St. Basil’s cathedral: Q&A

We are absolutely sure that if you ever think of Moscow, one of the tons of associations will be St. Basil’s Cathedral. Here are the most popular questions, which could come to your mind!

Saint Basil Cathedral

St.Basil Cathedral. Photo by Le Blog Voyage Chapka

  1. What is it?

St. Basil’s Cathedral the Blessed is only the popular name of the orthodox Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Virgin on the Moat. In Russian it sounds like Pokrovsky sobor. This is the functioning cathedral, divine services are held regulary.

  1. Where is it?

It is located on the Red Square as a part of Moscow Kremlin. So, what does the official name mean? Imagine that the Red Square was surrounded by a defensive moat and there was a small wooden church on the southern side of square. In 1555, it was dismantled and then a new stone temple’s construction began just near the moat.

  1. Who built it?

It is a real mystery! Nobody knows exactly, what architect made this miracle, but there are a few versions.

The first is that two masters called Barma and Postnik created it together and were dazzled by order of tsar Ivan the Terrible, because he didn’t want them to build something similar, especially something more beautiful. But do not be afraid! It is just a legend.

The second version is that Barma and Postnik are simply different names of one person, who took part in construction of many buildings.

And the last but not the list – the cathedral was built by an unknown West European master. By the way, it is really logical, because a lot of buildings of the Moscow Kremlin were created predominantly by Italians.

  1. Why was it built?

To truly understand the destination of St. Basil’s Cathedral, you must need the historical realities. In the beginning of XVI century Russia sighed with a relief after the period of feudal disunity and centuries-old dependency on Mongol-Tatars, conquered the Russian territory. So, princes and tsars started the Merger policy to get lost areas back and join new lands. Kazan was a center of Kazan Khanate – a fragment of former Tatars’ greatness. That is why to conquer it means a lot for Russians ideologically and in terms of expansion. Once Ivan the Terrible promised that he would build a church in case of victory over Kazan. It happened exactly in day of the Intercession of the Most Holy Virgin – in early October 1552 and Ivan ordered to start the construction of temple in honor of the accession of Kazan.

  1. But… Who is Basil?

Sixteen years Basil left his master and the craft of a shoemaker and began the feat of being fool for God’s sake, which lasted for 72 years, without shelter and clothing, exposing himself to great privations. He could see the future, so people respected him and at the same time were afraid. According to the legend, Basil the Blessed, the most revered God’s fool in Russia, collected money for the future Pokrovsky temple by picking up coins on the floor, brought them to Red Square and left there, and no one, even thieves, touched these coins. Before his death, in August 1552 he gave money to Ivan the Terrible, who soon ordered the building of a temple on this place. Since 1588, people began to notice different miracles taking place at the grave of Blessed Basil and tsar Feodor ordered to build a side-chapel in the Pokrovsky Cathedral in the name of St. Basil the Blessed.

  1. What is the symbolic meaning of this cathedral?

There are a lot of myths and legends about the Intercession St. Basil’s Cathedral. Here are some of the most interesting:

  • The temple is an inaccurate copy of the Kul-Sharif mosque in Kazan. When the army of Ivan the Terrible stormed the city, the tsar was angry with the resistance of residents and immediately ordered to demolish the beautiful mosque after a successful assault. Gilded domes of the mosque were taken to Moscow.
  • The view of the cathedral from above is a model of the solar system. The central yellow dome is the sun, and the other nine are planets
  • Stalin personally abolished the plan for the demolition of the cathedral, despite the fact that the Communists propagandized atheism.
  • Napoleon ordered to blow up the temple in the beginning of XIX century, when his army invaded in Moscow Kremlin, but the Cathedral remained practically intact.
  1. How does it look nowadays?

The Cathedral found its current multi-colored appearance in the second half of the XVIII century under Catherine II. No dome in this cathedral repeats the other: each of them is decorated with cornices, windows, niches. In general, the cathedral creates a feeling of festivity and elegance. Everybody can visit it and see icons made in XVI-XVIII centuries, but there is a place where no tourist has entered. An unusual space between the two floors is a real time machine, because a true masonry of 1581 was preserved there.

Recently, a new permanent exhibition “The Treasures of the Intercession Cathedral” was opened. The word “treasure” in this case refers not only to spiritual, but also to the material side of the objects. Many of them were donated to the temple by Russian tsars.

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