St. Petersburg's Extraordinary Naval Cathedral on an Historic Island (Kronstadt)

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The Kronstadt Cathedral of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, a patron of seamen, is the main church of the Russian Navy, and a monument to all sailors and officers who had ever given their lives to the sea. It is also one of the largest cathedrals, accommodating up to 5,000 people, and the last one, built in the Russian Empire before the October Revolution. Many  famous Russians have been involved in the project.

The issue of building of a large cathedral in Kronstadt, a fortress built on an island of Kotlin, 15 miles off St. Petersburg, was discussed since 1830s, but it was not until 1897 that permission was granted to start collecting donations for the construction of the church.

The first donation of 700 rubles came from Fr John of Kronstadt, now known as one of the greatest Russian saints. He published a proclamation in the newspaper with an appeal to join in the collection of funds, and later he constantly hurried the authorities with the construction. 


The construction of the cathedral began in September 1902 with a prayer service, celebrated by the archpriest John of Kronstadt in the presence of the legendary Vice-Admiral Stepan Makarov.  

The cathedral was built in the so-called Anchor Square, where old anchors used to be kept. One of the conditions set by authorities was that the dome had to be high enough to be seen from a long distance, so that the cathedral would also serve as a landmark for ships. 

On May 8, 1903, a ceremony of laying the foundation stone took place in the presence of the emperor's family. The guns of the fortress and the ships in the harbor, fired a salute of 31 rounds. That same day, the emperor and his entourage planted 32 one-year-old oaks in the square around the cathedral.

Vasily Kosyakov, the author of the project, conceived the interior of the cathedral as a universe:  between the high dome painted with stars on a blue field, and the marble floor, decorated with figures of sea creatures and underwater plants. And above all was the icon of Christ placed high in the dome.

The nautical theme began at the gate: moray fish, like guards, protected the entrance, greeting visitors from the oak doors of the cathedral.

Even its dome is decorated with and ornament of ropes and anchors. 


Since the Cathedral was also conceived as a Monument to all fallen seamen, there were black and white marble plaques with the names of the sailors and the clergy who lost their lives while serving at warships.

The consecration of the cathedral took place on June 10 (23), 1913, in the presence of the emperor’s family. However, in only 14 years, in 1927 the Divine services there were banned, and on October 4, 1929, it was closed down. After the revolution, white and black marble plaques, which bore the names of the Russian sailors and all of the fleets and flotillas, were taken out and were used as electrical boards, stairs, gravestones, etc.

The Altar was desecrated, crosses and bells were removed. Yet, the Bolsheviks failed to take down one of the bells, weighing 4840 kg. It has remained on the belfry and during the World War II, as the dome of was turned into an observation post, the watchers rang the bell to warn of another air raid by the Germans. This bell has been restored and is now in operation.  

The splendid cathedral had to go through tragic times. During the Great Patriotic War, it was badly damaged in shelling. Then, in different years, it housed a movie theater, a club, a concert hall. Thanks to the efforts of navy officers and museum workers, a small part of the magnificent interior decoration was preserved. As a result, the cathedral was almost ruined, and only the rapid start of reconstruction works in 2002, with the blessing of His Holiness Alexis II, the late Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, saved the building from imminent collapse. That same year the main dome of the temple was crowned with a cross, and the revival of the unique site began.

On December 19, 2005, on the Feast Day of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, for the first time in 75 years Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the cathedral. The first Patriarchal Liturgy in the reconstructed Cathedral in Kronstadt, was celebrated by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia on November 20, 2010.  

Regular Divine services are celebrated in the cathedral starting from April 29, 2010, but restoration works continued until the spring of 2013.


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