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St. Isaac’s Cathedral consecrated in St. Petersburg

11 June 1858

On May 30 (June 11) 1858 a new cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church – St. Isaac’s Cathedral was consecrated in St. Petersburg.

In 1710 on the decree of Peter the Great a small wooden church was erected in St. Petersburg near the Russian Admiralty. The church was consecrated in honor of Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great.

In 1717-1727 a small stone church, designed by the architect Georg Johann Mattarnovy, was constructed on this site. Some years later due to an uneven land subsidence the church’s vaults and walls started to crack and the fire of 1735, caused by lightning, which struck the spire, wreaked destruction on the church.

A construction of the third St. Isaac’s church to the design of an architect Antonio Rinaldi was launched in 1768. Building of the church turned out protracted, Rinaldi left Russia and the construction was finished by the court architect of the Emperor Paul I - Vincenzo Brenna.

The new church would not harmonize with grand buildings, located in St. Petersburg’s heart, thus a contest for a new cathedral erection was announced in 1809. It brought together outstanding architects of that time: A. N. Voronihin, A. D. Zaharov, Q. Quarenghi and many others. All the project’s participants came with a proposal to completely demolish the old cathedral. However it contradicted the principal contest’s condition — Alexander I ordered to preserve the old church’s altars at the new one. It was due to this condition that the contest in 1813 didn’t bear fruit either. The young French architect Auguste Montferrand was charged to prepare proposals on reconstruction of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The construction works covered 40 years from 1818 to 1858.

The ceremony of the church’s consecration was conducted on May 30 (June 11) 1858 on the feast day of the Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, and attracted the Emperor Alexander II and members of the Emperor’s family. On the eve of the consecration ceremony was published the “Consecration ceremony of the St. Petersburg Cathedral in honor of Saint Isaac of Dalmatia on May 30 1858”, which specified procedure of holding of the consecration ceremony of three cathedral’s side altars: the main altar — on May 30, side altars — on June 1 and 8.

On the day of the consecration ceremony regiments in full dress were drawn up around the cathedral. Platforms for people were constructed in the Peter’s (Senate) and St. Isaac’s Squares, nearby streets and roofs of neighboring houses were overcrowded. The ceremony of the cathedral’s consecration started at 9 a.m. and finished at about 4 p.m.

The St. Isaac’s Cathedral became one of the major cathedrals worldwide, its grand dome is the city’s height dominant. The cathedral’s decoration brought together over twenty different stones: malachite, marble, lapis lazuli and porphyry, as well as numerous gilded and copper sculptures by Peter Clodt, Ivan Vitaly. The cathedral was painted by the prominent artists, such as Karl Bryullov, Feodor Bruni, Vasily Shebuev etc.

Since its consecration the cathedral became the place for holding city’s festive occasions. Here were conducted grand divine services in honor of patron saints of the Tsar family’s members, accompanied by processions and the guard’s parades. Military occasions – dates of glorious victories of the Russian arms - were also celebrated at the cathedral.

In June 1928 the St. Isaac’s Cathedral was closed, and its values were confiscated. In 1931 the Antireligious museum was opened at the cathedral, and later the cathedral’s building received a status of a museum-memorial.

Divine services were revived at the cathedral only on June 17 1990, when His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia conducted the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.

Today divine services at the St. Isaacs Cathedral take place on a regular basis on festive occasions and Sundays.

Lit.: Бутиков Г. П., Хвостова Г. А. Исаакиевский собор. Л., 1974; Исаакиевский собор [Электронный ресурс] // Государственный музей-памятник «Исаакиевский собор». Б. д. URL: http://www.isaac.spb.ru/isaac; Серафимов В. И., Фомин М. И. Описание Исаакиевского собора в С.-Петербурге, составленное по официальным документам. СПб., 1865; Толмачева Н. Ю. Исаакиевский собор. СПб., 2003.

From the Presidential library materials:

Лозовский В. Н. Горожане возле Исаакиевского собора после литургии. Л., 17 июня 1990;

Лозовский В. Н. Прибытие Ельцина Б. Н. на первую службу в Исаакиевский собор. Л., 17 июня 1990;

Первая служба в Исаакиевском соборе. Мэр города Собчак А. А. и Ельцин Б. Н. Л., 17 июня 1990.