Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dormition Cathedral and Cathedral Square - Moscow

Cathedral Square, the central square of the Kremlin in Moscow, has one of the greatest concentrations of significant religious structures in the world.
Moscow River (foreground): Grand Kremlin Palace (left), Cathedral of  the Annunciation to its right, Cathedral of the Archangel to its right, and Ivan the Great Bell Tower just behind it with Assumption Belfry dome just showing.
Cathedral Square is bordered by the Church of the Twelve Apostles, the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Church of the Deposition of the Robe, the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Cathedral of the Archangel, and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. 

Dormition Cathedral
Dormition Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Assumption,
Dormition Cathedral
commemorates the Virgin Mary's ascent into heaven, 
Mary and the Christ child - mural of Dormition Cathedral
following her death and resurrection. 
It is considered the "mother church" of Russia, or at least of Muscovite Russia, and is the oldest church in Cathedral Square. 
Dormition Cathedral with Church of the Twelve Apostles to back right.
It was built from 1475 to 1479 at the behest of Moscow Grand Duke Ivan III. For 350 years, it was the place where the coronation of the Russian monarch was held, beginning with Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian Tsar, in 1547, down to Nicholas II in 1896. 
Coronation of Nicholas II
Ivan the Terrible took the name "Tsar" as the Slavic equivalent of the Latin term "Caesar," as Russia now claimed to be the "Third Rome," replacing Constantinople which was the "Second Rome" after it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The coronation of the Tsar was a religious ceremony in which the Tsar was crowned, anointed and blessed by the church to commence his reign. 
Alexander III receiving a sceptre in 1883.
Even when the Russian capital was later in St. Petersburg, the coronation always took place at the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin. This included the coronation of the two great Russian monarchs, Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.  
Procession of Tsar Alexander II to Dormition Cathedral
Northern portal of Dormition Cathedral
Above northern portal.

The Dormition Cathedral is also where the patriarchs and metropolitans of the Russian Orthodox Church were installed and buried. In 1589, the Russian Orthodox Church was officially recognized as an autocephalous church of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Metropolitan of Moscow became the first Patriarch of Moscow. 
Inside Dormition Cathedral

Nikon of Moscow, the patriarch from 1652 to 1658, who built the Church of the Twelve Apostles (see below), turned into a major reformer and brought church policies more in line with those of the other autocephalous churches, which were in Constantinople (by then, Istanbul), Jerusalem and Alexandria. This caused a backlash from those who liked the old practices, including Peter the Great, who delayed the election of another patriarch after the death of the patriarch in 1700. In 1721 he established a governing synod in St. Petersburg, consisting of 12 members, selected by him and presided over the by Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, who was also subject to him (the tsar). In 1917, following the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks closed all of the churches in the Kremlin and converted the cathedral to a museum. About the same time, following the collapse of the tsarist government, the Russian Orthodox Church restored the office of patriarch. However, during the era of communist rule, the church structure was nearly destroyed and many church leaders survived only in disguise in remote parts of the country. The Dormition Cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991, a few years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Russian Orthodox Church is by far the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world and is the second largest Christian church in the world after the Roman Catholic church. 

