Iconostasis – what’s that?

You’ll often find references to an ‘iconostasis’ in our articles about Russia’s churches and cathedrals. But do you know what one of these actually is?

In Eastern Christianity, an iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, used to separate the nave (the main body of the church where most of the worshippers stand) from the sanctuary (the area around the altar, east of the nave).



The sanctuary is usually a few steps higher than the nave. The Iconostasis does not sit directly on the edge of the sanctuary, but is usually set a few feet back from the edge of the top step, forming a walkway in front of the iconostasis for the clergy. The iconostasis, though often tall, rarely touches the ceiling to allow the liturgical exclamations of the clergy to be heard by the faithful. It typically has three openings or sets of doors: the Beautiful Gates or Holy Doors in the centre, and the North and South Doors to either side.

The iconostasis does not so much ‘separate’ the nave from the ‘Holy of Holies’ (sanctuary), but brings them together. The characters depicted on the icons on the iconostasis guide us into heaven, so in a sense, the iconostasis represents Christ, who is the door between both realms.

You’ll find iconostases in churches and cathedrals all around the world. But some of the best examples can be found in Russia and its Eastern European neighbours, including the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael in Moscow’s Kremlin, the Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk, the Trinity Lavra in Sergeyev Posad, Uglich Cathedral, Saint Andrew's Church of Kiev, Ukraine, and the Church of the Prophet Elias, Yaroslavl. Alternatively, check out the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois (USA), the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Gregory Palamas, Thessaloniki (Greece), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (tomb of Jesus) in Jerusalem, or Saint Barbara Russian Orthodox Church in Krefeld, Germany.

Needless to say, if you’d like to see these or any other of Russia’s religious buildings and artworks for yourself, we can make all your travel and accommodation arrangements for you. Just give us a call on 0207 985 1234 today!