Church Museum and Monument
The Church of Resurrection (Savior on Spilled Blood) was built as a historical and memorial center of all Russian people. The Cathedral was built in the memory of Emperor Alexander II, and his reforms, and served a symbol of repentance of the Russian people.
The Savior on Spilled Blood is also a historical monument to the tragic events of March 1, 1881.
The Cathedral should not be perceived as simply a cult building; its idea is broader and deeper. The image of the Savior in this Cathedral reflects not so much the cult aspect, but the political, historical, artistic, stylistic importance of the monument, and underscores its importance for the city.
The territory adjacent to the cathedral is one of the oldest areas of St. Petersburg, its historic downtown, which was formed in the first third of the 18th century. It was during this period that the city communications system was formed with Bolshaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa and Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa serving as thoroughfares between the Royal Stable and Nevsky Prospekt. Because the church is located in the very heart of the city, its surroundings are of highest value. The historical and cultural environment here is extremely rich, represented by such treasures of world spiritual culture as the Russian Museum, the Maly Opera Theater, the Grand Philharmonic Hall, and churches of various confessions. The Cathedral is probably the only building in the city that stands out so much in its architectural and spatial environment with its silhouette, composition, and rich decor.
The cathedral boasts a luxurious and rich decor, ornamental architraves, frames, corbels, ceramic tiles, and colored glazed tiles. Five cupolas of the church, some 1000 square meters in area are covered with jewelry enamel. The belfry is decorated with mosaic coats-of-arms of cities and regions of the Russian empire.
It would seem that the peculiar architecture and decor of the Church of Resurrection would become a dissonant element in the environment. It did, however, enter quite harmoniously into the city landscape, mostly due to reconstruction in this part of St. Petersburg according to the projects of engineers G.G. Krivoshein, N.N. Mitinsky, and N.A. Zhitnevich, and architects A.A. Parland and R.F. Melzer.
A broad wooden bridge was laid in 1892 across from the belfry of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The bridge was like the Blue and Kazan bridges over the canal, forming a block stone paved area in front of the entrance to the church.
An arch of a railing, made according to the project by Parland, bordered the southern, eastern and northern sections of the square. It consisted of 52 links with a stylized plant ornament, made on the Winkler Plant in 1903 - 1907. A sidewalk made of coping stones and a granite base was built on the southern and northern sides of the cathedral. Flowerbeds and lawns decorated the eastern side of the square.
The Church of Resurrection had never been conceived as purely a center of religious life. Even church leaders thought of this church as a memorial and symbol.
Here is what highly educated Orthodox thinker Rev. Fr.N. Antonov wrote about this: "This Church of Resurrection and the district around it should be made into a conglomerate of what is artistically related to Emperor Alexander II; first and foremost in the area of painting and art overall".
Antonov viewed the vestry of the Church on Spilled Blood as a museum as well, and even suggested to expand this museum through a possible addition of another smaller building in Mikhailovsky Gardens. He also offered a sensible idea of organizing a museum of sorts in the garden, where he suggested installing statues of Russian artists of the second half of the 19th century, and, most importantly, a statue of Emperor Alexander II himself among them.
Antonov and his associates wanted to see the Church of Savior on Spilled Blood as a hermitage of Russian national music culture, the center of religious choir performance and spiritual vocals. Back at the time the church was not seen as an active church as everyone understood its exclusive artistic value. Every of these suggestions could still be implemented today. In fact it is a ready program for revitalizing the cathedral.
On October 30, 1930 the Central Executive Committee by Order No. 67 ordered to close the Church of Resurrection. Over a long period of time this cathedral and monument, which first had been a court church and then a congregational church was not needed as the center of spiritual education, as it had once been.
In November 1930 the Secretariat of the Central Soviet of Political Convicts transferred the dilapidated church to the museum section. However, the former political prisoners found themselves incapable of managing the grandiose building and keeping it in good order. Over a certain period of time the cathedral stood vacant. It was thought to benefit the new masters of the land who believed that the Savior on Spilled Blood was of no historical or artistic value. A campaign started that called for its demolition.
In November 1931 the Regional Committee for Cult Affairs decided that that the Savior on Spilled Blood Cathedral should be disassembled in parts. After remaining on the agenda for some time the resolution was later cancelled.
The issue rose again in 1938. The action was planned for 1941. It seemed at the time that the fate of the church, just like the fate of many other churches in Russia, was decided. But after the WWII started, demolition experts were sent off to the front right before they were set to begin. During the blockade the Savior on Spilled Blood served as a morgue where bodies of famished Leningraders were delivered.
After the war the cathedral was leased by Maly Opera Theater who made it into a stage set storage. Destruction of the building continued. The building, which did not serve its direct purpose stood with broken windows, gaping holes in the roofing and the cupolas caused by splinters, through which moisture accumulated inside the building.
1956 was another critical year in the fate of the church, when the city authorities once again decided to demolish the church in order to build a new street. The new campaign of tearing down religious buildings continued for over ten years.
It was only in 1968 that the Cathedral was granted protection of the State Inspection of Landmarks of the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning. In 1970 director of St. Isaac's Cathedral and Museum G.P. Butikov persuaded the city bosses and then the officials of the Ministry of Culture that the church had considerable historical and artistic value. He also petitioned to make the church a branch of his museum, carry out restoration and, in the future, open a museum there.
The executive committee of the Leningrad City Soviet adopted decision No. 535 on July 20, 1970, in accordance with which a branch of St. Isaac's Museum and Cathedral was opened in the building of the former Church of Savior on Spilled Blood. The memorial church was transferred onto the balance of the museum on April 12, 1971.
By that time the Church of Resurrection was in a critically dilapidated condition and required immediate restoration.
Restoration could not begin without an initial large volume of construction and engineering operations. Simultaneously the research staff of the museum studied archival materials on the Savior on Spilled Blood not only in Leningrad, but also in Moscow, Sverdlovsk, and Barnaul. To determine the state of the decor of the church and offer recommendations on restoration, contracts were settled with institutes and research laboratories.
Restoration itself started only in 1980.
The first stage of restoration was completed by August 19, 1997, when Savior on Spilled Blood Cathedral and Museum opened its doors to visitors. The exposition of the cathedral centers on architecture and the decor of the building.
Specificity of the museum collection led to expositions of religious art, which smoothly combine artistic, informational, and memorial value.
The exposition of the Savior on Spilled Blood serves as the media for learning Russian history and culture. The objective of the museum is to present the historic and artistic value of the Cathedral, and make our contemporaries feel a part of Russian historical and cultural tradition.
The Cathedral of Resurrection is the only surviving monument to Alexander II in the city.
The tragic events of March 1, 1881 found their reflection not only in the ciborium of the church, but also in the building of the vestry, which has for several years housed the exhibition dedicated to Emperor Alexander II (1818 - 1881), the assassinated nonarch.
The next objective of the Savior on Spilled Blood Cathedral and Museum is to restore the former status of a historical memorial.
Prepared by V.A. Zelenchenko