May 16

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior (Catedrala lui Isus Hristos Mantuitorul)

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is located in the Russian capital, Moscow, and it might just be the largest orthodox cathedral in the entire world.

This cathedral was the idea of Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who upon seeing the troupes of Napoleon leaving Moscow, decided to erect a cathedral and dedicate it to Jesus Christ for having protected the Russians from their invaders. Also, the cathedral was dedicated to the Russian troupes that have sacrificed their lives for their nation.


But even if the idea began to take form as the plan was developed and the location was selected, the cathedral did not see the light of day any time soon. The reason for this was that the successor of Tsar Alexander, his brother Nicholas, did not approve of the architectural design chosen for the edifice – which representative of the neoclassical period.

As a result, a new architect was appointed so as to draw a different plan for the cathedral. This task came to Konstantin Thon who drew his inspiration from the Hagia Sophia edifice, located in Constantinople. Even the site was changed. On the new selected location there were already  a church and a covenant, but the resolution in this case was to relocate the two edifices so as to make room for the grand cathedral.


The year 1839 marks the moment when the construction work for the cathedral began, but only the platform was developed in the years to come. The extensive work picked up its pace in 1860. And the next 20 years after this were dedicated to decorating the cathedral.

This consisted of elaborate frescoes which were done to the interior of the edifice by some of the most renowned Russian painters of that time. The cathedral was sanctified in the same day that Tsar Alexander III was crowed ruler over all of Russia – 26th of May, 1883.


But after the Revolution, the Soviets had developed a plan according to which the cathedral was to change dramatically, from an Orthodox house of worship to a monument dedicated to socialism which was to bear the name: the Palace of Soviets. The idea was to attach a colossal statue of Lenin on a dome of the edifice. Even if this project was never realized, the fate of the cathedral was doomed, as it was dynamited on December the 5th, 1931 leaving behind nothing more that ruins of a once glorious edifice.

But the near future did not see any prospect of rebuilding the cathedral due to a lack of funds. What was left behind in the place of the cathedral was a huge hole. There were no interventions conducted to the site until Nikita Khrushchev came to power. During his period, an immense swimming pool was constructed in place of the cathedral. But when the Soviet Union fell, there was a ray of hope that the cathedral would be rebuilt.


The Russian Orthodox Church got permission to start the reconstruction work for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February 1990. But the work did not begin until 1994 as there were insufficient funds to support this costly undertaking. The cathedral was officially completed in 2000, on the 19th of August, when it underwent its sanctifying ritual.

The new cathedral is reflexive of the former edifice, the architects doing everything in their power to create an accurate replica of the initial Cathedral of Christ the Savior. In order to do this, massive research work was done but even so, there are noticeable differences between the original construction and its present-day counterpart.


The first distinction is that the new edifice disposes of an annex right at its base. This section is quite large as it consists of the Church of the Transfiguration, the Hall of Church Councils, Dining Halls, offices for the personnel working at the church, and so on. Another discrepancy between the past and the present edifices refers to the materials used in the construction work. The present cathedral was constructed while using the latest technological developments and materials. Just to give some examples, the façade is covered with marble from Koegla, the staircases are covered in red granite while concrete was the main material used in the construction of the walls.


The edifice is enormous – as much as 10,000 people can fit inside the cathedral. It is no wonder that it is the largest cathedral on all of Russia. The interior decoration is breathtaking, the cathedral being adorned with elaborate frescoes which extend over the entire surface of the walls (which exceeds 22,000 m). One aspect worth mentioning is that the better part of the walls is gilded.

The cathedral is open for visitation on a daily basis in the following hourly interval: 6:30 – 22:00. There is no fee charged for entering the holy place, but there is one restriction imposed to visitors – it is not allowed to take photographs of the interior.