The Kremlin Churches

Many churches have been dealt with in this essay. The Kremlin, in its initial development, was a religious institution. Church and State were both from God and meant to bring man to his final end, divinization. The state protected the church while the church provided the legal impetus for social norms. The “state” until the Petrine revolution, was an arm of God to punish sinners and provide peace for the law-abiding.

The Cathedral Square was the “Nevsky Prospekt” of Moscow. This was the symbolic center of the Muscovite empire forged by Ivan and Basil III. It was a protected agora, a public forum, centered within the newly enlarged Kremlin. It is an early structure, since it comes from the reign of either Basil or Ivan III. The emergence of this agora was roughly at the beginning of the 14th century. On the square, the tower of the Assumption, the Annunciation and the Archangel Cathedrals (see below), the bell tower of Ivan the Great, the main Palace and other monuments of Russian architecture can be found. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the area had several times been covered with slabs of sandstone for strength.

A drawing of Cathedral Square from 1797
Cathedral Square was the main area of the Kremlin. The ceremonial solemn procession on the occasion of the coronation of kings and emperors passed through this area. They were usually accompanied by military escorts of great intricacy. Within the Red Porch, the royal Chamber was used to meet with foreign ambassadors. There were also funeral processions to the Cathedral of the Archangel which was the tomb of the Moscow grand dukes and kings. The same was for the Uspenski Cathedral (the Dormition) serving as the burial place of Moscow metropolitans and patriarchs. The unique beauty of the architectural ensemble of the Cathedral Square is picturesque and harmonious, created by the labor and talent of dozens of Russian artists from Moscow, Vladimir and Pskov, as well as the group of Italian architects already named (Brumfeld, 2013: 100).

The Cathedral is at the center and dedicated to the Dormition of Mary, occasionally misnamed by westerners as the Assumption Cathedral. It was finished in the 1470s, or right in the midst of Russia’s expansion. Since the church and state are both public bodies of Old Russia, it makes perfect sense that the initial Kremlin was a religious and political center. At the time, no lines were drawn between church and state, largely because the state was not itself a secular institution.

The Dormition Cathedral stands on the site and, as early as 1326-1327, served as Ivan Kalita’s first stone cathedral in Moscow. Before him, in the 12th century, was the oldest church in Moscow made of wood. The same structure was used later for its rebuilding into stone. The wooden Cathedral was rebuilt by Ivan III through the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti. The cathedral was again restructured from 1475-1479 and is similar to the Cathedral of the Assumption (12th century) from the ancient Russian city of Vladimir. This emphasizes the continuity of Moscow in relation to one of the ancient centers of the Russian land.

The Dormition Cathedral.
For four centuries the Assumption of the Moscow Kremlin was the main temple of Russia. In it was crowned each heir to the throne. It also was used as a public forum for official proclamations and synods were held there. Finally, the Cathedral served as the burial place of the patriarchs and metropolitans of Moscow (Brumfeld, 2013: 103).

This Cathedral has an extraordinary integrity and strength. The five powerful drums only increase the intimidation of its facade. Smooth pilasters divide the wall of the building into equal planes, while the southern, northern and western sides of the cathedral are decorated with narrow friezes. The main entrance to the temple is located at Cathedral Square and a wide staircase ends at a portal of three semicircular arches. The entrance to the building is guarded by the Archangel Michael and a generic guardian angel. Above the arch are inscribed figures of saints, almost all of Russia, or military saints from the Greek world. Above them all is the image of the Virgin and Child. These multi-colored frescoes were completed by unknown Russian artists of the 17th century, probably monastics (Akinsha, 2008: 66-67).

The oldest monument of the cathedral is its southern door, which was brought to Moscow from Suzdal Cathedral at the beginning of the 15th century. They are painted in gold on black lacquer with twenty images based on biblical themes from the Old and New Testament. The connection between Suzdal was important, since the latter influenced the development of the former. It was a break from the Kievan tradition in the post-Mongol Russian world.

