Monday, May 23, 2016

Moscow - Saint Basil Cathedral

Date of visit: 24th October 2015

Almost everyone knows how beautiful and pleasant to the eye is the Saint Basil Cathedral. I could just sit at one corner, sipping coffee and stare at this 455 year old colorful church all day. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve seen that from your gadget sitting far away from where it is located, i.e. at the Red Square in central Moscow. It still gives the same effect of admiration. Furthermore, the building has been maintained so well, doesn't faded at all. The building, now a museum, is officially known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat or Pokrovsky Cathedral. Take note that the cathedral opening hours is daily from 11.00 to 17.00, and closed on Tuesdays.

We joined the queue line at 12.30 noon that day. It was not that long queue anyway as most of the tourist were enjoying their lunch break. There is only 1 entrance adjacent to the ticket booth, i.e. as above photo. I let Anne sat at the bench and enjoying the scenery of Kremlin whilst I purchased the ticket. The cathedral was our last visit place together. It was such a long journey that we've gone through since May 2013. We've covered 16 countries by air flight, trains, boat and buses within 2 years and 6 months traveling together. There are so many places of interests that we've been at, thus far. A real pleasant journey, I must say, just the 2 of us. I now decided to take a break for at least 2 years, reminiscing those good moments and enjoying a peaceful wisdom.

Back to the historical story of the cathedral. It was built from 1555 till its completion in 1561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible, i.e. the Grand Prince of Moscow ruling from 1533 to 1547 and 'Tsar of All the Russias' from 1547 until his death in 1584. It was to commemorate the 1552 capture of Kazan and Astrakhan from Mongol forces. That's pretty much all the genuine history that's known about this celebrated landmark. There, however, scores of legends. Nothing is known about the builders, Barma and Postnik Yakovlev, except their names and the dubious legend that Ivan had them blinded so that they could not create anything to compare. Historians unanimously state that this is nothing but urban folklore. Take note that the same folklore were said happened to the Taj Mahal builder, I mean the Emperor, Shah Jahan also took their eyes. Anyway, this world famous landmark was the city's tallest building until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600, seated adjacent to it. Its architectural ensemble of inimitable beauty and grandeur has been filling the Russian hearts with joy, excitement and pride.

The original building, known as Trinity Church and later Trinity Cathedral, contained 8 side churches arranged around the 9th, central church of Intercession. The 10th church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local saint Vasily or Basil. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the church, perceived as the earthly symbol of the Heavenly City, as happens to all other churches in Byzantine Christianity. It was popularly known as the "Jerusalem" and served as an allegory of the Jerusalem Temple in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the Patriarch of Moscow and the tsar.

The capture of Kazan was the reason for the construction of the cathedral in keeping with the vow made by the czar, but the program of dedicating the cathedral’s side churches was wider than that. It reflected major events of the Russian spiritual life of the second half of the 16th century such as the appearance of a new icon of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker in the land of Vyatka, and the glorification of saints particularly venerated by the Russian ruler, St. Alexander of Svir, St. Varlaam of Khutyn and St. Vasily the Blessed of Moscow, Fool for Christ.

The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no analogues in Russian architecture. Dmitry Shvidkovsky, in his book Russian Architecture and the West, states that "it is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to fifteenth century ... a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design". The cathedral foreshadowed the climax of Russian national architecture in the 17th century.

As part of the program of state atheism, the church was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community as part of the Soviet Union's anti-theist campaigns. It has been operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928. It was completely and forcefully secularized in 1929 and remains a federal property of the Russian Federation. The church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. It is occasionally being mislabelled as the Kremlin owing to its location on Red Square in immediate proximity of the Kremlin.

Architectural specialists are to this day unable to agree about the governing idea behind the structure. Either the creators were paying homage to the churches of Jerusalem, or, by building eight churches around a central ninth, they were representing the medieval symbol of the eight-pointed star. The original concept of the Cathedral of the Intercession has been hidden from us beneath layers of stylistic additions and new churches added to the main building. In fact, when built, the Cathedral was all white to match the white-stone Kremlin, and the onion domes were gold rather than multi-colored and patterned as they are today. We were happened to be at the centre church, the ninth when a group of choir, 4 mens started singing a songs from the Holy Book. As it was in Hebrew, which sounded more like Italian, I could not figured out whether it was the collection of song from the Psalm. It was such an harmony sound that fills the entire area.

The Soviet Union, at one time, did having a serious thought of demolishing the cathedral. It was mainly because it hindered Stalin's plans for massed parades on Red Square. The courage of the architect Pyotr Baranovsky has saved the Saint Basil from historical disappearance. When ordered to prepare the building for demolition, he refused categorically, and sent the Kremlin an extremely blunt telegram. The Cathedral remained standing, and Baranovsky's conservation efforts earned him five years in prison. During restoration work in the seventies, a wooden spiral staircase was discovered within one of the walls. Visitors now take this route into the central church, with its extraordinary, soaring tented roof and a fine 16th Century iconostasis. You can also walk along the narrow, winding gallery, covered in beautiful patterned paintwork. One service a year is held in the Cathedral, on the Day of Intercession in October.

We spent less than an hour inside as we both kept looking at the time, feeling worried if we will be late to reach Domodedovo Airport. Though time was not on our side, we truly had a great time, being able to cover at least 3/4 of this beautiful cathedral. It's not wrong to say that Saint Basil Cathedral is indeed a jewel of Moscow. A visit to the city without stepping inside the church would not be a complete tour. My apology for sharing too many photos of this last visited place. I really cannot contain my happiness, I mean having able to record the details of this magnificent place. My main reference for this entry are the Wikipedia and local website, Moscow Saint Basil Cathedral. Thank you for a complete facts of history provided in both websites. I have a full picture of the place and I hope you may gain some knowledge too out of it.

I left Saint Basil Cathedral that day feeling accomplished. Saying goodbye was a little hard to do, hence below are my 2 last photo that I shall again and again revisit in the future, in the event I miss it.

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