St. Petersburg, Russia

Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Petersburg, Russia

Peter the Great arrived on Hare Island in 1703 and decided this was the place he wanted to start his new City. Just one year later the first Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul was consecrated within the walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress. From the very beginning it was built as a Cathedral; it remained the Cathedral for St. Petersburg until St. Isaac’s took over in 1859 (subsequently Kazan Cathedral holds that office).

This first Cathedral was soon replaced by a stone one built to the designs of Domenico Trezzini who was busily designing a plan for the whole City. Work began on this new Cathedral – and the revamp of the Fortress that surrounds it – in 1712 and much of the work was completed by 1733. The most prominent feature is the folden spire which is 404 feet (123 m) tall and has a famous angel with a cross at its tip. For many centuries this was the tallest structure in St. Petersburg and even today all views towards it are unrestricted due to a very enlightened policy of banning tall buildings in the historic centre of the City – Peter the Great would have been delighted!

Peter himself died in 1725 and is buried in the Royal mausoleum in the Cathedral, as are almost all the Romanov Emperors that followed him, including Catherine the Great and right up until the last, Nicholas II, who was reburied here as recently as 1998. Only Peter II and Ivan VI are buried elsewhere.

Peter had travelled extensively in the Netherlands and Belgium and was a great lover of the carillons which are a feature of most major Flemish churches, and so he ordered one to be made in the Netherlands for installation here. It was destroyed by fire in 1756, but was soon replaced by a new one which was gifted to St. Petersburg by the people of Flanders which was installed after some delay in 1776. A new set of bells were installed in 2001.

Like most religious buildings, the Soviet Union brought an end to the Cathedrals ecclesiastical life and it closed in 1919 and was turned into a Museum in 1924. It is still, officially, a museum (part of the Peter and Paul Fortress Museum) but religious services have been carried out here since 2000.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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