Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood — festive and bright, as if fabulous. This temple on the embankment of the Griboyedov Canal commemorates the grim, tragic event in the history of Russia – the assassination of Emperor Alexander II, called the Liberator. The bombing that the revolutionary terrorist threw has ended the Tsar’s life. In memory of the innocently shed blood, the cathedral is called the Savior on Blood. Another name of this cathedral is the Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The memorial temple was built on donations collected throughout the country.
History of construction
An attempt on Alexander II was made on March 1, 1881. And the next day, Alexander III, ascended to the throne, proclaimed the intention to perpetuate the memory of his murdered father by building a temple on the site of the tragedy.
The height of the highest dome is 81 meters, and the bell tower is 63. Emperor Alexander was killed in 1881, at 63 years old.
Initially, by the project of Leontius Benoit, a temporary chapel was built. It was consecrated a month and a half after the death of Alexander II. It existed until 1883 – the beginning of the construction of the temple.
The construction of the cathedral was preceded by competition of architectural projects. Within two years, several papers were submitted for consideration to Alexander III. The emperor approved the project created by the Russian architect Alfred Parland in collaboration with the Rector of the Coastal Monastery of St. Sergius, Archimandrite Ignatius. In the summer of 1883, the architectural project was approved by the emperor.
The Savior on Spilled Blood
The Savior is the most common epithet called Savior Jesus Christ
That is why the temple, consecrated in the name of the Resurrection of Christ, and built on the site of bloodshed, the name the Savior on Spilled Blood was accepted.
It took almost 24 years to build a magnificent structure with rich, unique decor. During the construction of the cathedral in order to strengthen the soil, which is prone to erosion by the water of the canal, a waterproofing concrete foundation was first built instead of traditional piles. Projects were developed to equip the temple with steam heating, electric lighting, and lightning protection.
The church was consecrated in August 1907, on the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, in the presence of Nicholas II and members of the imperial family.
Description and architecture of the cathedral
Travellers are surprised by the resemblance of the Savior on Spilled Blood with St. Basil’s Cathedral, located on Red Square in Moscow. Guides are often asked – whether one architect is the author of these two cathedrals.
Comparison with St. Basil’s Cathedral
The similarity is explained by the fact that both of these churches are built of red brick and decorated in a pseudo-Russian style. The figured heads of both cathedrals are carved coloured domes.
The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat – this is the canonical name of St. Basil’s Cathedral was built 300 years before the Savior on the Blood. And this is not one, but ten churches and a bell tower, which are combined into a single architectural ensemble. The churches are crowned with 11 domes: 9 onions and one hipped-shaped on the bell tower and the main temple.
Five of the nine domes of the Savior on Spilled Blood, including the main one, are covered with enamelled copper plates which colour pattern doesn’t copy, another four – with gold-plated copper. The highest, central octahedral tent is surrounded by onion heads. At its base, there are oblong-shaped windows framed with platbands – kokoshniki.
The cathedral on the east side is three semicircular protrusions of the altar part — apses, topped with small gilded, onion-shaped domes.
On the west side, a 63-meter high two-tiered bell tower adjoins the temple, built on the place where the emperor was mortally wounded. Its dome is the largest in size of all the heads of the cathedral, and the walls are decorated with mosaic emblems of Russian cities and provinces.
Gilt-covered inscriptions carved on red granite tell about important events in the emperor’s life and official events of his reign:
- birth and marriage
- proclamation of heir and accession to the throne
- manifestos, edicts, statutes
- list of reforms
- foreign policy achievements
One of 20 boards devoted to the history of the Savior on Blood. It describes the event, which is dedicated to the construction of the temple, the time of the foundation and consecration, and also reports that the cathedral was built on nationwide donations.
The exterior design of facades
The architect tried to apply the most vivid and rich decorative elements inherent in the Russian style in architecture. The exterior of the cathedral is characterized by an abundance of details and a rich palette:
- colored bricks, granite, gilded copper, enamel
- openwork arches
- carved marble platbands
- mosaic panels with Gospel scenes and images of saints
The area of the mosaic on the facades of the temple exceeds 400 square meters
The interior of the Savior on the Blood amazes with its magnificence. To avoid the damaging effects of the humid climate of the city on the Neva, mosaics were used in the interior design, not painting.
The walls and vaults of the temple, as well as the icons, are a mosaic of semi-precious stones.
Its total area in the design of the Savior on Blood was more than 7,000 square meters – and this is one of the largest mosaic expositions in Europe
Sketches were created by Russian painters, members of the Imperial Academy of Arts
- Victor Vasnetsov – master of religious painting
- Andrey Ryabushkin – an author with a distinctive Russian style, who used the methods of an academic school
- Nikolai Kharlamov – the creator of the most ambitious composition – the image of Christ the Almighty, located under the roof of the main dome
- Vasily Belyaev – the author of the largest number of mosaics of the Savior on Blood
- Mikhail Nesterov – creator of sketches for icons of the central part of the altar partition
Plots for the design were created with the expectation that they would be embodied in a mosaic
Artists of different styles took part in the work: academic painting, modern, Byzantine icon painting. Therefore, the composition of the interior came diverse. Among the themes of mosaic masonry stand out:
- floral ornaments
- Old Testament plots
- images of Jesus Christ’s earthly deeds, scenes of his suffering, Crucifixion, and Resurrection
- images of apostles, saints, and martyrs
Vladimir Frolov is the main creator of the mosaic of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. He mastered the so-called Venetian method of recruiting large-scale compositions.
