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The Cathedral of SS Peter & Paul

The Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul

The Cathedral of SS Peter & Paul (1712-1733), with its landmark needle-thin spire, magnificent Baroque interior and burial site for most of the pre-Revolutionary Russian leaders, is well worth seeing.

SS Peter & Paul Cathedral is the oldest church in St. Petersburg. It is also the tallest building in the Northern Capital (excluding the TV tower). Work began on the first wooden church on this site about a month after the founding of the city on July 29, 1703, according to C. Schultz in his book St. Petersburg Churches. Construction was completed in 1704, and the new church was consecrated on April 1, 1704.

In 1712, work began on the current stone Peter and Paul Cathedral according to the plan of architect Dominico Trezini. The grand opening and consecration occurred on June 29, 1733.

The cathedral, though plain on the outside, is radically different from traditional Orthodox churches because it is built in the style of early Baroque. With its rectangular design, bell tower and landmark needle, the cathedral is more similar to protestant churches of Central Europe, and complied with the wishes of Peter I.

The cathedral's rectangular base stretches from southwest to northeast, and its walls are formed with decorative pilasters and ornate cherub heads on the windows.

The multi-tiered cathedral bell tower is crowned with a landmark needle, upholstered with copper gilded sheets. The needle, built by Dutchman German von Bolis, is topped off by the figure of a flying angel bearing a cross. The majestic view of the needle and the cathedral from across the Neva, is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.

The clock for the bell tower was delivered in 1720 from Holland where it was purchased for 45 thousand rubles.

There is a colorful, if not tragic, history connected with the tall needle. Because it did not have a lightning rod it was often times the target of powerful lightning bolts, and as a result of lightning an especially strong fire occurred on the night of April 29-30, 1756. In fact, the needle burnt down and the bells were destroyed. The fire also engulfed the wooden cupola and attics, but the iconostasis was taken from the cathedral and saved in the nick of time.

In 1766, Catherine II ordered the rebuilding of the bell tower to the exact specifications of the previous bell tower. Work on the new tower was completed in 1776.

A year after the fire, a new clock with chimes was ordered from the renowned Dutch craftsman Ort Krass. They were finished in 1760, and Krass himself brought them to Russia. However, he died four years later in St. Petersburg deceived and without receiving payment for the installation of the clock and chimes.

When the clock and chimes were finally in place, all the residents of the city ran to hear the chimes which played "Since the Glory," at the top of every hour until the revolution in 1917, and at noon played the hymn "God, Protect the Tsar!". At the same time, a cannon fired. You can still hear the bang of the cannon each day at noon.

Unfortunately, after the revolution, the clock was turned off, but in 1952 a new clock was installed that chimed four times a day, and played the hymn of the Soviet Union.

In 1829, as a result of a terrible storm, the angel figure bearing the cross on the needle of the cathedral was bent. The roofer Peter Telushkin, without scaffolding and with the help of only a rope, climbed up the needle and repaired the angle in six weeks times.

The inside of the cathedral shelters a fantastic iconostasis that was completed by a group of Moscow carvers from 1722-1727 under the supervision of Ivan Zarudniy. More than forty people took part in the project.

If the architectural style of the cathedral is more similar in style to the Lutheran church, then the painting of the iconostasis is more in the spirit of Catholic Church icons.

The walls of the cathedral are also embellished with paintings of various bible themes, including many paintings of various gospel themes by artists of the early and mid 18th century.

Most of Russia's pre-revolutionary rulers from Peter the Great onwards, are buried here. Peter's grave is at the front right, and people still leave fresh flowers on it.

However, his grave was not always located where it is today. His body was moved from the Winter Palace across the frozen Neva River to the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was not yet completed. On March 10, 1725, Peter the First's body was buried in a specially built wooden chapel until the Cathedral was completed six years later when the body was moved to its present location.

Empresses Catherine I and Elizabeth's graves are located next to Peter the Great, and Empress Anne's grave is in the next row, along with the grave of Peter III who was buried here 34 years after his death, and Catherine II. Close to the north wall of the cathedral, you'll find the graves of Pavel I, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and many members of their families.

On July 17, 1998 Nicholas II and his family were buried in the cathedral's small St. Catherine chapel.

The graves of the former rulers and their families are very extravagant, and worth seeing. For instance, monoliths that were carved from delicate and valuable stones, like gray and green Altaiskoi jasper, rise over the graves of Alexander II and his wife Maria. The best Petergof lapidary craftsman worked on the grave's decorations for 17 years.

Inside the rich interior of the cathedral, you'll also find a large collection of war trophies including, signs, shields, weapons, and keys from conquered cities.

On the altar, over the throne, a shining gold canopy was arranged with the icon of Our Savior has the Strength.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a number of war trophies located in the cathedral were moved to the Hermitage museum, and other museums throughout Russia.

At the end of 1917, the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral was closed, but after many petitions by believers, liturgies resumed in the summer of 1918. But the temple was closed once again at the close of 1919, and many of its valuables were looted in May 1922. In 1924, the cathedral was turned into a museum. However, the iconostasis was preserved.

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