork designed by French architect August Montferrand, which dominates St. Petersburg’s city c enter. It’s vast, opulent interior covers 43,000 square feet, making it one of the world’s largest cathedrals. The sights inside are just as impressive and include an incredibly beautiful relief of St. Isaac, St. Catherine’s marble chapel, and hundreds of 19th century works of art.

There were many things that our tour guide told us about the cathedral that caught my interest. One, for example, was the drama that arose when August Montferrand used his own face as the face of Jesus Christ in one of the main artworks in the cathedral. It wasn’t until somebody took notice that it was demanded to be brought down and redone. However, the clever architect still found a way in which to leave his mark, for one of the sculptures outside the cathedral depicts Montferrand clutching a small model of the cathedral. By the time it was finally noticed, it was too late and difficult to change, so it was ignored and let go. He was sneaky.

Something else interesting to note, true to all Russian cathedrals, is the lack of pews. During mass, there is no sitting. Everyone must either stand or kneel. Therefore, the cathedrals are very open and spacious. In fact, typically, the only seats or chairs in the entire room would be for the Tsars or royalty, and most times, even they wouldn’t sit.

This spacious floor plan and lack of clutter made for the perfect view of the inside of the 333-foot-tall gilded dome. Craning my neck back, I stared up 262.5 feet, at what appeared to be a flying white dove. It was astonishing. I had been wondering what the inside of the dome had looked like. I should have known it would be beautifully over the top. With a wingspan of 5.4 feet, and made of silvered copper, the bird, lit by natural light of the dome’s lantern, represents the Holy Spirit and acts as the focal point of the cathedral’s largest mural, Karl Bryullov’s 8,611-square-foot “The Virgin in Majesty,” which shows the Virgin Mary and a circle of saints against a backdrop of the heavens.

One last thing our guide pointed out before leaving St. Isaac’s Cathedral, were the row of saints, all done in mosaics. One, in particular, that she pointed out (her favorite), was that of St. Peter (or maybe it was Paul), but the reason she liked it so much was because of incredible use of mosaic. In the image, the saint is holding a book, which literally looks as though it is popping out of the image. The artist was able to make the entire artwork look as though it was 3-D – not such an easy feat when working with inch-wide pieces of colored ceramic!

The entire interior of St. Isaac’s was beyond impressive. I would never be able to do it justice with mere words. Like everything else in St. Petersburg, it was lavish, opulent, abundant with gold and (I’ll say it again.) beautifully “over the top”!

Next, we made our way to St. Petersburg’s most famous thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospekt, where the Kazan Cathedral stands, attracting attention with hits stately views and elegant proportions of the dome and colonnades. Inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome, the majestic cathedral was designed by Russian architect Andrei Voronikhin and built between 1801 and 1811. The Kazan Cathedral is without a doubt my favorite, exteriorly speaking. A forest of 96 columns hides all of the church, other than its 236-foot-high dome. It’s a semicircle of magnificence! I am pretty certain that I favor this cathedral due to its Italian resemblance.

Though supported by 56 monolithic granite Corinthian columns, the interior of the Kazan Cathedral is not overly grand and ostentations like that of St. Isaac’s. In addition, the return of crowds of believers, the lighting of candles and the praying before the icons (the bejeweled “Our Lady of Kazan” hangs to the right of the iconostasis), have added a more pervasive atmosphere of devotion. Unfortunately, because of such, photographs were strictly prohibited inside of the Kazan Cathedral. I did, however, sneak in some video footage! (Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.)

The last cathedral on the tour was the sparkling, multicolored Church of Christ’s Resurrection, more popularly known as the Church of the Savior on the Blood, or the Spilled Blood Cathedral because it sits on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was killed in 1881. Completed in 1907, the church is a riot of color and features nine onion-dome cupolas covered in gold, enamel and mosaics. The exterior of the building is spectacular and theatrical enough that it makes you wonder what is in store for you on the inside.

What is waiting for you on the inside is an explosion of colorful mosaics that will draw your attention, covering some 69,970 square feet. The entire interior is one giant, incredible piece of artwork! My eyes didn’t know where to wonder. They say to treat the church like a piece of jewelry; let it speak to you through whatever catches your eye. The truth is – everything was catching my eye. From the mosaics covering the walls, to the original preserved marble floor, to the inside of the domes high above my head, it all was just too intricate to ignore.

Therefore, I’d have to say that my favorite interior space of any of the cathedrals we visited was definitely here at Spilled Blood. The work that went into creating it was too difficult to ignore. And it was hard work. Our tour guide taught us that the mosaic saints in St. Isaac’s Cathedral which I referred to earlier were made on a plaque and then mounted to the wall, whereas the mosaics in the Church of Spilled Blood were created by applying the tiles directly to the walls and ceilings. I can’t possibly imagine the difficulty, talent, creativity, and above all, patience, which must have gone into a job like that. Therefore, again, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood gets my vote!  (I suppose it’s interesting to note that this cathedral has also been compared to one in Italy – St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice!)

It was a true pleasure finally getting to witness what was on the inside of these truly brilliant buildings that I would pass everyday while driving to a different tour. I am grateful I had the time and ability to be made aware of and appreciate the hard work and talent that went into creating the beauty that makes these cathedrals the attractions they are today!

Love,

Erich


Pictures

6th St. Petersburg
6th St. Petersburg (2)
6th St. Petersburg (3)
6th St. Petersburg (4)
 
 

4 Comments

JIM:
August 26, 2010
HI ERICH,
GLAD TO HEAR YOU HAVE BEEN HANGING OUT AT SOME "HOLY" SITES. THANKS FOR THE PICS SO WE COULD ENJOY THEM TOO. BE GOOD.
LOVE, UNCLE JIM
Jamie:
August 26, 2010
Baby Bro, You are really seeing so many incredible things. Tres jeal! REALLY hope it works out so that I can come over and visit you next month. Love you.
MAMA:
August 28, 2010
I cannot believe after all the trips to Russia that you still had something to see!! This excursion sounds like a great one and you seemed very impressed with it. I guess you now have something to compare the Italy sites with. Cant wait for that.
Not much longer in the baltic and I bet you are more than ready to move on, especially since we will see each other soon.
vera kniss:
August 29, 2010
Dearest Erich
Is it not amazing that a country that has had no affiliation with religion for so long was smart enough to preserve these fabulous works of art? I have a feeling that you will not find anything better in this world. Even Italy will be hard pressed to impress you much more. Soon you will be seeing the country of your ancestors and your mother and hopefully your sister will be able to enjoy this with you. How wonderful. with love and kisses as always Vera
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