Peter the Great, as he moved his capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg during the first two decades of the 18th century, removing himself from the shadow of the Cathedral was significant for him ideologically. The Cathedral was meant as the seat of the metropolitan of Moscow, and itself became something of a relic, similar to the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. By removing this area and its mentality from power, Peter I was proclaiming revolution to the world. Now, the state would be an all encompassing secular institution. In a way, this particular attraction was a summation of Old Russia.

The main characters of these pages above were the religious elements of the Kremlin as the “fortress” of Holy Russia, the last independent center of Orthodoxy after the internal and external collapse of Byzantium in 1453. The country was a great fortress protecting the Cathedral of the Mother of God, the symbol of all human resurrection. The city of Moscow and its central Kremlin was not merely a city, but itself an icon, the nation in miniature.

The Archangel Cathedral has been mentioned above. It was built from 1505 to 1509 by another architect invited from Italy. It is unique only because it is a synthesis of the Italian Renaissance and Older Russian forms. Unlike Peter’s innovations, this was essentially a conservative development, not a revolutionary one. Construction began during the reign of Ivan III and was completed by his son, Grand Prince Vasili Ivanovich. Prior to this there was the ancient Archangel Cathedral, built by Ivan Kalita in 1333 in commemoration of the deliverance of Moscow from widespread famine. At the beginning of the 16th century it because of the closeness dismantled and make space for the construction of a larger church (Brumfeld, 2013: 137, also cf for the Italian architects).

The Archangel Cathedral
The Archangel Cathedral was the burial place of the Moscow ruling dynasty. This tradition continued until the end of the 17th century. After transferring the capital of the Russian state from Moscow to St. Petersburg, no one else was buried in the Archangel Cathedral except for Peter II, who died in Moscow of smallpox in 1730. The Imperial necropolis was then located in the Peter and Paul Cathedral (Brumfeld, 2013: 143).

The cathedral was slightly displaced to the east, and the roof features five drums that have different diameters and are arranged asymmetrically. The central dome was gilded and painted with silver paint as an accent. The walls of the cathedral were created by white stone decorated with shells, pilasters, cornices and high white stone arches. The exterior walls of the cathedral were divided into two tiers by a horizontal belt, which gave it the appearance of a two-story building. The eastern side of the cathedral at the end of 16th century featured two single-domed small churches named for St. Sabbas of Jerusalem and the other for John the Baptist.

During the Napoleonic invasion of Moscow, the French used the Archangel Cathedral for a wine warehouse, and the altar was used as a kitchen. All the valuable items in the cathedral were plundered. After the defeat of Napoleon’s troops, the cathedral was rebuilt in its present form. The Archangel necropolis served as a meeting place for prayers before military campaigns and after successful battles of the Moscow princes.

To the north of the Dormition Cathedral and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower are the Patriarch’s Throne room and the small five-domed cathedral of the Twelve Apostles, begun in 1635 and completed only in 1656. They were built by the Russian masters Antip Konstantinov and Bazhen Ogurtsov and commissioned by Patriarch Nikon. The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles was built on the site of the old temple dedicated to the Solovetsky miracle workers and was part of the yard with the Church of the Apostle Philip. The roofs were covered with copper sheets and gilded, as normal. In 1680 the cathedral was rebuilt and given its present name.

The old Patriarch’s yard consisted of a series of chambers, rooms, passages and stairs made within the thickness of the walls. Many of these buildings have preserved their ancient appearance and survived. The ideology of Nikon suggests that there was a good reason why the size of the new quarters for the patriarch was not inferior to the royal Terem. It was in certain ways superior to it, as Nikon sought to prove the superiority of the ecclesiastical power over the king. Soon, however, the ambitious confessor was punished by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich for obstinacy (among other things) and exiled. Peter I, striving for personal power, abolished the Patriarchate and its management of church affairs.