A special decorative effect of mosaics is achieved by strengthening the main background, clear boundaries of shades. Sunlight, entering inside the temple through the windows, illuminating mosaic icons and reflecting from them, fills the space with a soft glow.
In addition to mosaics in the interior of the temple were used semi-precious stones of different breeds:
The floor is laid with marble plates of Italian work. The top coating 5 mm thick is a mosaic pattern of geometric shapes.
In front of the other two iconostases, north and south, are icon cases made of coloured stones – bright pink rhodonite, jasper, porphyry. Once these places for especially revered icons were filled with relics. Now they are all lost, except for the two surviving mosaic compositions: the praying Alexander Nevsky and the Resurrection of Christ.
There is a hidden place inside the temple under the arches of the bell tower.
Here, under the carved tent of the Ural semi-precious stones, which is crowned with four jasper columns, the stones of the cobblestone pavement, which had been shed by Alexander II, and part of the channel grate, were hidden during construction.
Now this area is below the floor of the temple on several steps. The inner surface of the tent roof was richly decorated: more than 30 types of finishing stones were laid using the technique of Florentine mosaic. But, unfortunately, over the years, this unique structure has been almost completely destroyed. It was restored during the restoration of the temple.
After its construction, the Savior on Blood wasn’t available for mass visits to the parishioners. Divine services in memory of Alexander II took place here.
A brief history of the temple can be described by the list of dates:
- 1930 – the closing of the Savior on Blood
- the years of the Second World War – a morgue was organized in the building of the temple
- post-war years – the cathedral existed as a warehouse for the scenery of the Mikhailovsky Theatre
- 1968 – the temple is taken under state protection
- 1970 – The Savior on Spilled Blood became a branch of the Museum of St. Isaac’s Cathedral
- 1997 – the temple is open to visitors after a long restoration
- 2004 – the first, after more than 70-year recess, the liturgy is served
Interesting facts and legends
The Savior on Spilled Blood is the only Orthodox church in St. Petersburg, where people are asked not to light candles – a fire can smoke unique mosaics. Its history is surrounded by many events, sometimes mysterious.
The Savior on Blood has the glory of an indestructible cathedral. It was planned to be demolished several times. Blowing up the cathedral was prevented by the outbreak of World War II: all bomb experts were urgently sent to the front.
“Peace to you”
The temple was not injured during the Nazi air raids. The only bombs found by chance during the restoration in 1961. It was stuck and lay for 20 years not blown up in the main dome of the cathedral, as if right in the hands of the Savior, holding the Gospel text “Peace to you”.
“Savior on potatoes”
After breaking the Seige of Leningrad, the Cathedral was jokingly called “The Savior on Potatoes” – at that time it served as a vegetable storehouse. There was a particularly bitter irony in this title: frozen potatoes saved Leningrad survivors from starvation.
Symbols of numbers
The height of the temple is 81 meters. The same figure – 81 – the year of the tragic death of Alexander II. The second tallest dome of the Savior on Spilled Blood – the bell tower rises 63 meters. The same age was the emperor at the time of his death.
After the Bolsheviks came to power, temples began to close. The threat of destruction hung over the Savior on Blood.
According to legend, in order to protect the relic of the cathedral from melting down – crosses from the dome were secretly removed and hidden at the bottom of the Griboyedov Canal.
Subsequently, during the beginning of the restoration, no one could find them. The advice to search for them at the bottom of the canal was given to the restorers by a stranger passing by, who may not have been an accidental passer-by at all. Crosses were found by divers exactly where he indicated.
Guides often talk about some mysterious icon stored under its vaults. No one knows if it really exists, but the legend goes that at certain moments one can notice the manifesting figures on it – the crucial dates for Russian history.
Information to visit
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is located at Griboedov Canal Embankment, 2 bld. А.
How to find
You can get to the place by metro. The nearest station is Nevsky Prospect. Next, walk about 3 minutes along the Griboedov Canal Embankment.
The temple is open to visitors daily, except Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In the tourist season, from April, 27, till September, 30, you can visit the Savior on Spilled Blood until 22-30.
Booking tickets and admission is terminated 30 minutes before the museum closed.
Entrance fee in roubles:
- total value – 250
- ISIC holders – 150
- young people 7 to 18 years old – 50
- Evening admission during the summer – 400
Museum of stone
The Stone Museum opened in the chapel of the temple. There is an exhibition, which presents samples of rocks, colored ornamental stones used in the decoration of the Savior on the Blood. Exhibits and photographs tell about the restoration of decorative elements and the historical decoration of the temple.
- Royal Doors, which were lost in the post-revolutionary years of the XX century
- mosaic images of saints’ Athos
- external doors of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which was a real piece of jewelry
You can see the collections of the Museum from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Entrance fee in RF roubles
- total value – 100
- ISIC holders – 50
- for young people 7 to 18 years old – free admission
All-in tickets to the Church of the Savior on Blood and the Museum of stone – 350
You can visit thematic excursions: with stories about the history and architecture of the temple, about the unique mosaic collection of the Savior on Blood and artists – creators of sketches, Christian symbols of icons and biblical scenes that they illustrate.