​The Church of the Trinity

The Church of the Trinity on Nikitnikov Pereulok; from Moscow, An Architectural History by Kathleen Berton.

Side by side with the pyramid-style churches the cube churches, the true descendants of Byzantine architecture, were developing into the most extravagant and colourful buildings ever to be built in Russia, surpassed only by St Basil's. These many sectional asymmetrical, highly decorated and vividly coloured churches with differing roof levels gave a total effect of immense gaiety and even today lend colour and variety to Moscow's peeling, drab streets. Their particular characteristics are the elaborate exterior sculpture and brick-work around the windows (nalichnila) with the upper part over the windows sometimes shaped like a kokoshnik gable, sometimes in semicircles and triangles and other more complicated forms. The walls around the window and doors are often decorated with engaged columns of brightly coloured bricks. The tops of each storey of wall were decorated with entablatures and pierced parapets so that the upper part of every section stands out in outline giving a bold delineation to the next level ...

The most characteristic example of this wild disregard for absolute uniformity and love of rich adornment is the Troitsa v Nikitnikakh, the Church of the Trinity on Nikitnikov Pereulok off Ipatievsky Pereulok in Kitaigorod near Ulitsa Razina. It is known locally as the Church of the Georgian Virgin from an icon that once hung there. Completely submerged by tall buildings and the narrowness of the lane, it is a shock to come across the vividly red and white conglomeration of pyramid-towered porch, full-blown cupolas, richly sculptured window decorations and oddly protruding sections all joined together to form a gay and striking building, its size more like that of a cathedral than of a simple parish church. In fact it was the private chapel of a very important citizen, Nikitnikov, a wealthy merchant and leading member of the most influential guild, the gost, of which the Tsar was also a member. This was the guild of about thirty most favoured merchants, entrepreneurs who had unlimited rights of importation and were exempted from payment of custom dues. They also enjoyed the freedom of unlimited travel within Russia and abroad, an important concession at a time when serfs were unable even to leave their landlords and the artisans and small traders of the various settlements in Moscow were forbidden to move even to another part of the city. As the leading member of the gost guild Nikitnikov helped shape the Tsar's economic policies by acting as a sort of senior financial adviser. In spite of his wealth and power Nikitnikov, not being of boyarial descent, was barred from making his home inside the Kremlin walls. So in 1635-53 he built a palace and magnificent church here, in Kitaigorod, not far from the Kremlin. The palace disappeared long ago and the church is crowded by modern buildings mushrooming higher and higher on every side. Yet when it was built it dominated this part of Kitaigorod, rising majestically above the little single-storey wooden houses and palaces and could be seen from a long way off.

Like the Putnikakh Church it has a basic nucleus surrounded by a number of additional chambers, chapels, porch, staircase and passageway and a secret room for storing valuables. The deep soft red of the exterior walls contrasts with the white sculpture of the window decorations, the cornices and fine kokoshniki and the drums of the cupolas. The high, wide sub-basement or undercroft was an important part of a wealthy merchant's private church in which he would place his most valuable goods, safe under the protection of the altar from greedy thieves. The interior frescoes and iconostasis are still magnificent. The severe dark faces are by the hand of Simon Ushakov, considered to be the last of the great icon painters in Russia during the revival in icon painting after the hiatus of the Time of Troubles.