Entering the courtyard from the Patriarchal Cathedral Square through two arches beneath the temple connected the personal chambers of the patriarch to the cathedral. The literature of the 19th century mentioned something about a travel arch under the cathedral. In 1920, excavators forced opened a second, hitherto unknown passageway. It traveled through the arch under the Church of the Twelve Apostles. On the north side adjacent to the cathedral an open gallery on pillars was the final link connecting the temple with Nikon’s residential chambers (Brumfeld, 2013: 118-119).

In the south-western part of Cathedral Square is an elegant nine-domed Cathedral of the Annunciation. This early structure was built between the years 1484-1489 by Pskov masters as the chapel of the great fortress of the Prince of Moscow. Here the rituals for marriages, baptism and the confession of the Prince were done. In the 16th century Ivan the Terrible built a porch with a high white stone portico, so the chapel in the southern porch turned into a personal chapel of the king. Having a personal church near his own quarters might have had something to do with the many marriages of Ivan IV.

Cathedral of the Annunciation.
The cathedral was built in the tradition of Old Muscovite architecture. But since it was built by masters from Pskov, then, there are also distinct features of the Pskov mentality such as a central octagonal drum, original straps on pillars and many other decorative items specific to the far north.

To the east of the Terem Palace there are four private churches: St. Catherine, the Upper Savior’s Cathedral, Church of the Cross and the Church of the Resurrection. The proximity of the private apartments of the royal family was responsible for their name: the top, ie, located on the second floor. The first church which was built was the St. Catherine. A wooden church which originally stood on this site was destroyed in a fire. Located next to the Tsarina’s Golden Chamber church, it was part of the queen’s apartments and the main church of the women’s quarters. The construction of the church took place in 1627.

Simultaneously with the construction of the Terem Palace from 1635-62, the masters Bazhenov Ogurtsov, Trefil Sharutin, Antip Konstantinov and Larion Ushakov erected the Upper Savior’s Cathedral, or, as it is called, “The Savior of the Golden Bars.” The murals and icons which can be seen in the cathedral were completed in 1660. The name “Savior of the Golden Bars” for the Upper Savior’s Cathedral in the Terem Palace are split on a grid of iron. It is covered with gilding and the lattice-work had this applied gently and carefully so that many people thought that it was really made of gold.

Outside, as well as all domestic churches of the Terem Palace have copper roofs from the 18th century and eleven small drums with gilded domes. This was part of the Kremlin’s most spectacular artistic achievements, with bright tiles, made from drawings by Osip Startsev and carver Hippolytus, decorated drums, round “windows” and bare brickwork. Tiles, enclosed in niches were of a patterned frieze, cornice form. The home church of the Russian tsars which was the Upper Savior’s Cathedral was small and very intimate. The striking iconostasis was made of wood and decorated with gilded carvings in the Ukrainian Baroque style.

On the western side of the Terem Palace was a temple of the Nativity of Our Lady. The temple was reconstructed several times. Of the notable features found there today is an almost completely preserved white stone church. The construction of the church was carried out at the end of the 14th century by order of Princess Eudoxia, the widow of the famed Prince Dmitri Donskoi. This church is one of the oldest buildings belonging to the Moscow Kremlin and well preserved to the present day.

On the territory of the Terem Palace has more churches: the Church of St Catherine, built in 1627 and above, the Church of the Resurrection, and the so-called Church of the Crucifixion adjacent to it. The ceiling contains painted crosses, which are combined atop the three churches. The decorations of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of the Savior churches were performed by the elder monks under Hippolytus, a famous wood-carver of that time.

The house church on the male half of the Terem Palace was built in 1636, around when the construction of the entire complex had been almost completed. The church was named in honor of the “Holy Face of Our Savior” which is really an icon believed to have appeared by itself, without human intervention. Later, an addition was called the Upper Savior’s Cathedral.

