The Cathedral Square of Moscow Kremlin: The Assumption Cathedral
The building of the main cathedral church – the center of Russian Orthodoxy – was entrusted to the well-known Italian architect and engineer Aristotele Fioravanti on the Cathedral Square of Moscow Kremlin. It was erected on the site of the by then very dilapidated first stone Assumption Cathedral (1326-1327) and completed in 1479.
“As if hewn from a single block” was how the chronicler describes his impression of the building, which is indeed remarkably harmonious and majestic.
The Assumption Cathedral embodied the idea of the unity of the Russian land. It also expressed the Moscow grand princes’ desire to emphasise and reinforce the power of this capital of the centralized state, which was taking shape, and it symbolized the continuity and stability of sovereign rule.
The cathedral’s strict proportions, powerful five domes and smooth walls, plus the serene rhythm of the semi-circular portals, windows and zakomaras (arched wall terminations), create an impression of austere, masculine strength.
The interior is unusually spacious, light and airy for the Middle Ages, reminiscent of a grand hall with four round pillars.
Painting covers the walls, vaults, window jambs and pillars like a rich carpet of warm red-brown tones. The fresco compositions of the 15th to 17th century form a consecutive narrative, each scene leading on to the next full of profound content. The wall-painting has frequently been renovated and over-painted. In the 1960s it was restored to its original appearance.
From the very start the cathedral served as the burial place for the heads of the Russian Church the metropolitans and patriarchs. The Chapel of SS Peter and Paul contains the tomb of Metropolitan Peter (d.1326) and his successor Theognostus (d. 1353). Other burials are arranged round the walls. In an openwork receptacle cast in bronze by the skilled master D.Sverchkov in 1624 lie the remains of Patriarch Hermogenes who fought against the Polish invaders in the early 17th century.
Over the centuries the cathedral has been embellished by the finest painters, jewellers, carvers and embroidresses. The very rich collection of icons from the 12th to the 17th centuries contains “St George the Warrior” (late 11th – early 12th cent.), “Our Saviour of the Golden Hair” (early 13th cent.), “Our Saviour of the Angry Eye” and a “Half-Length Christ” (both mid-14th cent.), the “Apostles Peter and Paul” and “Metropolitan Peter with Scenes from his Life” (both late 14th or early 15th cent.), the dedicational icon of the “Dormition of the Virgin” (c.1479) and many others.
One of the most famous exhibits in the Assumption Cathedral is the Throne of Ivan the Terrible, or Monomachos Throne, made in 1551. It is decorated with fine wood-carving and bas-relief compositions illustrating the political legend that the royal regalia, the cap and collar, were received from the Byzantine emperor.
Of the chandeliers note in particular the central “Harvest” candelabra said to have been made of sil¬ver confiscated by Russian soldiers from Napoleon’s retreating army in 1812.
The Assumption Cathedral was not only the main church, but also an important public building. All coronations were held here from 1498 to 1896, metropolitans and patriarchs were instated and important state edicts were proclaimed.
In 1990 religious services were resumed in the cathedral.
The Cathedral Square of Moscow Kremlin: The Cathedral of the Archangel
On the southeast side of the Cathedral Square, by the southern brow of Borovitsky Hill, the Italian architect Alevis Novy erected the Archangel Cathedral in 1505-1508. Like the previous cathedral on this spot, it was dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the divine protector of the Russian host. While following the traditions of Russian architecture and preserving the usual five domes, the architect gave the exterior features of Venetian Renaissance palace architecture.
The wall-painting has a long history. Ninety-two artists painted the interior between 1652 and 1666, preserving the order and composition of the 16th- century painting. Here you can see scenes about the numerous deeds of the Archangel Michael, Old Testament scenes and a fascinating “portrait gallery” of Kievan, Vladimir and Moscow princes, symbolizing the continuity and legality of royal authority.
Pride of place in the iconostasis made in 1813 belongs to the late 14th-century Russian icon of the “Archangel Michael with the Deeds of the Angels”.
