Собор Василия Блаженного в Москве (St Basil’s the Blessed Cathedral in Moscow)
The Church of St Basil’s in Moscow is perhaps as unique in the field of masonry as is the Church of the Transfiguration on Kizhi Island in the field of wooden architecture. It is basically cross-shaped, the arms of the cross extending from a square centre. The main church over which rises the central tower is covered with a tent-shaped roof and crowned with a gilt cupola. At each arm of the cross along the principal axis is an octagonal church. Four other secondary churches are along the diagonal axis. All these elements are placed over a tall, vaulted substructure – the typical lower story of the Russian wooden churches.
The pyramidal belfry at the southeast corner is separate from the church. The plan and the general massing of the elements are unusual, not only in the accepted concept of church design but in the distribution of the main masses. The main church is of stone and brick and covered with stucco. In the seventeenth century the entrance structure, originally white, was painted in variegated colours, the stairways were roofed over, the sheet iron covering of the cupola was replaced with tile, and the old belfry was replaced with a present tent-roofed bell tower.
St Basil’s embodies the characteristic architectural features of the wooden churches of north-east Russia, translated into masonry. The same method is used to form the transition from the massive base to a smaller octagon supporting the tent-shaped spire, surmounted by a small, bulbous cupola.
The eleven steeples are banded together like an immense bundle of fantastically shaped plants. The eight cupolas dominated by the central pyramid are all of the same general silhouettes, but are different in design, as if to single out each of the component churches in the complex. Some with their twisted, variegated shapes are reminiscent of oriental turbans, some are decorated with ribbed or interlacing designs, others are faceted, giving the appearance of pineapples. Still, another has imbrications reminiscent of the aspen shingles of the wooden churches. All the cupolas are bulbous and project beyond the diameter of the drum. This diversity of forms and decorative features is further heightened by the lavish use of coloured tile.
Пирамидальная колокольня в юго-восточном углу отделена от церкви. План и общее количество элементов необычны не только в принятой концепции церковного дизайна, но и в распределении основных масс. Главная церковь из камня и кирпича и покрыта штукатуркой. В 17 веке вход был первоначально белым,но со временем был окрашен в пестрые цвета, лестницы были покрыты кровлей, железобетонное покрытие купола было заменено плиткой, а старая колокольня была заменена существующей колокольней с крытой палаткой.
Собор Василия Блаженного воплощает характерные архитектурные особенности деревянных церквей северо-востока России, переведенных в каменную кладку. Тот же метод используется для формирования перехода от массивного основания к меньшему восьмиугольнику, поддерживающему шатровидный шпиль, увенчанный небольшим выпуклым куполом.
Sacred Sites, Religious Places, Pilgrimages
St. Basil’s Cathedral
The spectacular St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century to commemorate a military victory. It is easily the most famous sight on Red Square.
History of St. Basil’s Cathedral
St. Basil’s was built to commemorate the capture of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan in 1552, which occured on the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin. The cathedral was thus officially named Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat (the moat being one that originally ran beside the Kremlin).
But the cathedral was popularly known as St. Basil’s Cathedral, after St. Basil the Blessed (a.k.a. St. Basil Fool for Christ; 1468-1552), almost from the beginning. Basil impressed Ivan in 1547 when he foretold a fire that swept through Moscow that year. Upon his death, Basil was buried in the Trinity Cathedral that stood on this site at the time.
The Cathedral of the Intercession a.k.a. St. Basil’s Cathedral was constructed from 1555 to 1560. Legend has it that after it was completed, Ivan had the architect blinded in order to prevent him from building a more magnificent building for anyone else. (In fact, he went on to build another cathedral in Vladimir.)
In 1588, Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich added a ninth chapel added on the eastern side to house the grave of St. Basil.
In modern times, St. Basil’s came very close to falling victim to Stalin, who resented that it prevented his soldiers from leaving Red Square en masse. But the architect Baranovsky stood on the cathedral’s steps and threatened to cut his own throat if the masterpiece was destroyed and Stalin relented (but punished Baranovsky with five years in prison).
More recently, St. Basil’s Cathedral has suffered significant damage from weather and neglect. It was not until the Millennium that funds were allocated to restore its foundations and flaking surfaces.
What to See at St. Basil’s Cathedral
Saint Basil’s is located at one end of Red Square, just across from the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin. Not particularly large, it consists of nine chapels built on a single foundation.
The riot of color and shapes that is St. Basil’s Cathedral is unmatched anywhere else in the world. The French diplomat Marquis de Custine commented that it combined «the scales of a golden fish, the enamelled skin of a serpent, the changeful hues of the lizard, the glossy rose and azure of the pigeon’s neck» and wondered at «the men who go to worship God in this box of confectionery work.»
The powerfully eastern design of St. Basil’s reflects both its location between Europe and Asia and its historical origins. Since the Kazan Qolsharif mosque had been the principal symbol of the Khanate captured by Ivan the Terrible, some elements from the mosque were incorporated into the cathedral to symbolize the victory.