Dormition Cathedral has 6 pillars, 5 apses and 5 domes. The domes are symbolic of Jesus and the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The inside decoration is primarily fresco. 
Dormition Cathedral
Cathedral of the Annunciation
The Cathedral of the Annunciation, with three domes, was built from 1484 to 1489 over an older cathedral of the same name.
Cathedral of the Annunciation. Assumption Belfry and Ivan the Great Bell Tower are to the far right, with Cathedral of the Archangel just visible to the right. 
The Annunciation is the celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel that Mary would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Therefore, the Feast of the Annunciation is observed on March 25th, about the time Mary would have conceived, nine months before Christmas, the birth of Jesus. After a fire in 1547, Ivan the Terrible, the first Tsar, restored the church, adding six additional domes, which covered new parvises (enclosed areas on the front of a building) and side chapels. The restoration was completed in 1564. 
Cathedral of the Annunciation
This is the church where members of the royal family worshiped,  got married, and had their children baptized, as it is connected to the Grand Kremlin Palace, the tsar's Moscow residence. Like the other churches in the Square, the Cathedral of the Annunciation  was closed by the Bolsheviks, and later during the 1950s, preserved as a museum. After dissolution of the Soviet Union, occasional religious services resumed, including the Feast of the Annunciation.  
Cathedral of the Annunciation. Grand Kremlin Palace in background and Cathedral of the  Archangel in foreground.
Cathedral of the Archangel
The Cathedral of the Archangel, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, was the main necropolis (burial ground) for the Tsars of Russia until the time of Peter the Great, when the capital was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
Cathedral of the Archangel
It was built from 1505 to 1508 over an older cathedral. The central yellow dome represents Christ and the four bluish/gray domes around it represent the four evangelists, an idea borrowed from the Dormition Cathedral. 
I particularly like the semi-circular niches with shell-shaped ornaments, at the roof level, which set this building apart from the others. Like the other churches in the Square, it was closed by the Bolsheviks, then preserved as a museum in the 1950s, and returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1990s. 
Cathedral of Archangel in foreground. Ivan the Great Bell Tower and Assumption Belfry towers are visible in left background.
Church of the Deposition of the Robe
The Church of the Deposition of the Robe, also translated Church of the Virgin's Robe, refers to a festival from the 5th Century when the Virgin Mary's robe was taken from Palestine to Constantinople.
Church of Deposition of the Robe
The building of the church began in 1484, right next to the Cathedral of the Annunciation. It started out as the private chapel of the Patriarch of Moscow, but in the 1600s it was taken over by the Russian royal family.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower
Because the three cathedrals in Cathedral Square do not have belfries, this bell tower was built in 1508.
Assumption Belfry and Ivan the Great Bell Tower, from near the Dormition Cathedral.
It was said to be at Moscow's precise geographic center. 
Bell Tower and Belfry from the opposite side, looking toward Cathedral Square.
It was the tallest building in Moscow until the building of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1883. It contains 22 bells, 18 in the base and middle of the bell tower. There are four bells at the top, the largest weighing 65.5 tons, which rings on the largest religious festivals such as Easter. Right next to the bell tower is the Assumption Belfry. 
Belfry and Bell Tower, with Dormition Cathedral to the left.
It was built between 1523 and 1543. It was originally known as the Church of the Resurrection, but it soon was used solely as bell choir stalls to supplement hanging bells.  It houses 24 bells, including the Great Assumption Bell, the largest of all the bells in the Kremlin. 
Assumption Belfry and Ivan the Great Bell Tower
The first floor is now a museum, which we had an opportunity to visit.

Church of the Twelve Apostles
The Church of the Twelve Apostles was commissioned in 1653 by the controversial Patriarch of Moscow, Nikon,  as part of his residence, and part of Nikon's attempt to rival the prestige and authority of the tsar. It looks like it replaced the Church of the Deposition of the Robe as the private chapel of the patriarch. Two arches through the building allow passage from Cathedral Square to the patriarch's courtyard.
Church of the Twelve Apostles
It now serves as a museum of applied arts. 
Tsar Cannon
The Tsar Cannon was cast, in bronze, in 1586 and is 19.5 feet long. It is near Cathedral Square, closest to the Church of the Twelve Apostles and the Assumption Belfry.
Tsar Cannon with Church of the Twelve Apostles behind it.
The cannon balls in front of it are mere decoration, they are too large for the cannon which is just ceremonial.


  1. It's surprising to me that none of these churches were destroyed during earlier periods of communist rule. Even as museums, they are so deeply religious in their symbolism and artwork. It would be hard to imagine them not being sacred places.

  2. What? No traditional "Cannon by a cannon" in that last picture?

    These buildings are absolutely amazing! Stan, book us a tour!

  3. I did take a Cannon-by-a-cannon photo, but Bob is shy about including them.