St. Isaac’s Cathedral is named after the saint to whom it is dedicated: Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, and it is located in Sankt Petersburg, being the largest Orthodox cathedral found in this specific town.
The church was erected by the order of Tsar Alexander I, but the actual building process took quite some time to be initiated, mainly because the designs which were presented before the commission appointed to supervise the project were deemed unworthy. The architect to receive the job was Auguste de Montferrand, but even his design was received with immense criticism. Montferrand’s plan consisted of a gigantic structure with 4 identical porticos, but this was not what the commission had in mind.
They considered the design to be quite dull in its repetitiveness and this definitely did not inspire grandeur, which was what they were looking to achieve through the cathedral. Even if the edifice was to be colossal in size this did not necessarily mean that it was to be the epitome of greatness. This was quite a dispute in this regard, so the Tsar himself intervened in the matter and appointed Montferrand to supervise the construction of the cathedral.
Thus, the project was under way. However, the edifice did not see the light of day until 40 years had passed – this being the timeframe in which it was built (beginning 1818 and being finished in 1858). The history of the cathedral is very interesting, the church having witnessed different political regimes, time in which its appearance and scope had changed. For instance, when the Soviet Union was in power, any depiction which was religious in nature was destroyed. In fact, in 1931, the building was transformed into an Antireligious Museum.
As a consequence of this shift, the dove sculpture – the symbol of the Holy Spirit, but also of peace and conciliation – was removed, so as to make room for Foucault’s pendulum. This device was used to demonstrate in the simplest way possible that the earth is indeed round. The symbolism behind this? The Soviets felt the need to erase all remnants of religion, or more accurately of blind belief in something that cannot be demonstrated, and replace these with something palpable, logically explained.
In 1937, this antireligious museum was turned into a museum for the cathedral and the collections it contained were transported to another museum, the Museum of the History of Religion, where they could integrate themselves into the historical path traversed by religion as a whole, or better still, by the way in which religion was perceived throughout time.
The edifice was once more turned into a cathedral when the communist regime fell. Thus, the museum which was housed here was closed and the cathedral began being used for religious purposes. However, the religious activity is conducted solely in the left segment of the cathedral, the main edifice being used only during feast days.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral stands out due to the fact that it comprises several unique elements of architecture. At the exterior, the first thing that draws one’s attention is the columned structure – there are 112 pillars with Corinthian capitals which are formed out of red granite. There are 48 statues in total in the structure of the edifice, divided equally between the rotunda (the circular ground plan) and the roof.
The main dome is another point of interest as it is elevated at more than one hundred meters, it is gilded in pure gold and there are 12 statuettes depicting angels which adorn it.
The interior of the cathedral is beautifully adorned with statues made out of multicolored granites and marbles which have been brought from all over Russia. The massive doors at the entrance are made out of bronze, while the iconostasis is enclosed by means of 8 pillars made out of semiprecious stones. The paintings adorning the interior of the cathedral were masterfully created by Karl Bryullov. However, these depictions did not survive the dire conditions found inside of the cathedral in terms of humidity and cold. Montferrand decided not to have the paintings redone as these were bound to suffer the same faith with the passage of time, instead he had them meticulously replicated in the form of mosaic works. However, the job was left unfinished even to this day.