The royal doors and decorative inserts on both sides feature numerous reliefs made of silver coinage and date from the end of the 17th century. On the bottom row are especially valuable icons made by the famous Kremlin icon painter Fyodor Zubov, similar in style to Simon Ushakov. Pictorial representations of biblical scenes on the walls of the cathedral were made with oil in the last century. In Soviet times, restorers managed to clear the fragments of paintings from the 17th century.

Above the Upper Savior’s Cathedral is the Church of the Crucifixion of Christ, or the Cross, built in 1681 during the reign of Tsar Fedor Alexeyevich. The greatest oddity was the icons of the iconostasis and the chapel itself, made by applying a sort of tile or shell. The face, hands and feet of the saints were in the prescribed colors, but the rest of the pieces were made using appliqué, masterfully matched in color to near perfection. The icons were written a year after the construction of the temple by artists who also decorated the Armory, Basil Poznansky and Bogdan Saltanov. Appliqué and embroidery were performed by princesses and Russian skilled workers. This might be the first use of embroiderers as religious workers.

The Church of the Resurrection was built over the church of St. Catherine in 1681. The greatest interest here is a carved gilded and silver iconostasis from the early 18th century. The use of light and shade as well as the Baroque attention to detail show us that these might well be the predecessors of Russian secular painting. At the front of the iconostasis is a huge silver chandelier donated to Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich by the Swedish King Charles XI.

The most famous architectural wonder, one associated most commonly with Russia herself, is St. Basil’s Cathedral. It is not only the highest achievement of architectural work at the time, but it also determined the future course of the whole Russian mentality in sacred architecture until the 18th century. It is really called the Cathedral of the Intercession on the Moat in Red Square, but it’s better known by the name “Basil.” This is not named for Basil the Great, as many think, but for a fool-for-Christ who lived at the end of the 16th century, who is buried there.

St. Basil’s Cathedral.

The cathedral was built by the architects Barma and Posnik in 1561 as a memorial building to honor of the conquest of Kazan in 1552. This, in turn, made it a memorial to the final disposition of the Tatar danger, hence, to a great extent, its reputation as the symbol for Russia is appropriate. It was a construction glorifying the feat of Russian soldiers who gave their lives for their country against a foe that harassed Moscow for centuries.

The central church was dedicated to the celebration of the Protection, or the “Protecting Veil,” of the Mother of God by Ivan the Terrible as a sign of the patronage of Our Lady. This was also the protection of the royal family. The eastern church was dedicated to the Trinity. The Western was dedicated to the feast of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, which was the only holiday celebrating a feat earthly glory of Christ, which made some sense for a church complex that had strong political uses. The rest of the cathedral chapels were dedicated to the sacred memory of the military successes of the Kazan campaign. It was also personally dedicated to Ivan the Terrible and the events of his family life. Its personal nature is easy to see, in that the interior of these chapels are so small that some of them can accommodate only three or four people (Fliler, 2008: 45).

Consequently, the whole point of the artistic design is embodied in the appearance of the temple. Placed in the central square of Moscow, Red Square, in full view of the people, it constantly reminded the population of the great victory. As already mentioned, this monument was to perpetuate and exploit the dead under the walls of Kazan. Heroes, given their sacrifice to preserve the lives of others, were worthy of heavenly bliss. In a way, the cathedral symbolized the “abode of the righteous,” in which included the souls of the brave. Naturally, the architecture depicting the heavenly dwellings had to appear before the gaze of the people living as the most splendorous imaginable for the era (ibid).

The architecture of St. Basil’s is surprisingly daring and original. One might even say that here is concentrated the entire rich arsenal of architectural forms of the 16th century. Here we find the tent-style roof, recently introduced in stone architecture and tower-like chapels, and other, less striking decorative forms (Flier, 2008: 42-45).

The eight-point base of the cathedral was complimented by eight domes, which themselves were repeated in the arrangement of the eight chapels around the central church. The decorative techniques of interior decoration of the cathedral produce numerous cornices and figured brickwork along the arches of fine brick. Many subtle details that skillfully adorn the walls of temples and pillars are remarkable.