CATHEDRAL ON THE SPILLED BLOOD
St. Petersburg, Russia
The strictest of titles for this landmark of St. Petersburg is Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ – but it is rarely, if ever, called that. The most favoured name is “Church on the Spilled Blood”, but it is also called Church of the Resurrection, Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood, Cathedral of the Ascension, Cathedral of the Assumption, Cathedral of the Redeemer and numerous other mixes of those names!
Although in some cases a lack of clarity of name might be an annoyance when confronted by this most amazing structure you think, I don’t care what it’s called, this is something wondrous. And so it is.
The irony is that this building only served as a church for about a decade!
We have to begin with a little Russian history. Emperor Alexander II – known as ‘the Liberator’ - was assassinated on this spot in 1881 (after about six other attempts on his life) when a bomb thrown by a Bolshevik exploded as he stepped from his carriage. The Emperor’s legs were blown away almost entirely and he died very soon afterwards. A shrine was immediately set up on the site of the attack whilst plans were made for a more permanent memorial.
Plans were drawn up which involved narrowing the canal to allow for the spot of the assassination to be inside the church and construction began in 1883 under Alexander III (the late Emperor’s son). Work progressed quickly and was completed under Nicholas II in 1907.
Inside the church is a shrine with part of the pavement, including blood stains, where Alexander died.
Unlike most of the Baroque and Neoclassical architecture of St. Petersburg, the Church on the Spilled Blood is in a style meant to represent medieval Russian architecture, the style which is exemplified by St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
The architect of the exterior was Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, a part German Lutheran whilst the interior features work from many prominent Russian artists of the time; Vasnetsov, Nesterov and Vrubel amongst them. Between them the decorators and artists of the church covered an incredible 7,500 square metres of surface wirh mosaics. At the time this was more than any other church – only recently being surpassed by the Cathedral of St. Louis, USA.
It is, perhaps, no shock then that the Church went over budget by around a million rubles. Every single piece of wall and ceiling space inside the church is covered with mosaics. This is not hyperbole or exaggeration, but the absolute truth. The end result is dizzyingly awe-inspiring.
The crowning irony is that just ten short years after completion the Russian Revolution arrived in St. Petersburg and the Church ceased to be a Church. The interior was ransacked and looted and by 1930 it was desolate and so the Soviet Government decided to close it and began looking for an excuse to demolish it. Thankfully, someone pointed out that such a large space was at a premium in the crowded city and so the Church was kept for use as storage. It was briefly a Museum to those who assassinated Alexander II (another irony) and during World War II was used as a morgue during the Siege of Leningrad.
Finally, after the War, it became a warehouse for vegetables and gained yet another name – The Church of our Saviour on the Potatoes.
All these indignities finally began to come to an end in 1970 when management of the Church passed to the Museum of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Restoration began and in August 1997 – 90 years after it was first completed and 27 years after restoration started – the Church finally reopened. However, even today, the Church is not really a church, but a Museum, in over a hundred years of existence the Church was only a church for around ten.
Today we have the most amazing place to visit and an absolute must on any tourist itinerary of St. Petersburg. It will be crowded both inside and out – but if you leave the City without visiting then you haven’t been to the City at all.Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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