A brief tour of St Petersburg’s Orthodox Cathedrals part 6

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…


Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood

The Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is known to the locals as the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood – or even just the Church on the Blood – as it marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt on 1 March 1881.

Alexander II died of his wounds, which were inflicted in an attack by the terrorist group People's Will. Immediately, his heir, Alexander III, declared he intended to erect a church on the site in his father's memory, built in ‘traditional Russian’ style, as opposed to what he saw as the Western influence contaminating St Petersburg. The church's design drew heavily on St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow and the Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev.

No baptisms, funeral services, weddings or other traditional services were held in the Church on the Blood. However, weekly requiems (for Alexander II) and sermon readings attracted large numbers of worshippers.

After the Revolution, the church was looted. It was closed in 1932, and essentially turned into a rubbish dump. Damage from World War II and the Siege of Leningrad can still be seen on the church's walls.

After World War II, the church was used as a warehouse for the Small Opera Theatre. In 1970, it became a branch of the St Isaac's Cathedral museum, and restoration began. The decades of deterioration and restoration culminated in a dramatic re-opening in August 1997, when thousands of eager visitors swamped the church.

One of its most impressive elements is the extravagant shrine constructed on the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded. Four columns of grey violet jasper serve as the base of the shrine, which is decorated with mosaic icons with images of the patron saint of the Romanov family.

The church has an outstanding and varied collection of mosaic icons depicting St Alexander Nevsky, Mother of God with Child and the Saviour, and Christ giving a blessing with his right hand and holding the gospels in his left.

You’ll find the cathedral at 2, Naberezhnaya Kanala Griboedova, nearest metro Nevsky Prospekt/Gostiny Dvor. It’s open daily 10.30 am to 6.00 pm, with evening openings in the summer. Closed Wednesdays, admission 250 roubles (adult), 50 (child). Audio-guide (in Russian, English, German, French, Italian or Spanish) 100 roubles. Wheelchair-accessible.


Smolny Cathedral

The dazzling cupolas of Smolny Cathedral, one of the most beautiful churches in St Petersburg, rise majestically from its location on the banks of the Neva River.

Smolny Cathedral was designed by Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who came to Russia as a boy with his father, who constructed the Winter Palace and the palace at Tsarskoe Selo.

The cathedral was part of a complex planned by the Empress Elizabeth to include a nunnery and a new school for girls. Construction began in 1748, and by 1761 was complete.

After the revolution, the cathedral was looted and left to decay.

In the 1970s, it became a museum, and was later converted into a concert hall, which is still one of its primary functions today.

The cathedral stands on Ploshchad Rastrelli, nearest metro Chernyshevskaya. It’s open daily 11.00 am to 7.00 pm, closed Wednesdays. The museum is wheelchair accessible.