Friday, 1 June 2012

Russian diary: The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood

This marvelous Russian style church, built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded in March 1881. The church was built between 1883 and 1907 and was officially called the Resurrection of Christ church (a.k.a. The Church of our Savior in Spilled Blood).

Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture. The church is only a block away from Kazan cathedral which was built in traditions of Classical architecture. It is a western church in a western city, and although the cathedral held Russian Orthodox ceremonies and featured icons, it is still laid out much like a Catholic Cathedral.

Kazan Cathedral

As a result, it becomes a symbol of the liberal European influence, which Alexander III so despised and blamed for his father’s death. Alexander III insisted that his church be line of sight to the Kazan cathedral to remind his citizens of the dangers of liberalization and reform.

The glazed brick and polychrome tiles are trimmed with shining marble.

However, it is the mosaics that are the real treasure. The flamboyant exterior of the building is adorned with icons in a riot of color and becomes more mind boggling the closer you get. Inside there is almost 7,000 sq. meters of Italian marble and over 20
different Russian minerals, that embellish the opulent mosaics based on paintings by Nikolai Bruni, Mikhail Nesterov, and other religious artists of the late 19th century.

Christ and the Apostles are portrayed within the cupola, while the walls and pillars are totally adorned with other Biblical scenes or images of saints.  Mosaics fill the niches, crevices and cornices and no surface is left bare of embellishment.

In the aftermath of the Russian revolution the church was ransacked and looted of the fine wooden icons and religious alter facades.  The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s.  During the Second World War when many people starved to death during the siege of Leningrad, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died from combat, starvation and illness. It was hit by many German shells, at least one of which went through the roof, but failed to explode saving irreplaceable interior art.
After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Savior on Potatoes.  Later, it was used for many years as a storage space for a local opera company.

In 1968, the church was recognized as a heritage asset. It was reopened in August 1977, after 27 years of restoration (it took more time to restore it, than to build), but has not been consecrated and functions as a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution ut never functioned as a public place of worship, having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar.

The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg. Not only does it look like what the rest of the world has become to expect fron the Russian Ortodox church, but does so in a breathtakingly beautiful and picturesque way.


  1. Exquisite images, Elena. You must have been on sensory overload throughout. Amazing colors, gorgeous buildings, wonderful combination of overviews and details. Major kudos to you!

  2. Thank you Carol,

    You are right, it was a sensory overload especially in St. Petersburg, when you walk, and street after street is looking just gorgeous. I was walking 5-7 hours every day, I was afraid that if I stop, I won't be able to move again, and there were so many places to visit.