On December 25, 1812 the last soldiers of Napoleon’s 600,000 man army were driven out of Russia. The French left Moscow in a horrible state. Napoleon’s Twentieth Bulletin attests to this: “Moscow, one of the most beautiful and richest cities in the world, no longer exists.” French Abbot Segura, wrote: “Moscow is gone! All that remained of this once splendid city was a vast pile of ashes.. ”
Emperor Alexander I signed the manifesto ordering construction of a magnificent cathedral in honor of Christ the Savior in Moscow as a thanksgiving to God and to honor the victorious Russian army.
“To signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her and to preserve the memory of the unheard of efforts, loyalty and love for our Faith and Homeland displayed during these difficult days by the Russian people, We hereby intend to build a Cathedral in honor of Christ the Savior in our capital city of Moscow, wherein the appropriate Decree will be issued in due time. May the Almighty bless Our intentions. May our intentions be fulfilled. May the Cathedral stand for many centuries. Let the incense of thanksgiving, together with love and a desire to imitate the feats of our ancestors, burn before the holy altar of God for many generations.”
The first plan called for a cathedral to be build by the architect Vitberg. On October 12, 1817, five years after the French entered Moscow, the cornerstone of the cathedral was blessed. The first site planned was on the Sparrow Hills, between the Smolensk and the Kaluga roads. However, unsteady ground and underground waters made this site unfeasible.
On April 10, 1832 Emperor Nicholas I approved a new plan presented by K. A. Ton. The emperor chose a new site personally.. on the bank of the Moscow river, near the Kremlin. He convened a Special Commission for the Construction of the Cathedral in 1837. The Alekseyevsky Convent and Church of all Saints that were located on the chosen site were to be dismantled. The convent was moved to Sokolniki (then the northeastern outskirts of Moscow) and the excavations for the foundations began. The cornerstone was laid on September 10, 1839.
No particular attention to the name and the ill fame of the site on which the cathedral was to be erected, Chertolie (the devil’s land) was taken note of. Local residents had said the place was damned and in the medieval times two city fires that completely devastated Moscow, started in that location.
The nuns of the convent were also said to have cursed the cathedral as an ungodly place, predicting it would be demolished by the “same devil’s hand it was built with”.
Nicholas I did not care. He was ready to take down the convent and build a new one. According to some, when the Mother Superior of the convent found out that all structures of the convent were ordered to be demolished, she said: “Here will be nothing but a large puddle”. In another version, she said: “Poor. It won’t stand for long (the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour)”. In the third version, she cursed this place by the name of St. Alexius.
The Cathedral took forty years to build.
The sculptures and frescoes in the cathedral were unified by several themes: the mercy of the Lord vouch safety to the Russian people through the intercession of saints during the past nine centuries, the ways and means chosen by God for the salvation of mankind from the creation to the fall and the redemption through the Lord and Savior.
Holy protectors and intercessors for the Russian land, as well as those leaders, who worked to affirm and spread Christianity and those princes that laid their life down for the freedom and integrity of the Russian land are pictured throughout the cathedral.
On December 13, 1880 the cathedral was officially named the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and priests and other clergy were assigned.
The cathedral rapidly became a center for education and enlightenment. It embarked on a broad educational program and had an extensive library. Excursions were conducted regularly, including special excursions for workers, which had been initiated by D.F. Trepov, the Ober-police chief of Moscow in 1902.
The donations gathered in the Cathedral were used to aid the poor, various churches and refugees.
The Cathedral had its’ own choir from 1901, which was one of the best the world ever had. There were 52 singers, the directors included such famous composers as A.A. Arhangelsky and P.G. Chesnokov.
In 1918, Patriarch Tikhon founded the Brotherhood of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in order to prevent the cathedral from being closed. The brotherhood was meant to “maintain the cathedral, support the services, unite believers around this great historical monument and assist the clergy in providing for the continued spiritual evolvement of Orthodox Russia”.
The site of the cathedral is a very important one for urban developers. After the communist revolution this, along with ideological principles, became the reason for the decision of Stalin to destroy the cathedral. The plan entailed constructing a grandiose Palace of Soviets on the site of the cathedral. This palace was meant to be the largest building in the world, a monument to glorify the victorious socialism and Lenin.. the leader of the world proletariat. A new Moscow, with no vestiges of the “cursed past and its’ monuments” was to arise around this Palace.
A massive wave of propaganda preceded the actual destruction. The newspapers wrote, “the cathedral is grotesque and totally inartistic”, that “the cathedral is a poisonous mushroom on Moscow’s face” and that it was “a source of slothfulness” and so forth.
At noon time on 5 December 1931, by order of Stalin’s minister Kaganovich, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than a year to clear the debris from the site. Some of the marble from the walls and marble benches from the cathedral were used in nearby Moscow Metro stations. The original marble high reliefs were preserved and are now on display at the Donskoy Monastery. For a long time, these were the only reminders of the largest Orthodox church ever built.
The construction of the Palace of Soviets was interrupted owing to a lack of funds, problems with flooding from the nearby river, and the outbreak of war. The flooded foundation hole remained on the site until, under Nikita Khrushchev, it was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool, named Moskva Pool.
The pool was popular among the general public, but the nation never really forgot the holy cathedral, that was viewed as symbol of old Russia. One of which Russia was proud of.
After communism eventually ended in Russia, the cathedral is again rebuilt. Through the prayers of His Holiness Patriarch Alexey II, the Holy Synod, the active support of all Russian Orthodox Church, the organizational talent of Moscow’s mayor Yu.M. Luzhkov, the assistance of Moscow Government members, joint work of numerous architects, builders, artists and sculptors who together reconstructed the cathedral.
Appeal and collection of voluntary public and private donations for the cathedral’s reconstruction was done by the Christ the Savior Cathedral Reconstruction Financial Support Fund headed by I.M. Ptichnikov.
Boris Yeltsin, President of Russia, signed a decree “The establishment of a Fund for the recreation of Moscow”. The Cathedral of Christ the savoir headed the list of buildings to be reconstructed in the first round.
On May 31, 1994 the Moscow municipal government, supported by the Moscow Patriarchate mandates the beginning of the reconstruction of the cathedral which concluded some time around 2000.
The new cathedral built is intended to be a holy place as-well-as a tourist attraction. All foreign governmental delegations that come to Moscow, visits this place. The cathedral can house as many as 7,000 visitors at a time, and when you attend mass.. you have to stand all the time, because no benches are allowed by the Orthodox faith.. it’s hard to believe there are so many people around you. The air remains fresh regardless of the number of candles lit and visitors present, which is not surprising as the new cathedral is built using the most advanced technologies available. The cathedral contains the venerated icon Christ Not Painted by Hand, by Sorokin, which was miraculously saved from the original cathedral. With an overall height of 103 metres (338 ft), it is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world.
Source Credits: AtlantaSerbs, Culture.ru, Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, io9, Alfalaval and Evgenia Kirichenko