A brief tour of St Petersburg’s Orthodox Cathedrals Part 2

Some of Russia’s most magnificent churches are found in St Petersburg. And among its most outstanding examples are the city’s Orthodox Cathedrals.

Built at the height of the Russian Empire's wealth and power, these impressive buildings were designed by the city's greatest architects, and no expense was spared in their construction or decoration.

In this latest article, we look at two more of these fascinating buildings, namely…

The Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas

Nikolsky Cathedral

Photo: Alex Florstein Fedorov, Wikimedia Commons

The golden Baroque spires and domes of St Nicholas' Cathedral (known locally as the Sailors' Cathedral) rise among the trees at the bottom of Ulitsa Glinki – a truly majestic sight.

The first church was built here in 1743, on the banks of Kryukov Canal, which links the Moika and Fontanka rivers just south of Teatralnaya Ploschad. The cathedral and green space in front of it are located in a bend of Kanal Griboedova in an especially picturesque part of the city.

The area was originally settled by sailors in the time of Peter the Great. The first (wooden) chapel was built for them and bore the name of St Nicholas the Miracle-Worker. As the area grew, Empress Elizabeth issued a decree to build a stone church for the regiments living there. However, before construction could begin, the ground where the church's foundation was to be built had to be raised by two metres to protect it from the floods that intermittently blighted the area.

Construction of the new stone church began in 1753, and the main altar in the current cathedral was consecrated in 1760 in the presence of Empress Elizabeth. The cathedral actually consists of two churches: an upper church and a lower church. The building officially became a naval cathedral in July 1762 by order of Catherine II. Today, it’s one of the best - and last remaining - examples of Baroque architecture.

The walls of the cathedral are decorated with scenes from the history of the Russian Navy, while the square next to the cathedral contains a memorial to all the sailors of the battleship Alexander III who lost their lives in 1905.

Inside, you’ll find 10 spectacular icons in a gold frame – a gift from Catherine the Great. The icons portray saints who are celebrated by the Russian Navy.

You’ll find the cathedral at 1, Nikolskaya Ploshchad, nearest metro station: Sennaya. Open daily, 7.00 am to 7.00 pm.

Transfiguration Cathedral

The Preobrazhenskii Cathedral

Photo: George Shuklin, Wikimedia Commons

The Transfiguration Cathedral is located on Preobrazhenskaya Ploschad just off Liteiny Prospekt, which was once home to the Russian Army's prestigious Transfiguration Regiment. The beautiful square outside the cathedral is home to an impressive array of cannons, an extravagantly decorated fence, and two historic and important icons. It’s one of the most visited cathedrals in the city.

Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth came to the area on the night of 24 November 1741, to gain the backing of the soldiers of the Transfiguration Regiment for her coup against Empress Anna and her appointed successor, the two-month-old Ivan. After her accession to the throne the following month, the new Empress Elizabeth ordered a church to be constructed on the site as a sign of gratitude. Work began in June 1743, and Elizabeth herself laid the first stone.

The church almost burnt down in 1825, but the icons and iconostases were rescued. Reconstruction began in 1827 and was completed quickly. A beautiful square was laid out around the new church in 1830, surrounded by an extraordinary ornamental fence consisting of cannon trunks with muzzles placed on top, united with thick iron chains.

Twelve cannons on gun carriages were also arranged around the cathedral. The cannons helped the regiment repulse an attack by the Turks in a battle outside Varna. A chapel was built near the cathedral, which in 1988 was restored and is today in excellent condition.

Unlike most other churches in the city, after the revolution, the cathedral never closed, and today remains one of the most visited religious buildings in the city.

You’ll find the Transfiguration Cathedral at 1, Preobrazhenskaya Ploshchad, nearest metro station: Chernyshevskaya. It’s open daily 8.00 am to 8.00 pm and is wheelchair-accessible.