Until the end of the 17th century the cathedral was the burial place of the Moscow ruling dynasty. It contains 45 tombs, 2 memorial slabs and two burials shrines. The burials are under the floor and on the top are brick tombs with white-stone slabs bearing foliate carved ornament and inscriptions. In 1906 the tombs were enclosed in bronze glass cases. Prince Ivan Kalita who began the unification of the Russian lands is buried here as well as Prince Dmitri Donskoy and another hero of the Battle of Kulikovo, Prince Vladimir Andreyevich. The builder of the Kremlin is buried here too, Grand Prince Ivan III. And behind the iconostasis lies Tsar Ivan the Terrible, next to Ivan, the son he killed. In the main body of the cathedral is the trellised tomb of his youngest son, Tsarevich Dmitri, who died in Uglich in 1591, and tombs of members of the Romanov dynasty. From Peter the Great on¬wards the Russian emperors were buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, with the sole exception of Peter II who died in Moscow and was buried in the Archangel Cathedral in 1730.
The Cathedral Square of Moscow Kremlin: The Annunciation Cathedral
On the south side of Cathedral Square next to the Great Kremlin Palace is the gold-domed Annunciation Cathedral. In the second half of the 14th century where the present cathedral now stands, a small single-domed stone church was erected, later constantly rebuilt and reconstructed. In its place Grand Prince Ivan III built a small three-domed brick cathedral surrounded by a gallery on semi-basements.
The cathedral was badly damaged in the fire of 1547. In the course of restoration work during the 1560s and 1570s four chapels were erected over the corners of the galleries in the form of small single-domed churches. Another two domes were added over the main body on the west side, bringing the number of domes up to nine. At the same time the domes and roof were covered with bronze-gilt. The light, graceful proportions, rich and varied architectural forms and perfect combination of the white walls with the gold cupolas and openwork roof-edge trellis give the Annunciation Cathedral a special brilliance and elegance.
The interior is quite small. By the west wall is a wide choir gallery reached by a staircase in the wall. The cathedral’s floor composed of small pieces of flint with agate and jasper is remarkably beautiful.
The cathedral’s painting contains a large number of New Testament subjects arranged in cycles, such as church feasts and Christ’s Passion, miracles and parables. As well as the New Testament cycles, there are many figures of Old Testament prophets, and also apostles, bishops, martyrs, monks and warriors. The domes contain Christ Pantocrator, the Virgin of the Sign and the Lord of Sabaoth. The main place in the central body of the cathedral contains detailed illustrations of different parts of the Apocalypse. On the pillars above and below the scenes from the Apocalypse are the figures of the most revered saints, Byzantine emperors and Russian princes who personified the idea of the continuity of power from Constan-tinople to Moscow. They include the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen, Vladimir Svyatoslavich and his mother Olga, St George and St Demetrius of Salonica, the princes Boris and Gleb, Vladimir Monomach, Alexander Nevsky, Ivan Kalita and others.
The cleaning and study of the cathedral’s frescoes carried out in 1977-1984 made it possible to conclude that the whole ensemble of paintings was formed at the same time, between 1547 and 1551.
The painting in the cathedral galleries which ser¬ved as a passageway into the royal palace is exceptionally interesting. It consists of a tree of Jesse composition of more than 200 figures, based on the Old Testament story of the lineage of Jesus. The tree takes up all the vaulting and a large section of the walls. The gallery frescoes contain the figures of Russian princes and ancient philosophers. Of special interest are the portraits of the “sages”, Anaxagoras, Homer, Menander, Plutarch, Virgil and Plato.
The cathedral’s iconostasis, which consists mainly of 14th-century and early 15th-century icons, is of great artistic value. The most outstanding work is the Deesis tier, which specialists regard as one of the finest specimens of Byzantine art of the latter half and end of the 14th century.
The six-tier iconostasis which has survived to the present day was made for the cathedral in the late 19th century. It is covered with chased and enamelled brass-gilt.
In the diaconium is a silvered brass shrine in the form of a coffin, on top of which are twenty-eight reliquaries each containing particles of sacred relics. It was made in 1894 at the factory of A.M.Postnikov.
The Annunciation Cathedral was the private church of the Russian grand princes and tsars until the Church of Our Saviour Behind-the-Golden-Trellis was built in the tsar’s private apartments, and is often referred to in the chronicles as being “in the grand prince’s court in the vestibule”. Royal weddings and christenings traditionally took place here. From the 15th century the cathedral’s senior priest was the sovereign’s father confessor.
The semi-basement (1360s-1416) made of large blocks of white stone has survived. The grand princes’ treasury is thought to have been stored here for many years. At present it houses an exhibition entitled “The Archaeology of the Moscow Kremlin“.
In recent years services have been held in the cathedral on the feast of the Annunciation which are usually conducted by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.
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