Moscow boasts hundreds of churches with intricate interiors, centuries-old history and rich cultural heritage. Here are Top 21 fun facts from our tours about the most beautiful cathedral in Moscow – St Basil’s Cathedral, Russian icons and religion in the Soviet times.
Check out this for Soviet related places in Moscow.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
- St Basil’s Cathedral is #1 Moscow attraction. It was built by Ivan the Terrible in 16 century after his victory over the city of Kazan. Nowadays Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan republic which belongs to Russian Federation.
- The cathedral has nine different chapels dedicated to the different holies.
- The legend has it that Ivan the Terrible blinded the architect once the cathedral was built because he didn`t want him to create anything like this anywhere else. However, some believe the Kazan`s Kremlin was built by the same man.
- The original name of the cathedral is The Cathedral of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God. It is known as The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, because St. Vasily was the only man Ivan the Terrible was afraid of for some reason.
- In spite of wars, fires and the threat of destructing the cathedral to get more territory for military parades the cathedral is still standing on its site. In 1930-s one of Joseph Stalin’s main associates Lazar Kaganovich suggested to get rid of it. When he came to Stalin with a new layout of Red Square and suddenly removed the cathedral from the layout, Stalin said his famous phrase: «Lazar! Put it back!». Stalin respected Ivan the Terrible and treated him as the most powerful tsar Russia had ever had.
- Napoleon loved this cathedral very much and wanted to take it with him to Paris, but the technologies were not developed enough to make it possible. But later the French turned the cathedral into the stable. One day they laid an explosive under the St Basil’s Cathedral and lit the fuse. A miracle happened. It started raining and the cathedral was saved.
- There used to be caches in the walls of St Basil’s Cathedral where rich people kept their goods – money, jewelry, books. The tsar`s coffers were also kept in there.
- The original exterior of the cathedral looked different. It was a white-walled building painted like bricks. The additional decorations were added more than 100 years later – in 1670-s. The two big porches on the northern and southern sides were also added in 17th century. The unique architecture of the cathedrals resembles The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg, though Moscow and St Petersburg are very different in terms of architectural landscape of cities.
- There are still services going on in St Basil’s Cathedral every Sunday and on particular religious holidays.
- The biggest figure on an icon is always the main one, all other characters are located around the main one.
- Golden color symbolizes the heaven and holy radiance, red color is the color of human`s nature and Jesus`s pains, black and gray are the colors of sinners and demons.
- Jesus, Virgin Mary, saints and angels are almost always portrayed from the front while the negative characters are normally illustrated half-face.
- Nimbus is the main symbol of holiness in Orthodox tradition.
- In ancient times almost all saints were illustrated with beard because having it was essential. However, sometimes you can see icons where a saint doesn`t have it which means that he was too young and immature.
- On the walls of the cathedrals you can often see calves, lions and eagles, next to them there is always one more figure who looks like an angel. According to the most well-known explanation, a calf symbolizes apostle Luke, a lion – apostle Mark, an eagle – apostle John, an angel – apostle Matthew (Matfei). They are called Tetramorphs.
Religion in the Soviet Union
- Lenin said that freedom from a religion is freedom of conscience and that a religion is opium for people. So the communists hated the church.
- There was a propaganda that a religion was made in order to rule people and to exploit them.
- In the 1920s the only church that was accepted by the new government was The Living Church, also called Renovationist Church. The members of this church supported the new regime and were against the Moscow Patriarch Tikhon who betrayed the Bolsheviks in 1918.
- Parents were usually afraid of praying in front of their children. In kindergardens children were often checked if they were religious or not, for instance, by giving them sweets during a fasting month.
- Many churches and cathedrals were destroyed by the government.
- When the WWII broke out, the government started allowing people to build new churches in order to pray for the victory and freedom.
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