Although the towers and domes appear chaotic, there is symmetry and symbolism in its design. There are eight domed chapels symbolizing the eight assaults on Kazan: four large and octagonal and four small and square. In the center is a tent-roofed spire topped with a small golden dome.
The ninth chapel on the east side added in 1588 for Basil’s tomb interrupts the symmetery of design somewhat. It can be recognized on the outside by its green-and-gold dome studded with with golden pyramids.
The interior is a maze of galleries winding from chapel to chapel and level to level via narrow stairways and low arches. The walls are painted in floral and geometric patterns.
St. Basil the Blessed can be visited in his chapel on the lower floor, where he lies in a silver casket in gaudy splendor. Upstairs, the Chapel of the Intercession contains the equally splendid blue and gold iconostasis. Other chapels, such as that of St. Nicholas, are more restrained and even austere in their decor.
In a garden at the front of the cathedral stands a bronze statue commemorating Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, who rallied Russia’s volunteer army against the Polish invaders during the Time of Troubles in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
The statue was originally constructed in the center of Red Square, but the Soviet government felt it obstructed parades and moved the statue in front of the cathedral in 1936.
Quick Facts on St. Basil’s Cathedral
|Names:||Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed · Intercession Cathedral · Pokrovsky Sobor · Sobor Vasiliya Blazhennovo · St. Basil’s Cathedral|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||55.752550° N, 37.623067° E|
|Address:||Red Square |
|Hours:||11am-6pm; closed Tues and 1st Mon of each month|
|Lodging:||View hotels near St. Basil’s Cathedral|
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.
Map of St. Basil’s Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.
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St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow
A sacred relic of Orthodox Russia
One of Russia’s most recognizable architectural masterpieces is Pokrovsky Cathedral, better known as St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. This Orthodox church, which has earned international recognition for its unique beauty, is located in the historical center of Russia’s capital. Its structural distinctiveness evokes endless admiration from guests and justifiable pride in Muscovites, who are honored to call this world masterpiece their own.
The cathedral was built from 1555-1561 by order of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who vowed that he would build a church if the city of Kazan were captured from the Kazan Khanate. The people initially called the Cathedral Pokrov na Rvu (Moat Cover) as it was built next to a deep moat that ran along the eastern wall of the Moscow Kremlin.
In one of the cathedral’s chapels lies St. Basil the Blessed, the most revered holy fool in Russia from whom the church received its unofficial name. Legend has it that he collected money for the construction of Pokrovsky Cathedral and was known to throw coins over his right shoulder on Red Square in Moscow, which no one, not even the thieves, dared to touch. In August 1552, shortly before his death, St. Basil gave the collected money to Ivan the Terrible, who ordered a temple be built on the site.
Although the church was built by two Russian architects, Postnik and Barma, their identity only became known in 1895, when records were found in a historical manuscript collection of the 17th century. According to legend, Ivan the Terrible, upon seeing the construction of St. Basil’s Cathedral completed according to the architects’ design, was so delighted with its beauty that he ordered the architects be blinded so that they could never again build a temple equal in splendor to Pokrovsky Cathedral.
At St. Basil’s Cathedral, facts and legends have become enmeshed. According to another legend, Napoleon wished to move this architectural miracle to Paris. As the technology of the time was unable to cope with this task, the French emperor instead ordered his army to blow up the church, along with the Kremlin, before retreating. The Muscovites tried in vain to extinguish the lighted wicks, but providence intervened through a sudden torrential downpour, which helped to dowse the fire and save the church from destruction.
St. Basil’s Cathedral is a symmetrical ensemble of eight colorful, pillar-shaped churches surrounding the ninth and highest chapel, which is crowned with a pergola. Each of the eight churches is named after a saint on whose holy day a significant event of Ivan the Terrible’s Kazan campaigns took place. The central church is dedicated to the Feast of the Intercession of the Mother of God, for it was on this day that Kazan was stormed. The multihued churches are crowned with bulbous domes, each of which is unique in its architectural design. Each dome is further decorated with cornices, arched semi-circles, windows and niches.
St. Basil Cathedral’s interior is equally impressive. In the 1920s, it received the status of a museum, and since 1934 has been listed as a branch of the State Historical Museum. The cathedral-museum has nine iconostases, which contain about 400 icons of the 16th-19th centuries and represent the best examples of Novgorod and Moscow iconography. In addition to icons, the cathedral holds portrait and landscape paintings, church utensils, various weapons from the reign of Ivan the Terrible and an interesting collection of bells cast in Russia, Belarus, Holland, France and Germany. Among the most valuable exhibits is a 17th-century chalice (a liturgical vessel for consecrating wine) that belonged to Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich. The colors and detail of the frescoes splayed across the churches’ interior likewise leave many visitors speechless.
St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow attracts millions of tourists each year and has been counted among Russia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1990.