Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

The Cathedral of Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, better known as Saint Isaac's Cathedral, is one of the landmarks of St. Petersburg. The cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in the northern capital of Russia and at the same time a state memorial museum, which is open to visitors.

St Isaac's Cathedral dates back to 1706, when the first church was built for the Admiralty shipyard. The construction of the second stone church began in 1717 to replace the first one, which had become ramshackle by that time. The third cathedral was built and consecrated in 1802, but soon it was clear that it needed rebuilding.

A contest for the construction of a new, fourth church was announced in 1809. Auguste Montferrand became the author of the project and the architect of the new church. Its foundations were solemnly laid on June 26, 1819. Eminent Russian artists and sculptors had a hand in interior decorating, which was begun in 1841. Montferrand worked on the decor and the general concept of paintings. Professor V. K. Shebuyev, rector of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts was in charge of the paintings. The projects were considered by the Synod, and the emperor himself approved them.

On May 30, 1858 St Isaac's Cathedral was consecrated by Metropolitan Grigory of Novgorod, St. Petersburg, Estland (Estonia) and Finland. Emperor Alexander II and members of the imperial family attended the event.

The control over the church was handed to different ministries several times. In 1864 it was transferred to the Ministry of Railways and Public Buildings, in 1871 - to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Twelve years later, the control of the cathedral was shared between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Department of Orthodoxy.

After the October Revolution, St Isaac's Cathedral was nationalized. In 1918 the People's Commissariat for the Republic’s Property took over the running of the cathedral and at the end of next year it was transferred to parishioners.

From 1928 the cathedral performed a function of a museum. In April 1931 an antireligious museum was opened here. In 1937 St Isaac's Cathedral acquired the status of a memorial and was turned into a historical and art museum. During the Great Patriotic War and the Siege of Leningrad it housed exhibits from different suburban museums of Petrodvorets, Pavlovsk, Pushkin and Gatchina as well as items from the Museum of the History of the City and the Summer Palace of Peter I.

After the end of the war, from 1945 to 1963, the cathedral underwent repairs and restoration works. In 1948 the building opened its doors to the public as a museum. An observation deck, which offered a view of the heart of St. Petersburg, was opened as part of the restoration.

In 1963 St Isaac's Cathedral became a branch of the State Museum of the History of Leningrad. In 1969 it acquired the status of an independent museum.

The services in the cathedral were resumed in 1990 although the church remains under the control of St Isaac’s Cathedral State Memorial Museum.

From 1858 to 1929 the church was also the cathedral of St. Petersburg Diocese. The relic of the church is the revered Icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin, which, according to a legend, was painted by Luke the Evangelist.

Architecturally, St Isaac's Cathedral is the latest example of Classicism. Moreover, it features traces of other styles, such as Neo-Renaissance, Byzantine architecture and Eclecticism.

The cathedral is a crossed-dome building. Inside there are three altars: the main altar is dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, in whose honour the cathedral was consecrated, the left altar is dedicated to the Great Martyr Catherine, and the right altar - to Saint Alexander Nevsky.

The height of the cathedral is 101.5 m., its length with porticoes reaches 111.3 m., and its width is 97.6 m. The indoor floor space is over 4,000 sq. m.

St Isaac's Cathedral is a five-domed building, the external diameter of the central dome is 25.8 m., and the inner diameter is 21.8 m. Four small domes are located above the square bell towers.

The body of the building has four columned porticoes on each side, two sixteen-column porticoes are more impressive, other two have eight columns each. In total, the building has 112 columns of different size.

The cathedral’s outer walls are faced with light-grey Ruskeala marble. However, due to the unstable foundations some of the slabs cracked over time, and therefore were replaced with Bardiglio marble. Restoration works were carried out in the 1970s – 1990s. Inside it is faced with white Italian marble; other types of this rock were also used in decoration.

The collection dedicated to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral consists of descriptions of the church, archival documents (including plans and technical drawings), which present the history of its construction and activities, as well as visual materials featuring views of the cathedral in different historical periods.

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