Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin
For several centuries, the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin has been the main cathedral church in Russia, the place of ordination of the primates of the Russian Orthodox Church and their resting place. In the 15th – 19th centuries, all ceremonies of accession to the throne of Russian monarchs were held here without exception. From 1917 to the present, the cathedral is a museum. Divine services that had ceased during the years of Soviet power were resumed in the 1990s.
Back in 1326–1327, during the reign of the Moscow prince Ivan Kalita and Metropolitan Peter, a small white-stone church was built on this place, which was replaced by more grandiose buildings in the 15th century. Instead of the cathedral, erected in 1472-1474 by the Russian craftsmen Krivtsov and Myshkin, destroyed by an earthquake, the existing building was built in 1475-1479 by the Italian Aristotle Fioravanti, invited by the Grand Duke Ivan III.
Its architectural appearance is determined by both ancient Russian features and features inherent in the Italian architecture of the Renaissance. The five-domed cathedral, built in a mixed technique of brick and white stone, is distinguished by the integrity of the volume and thoughtfulness of the composition, it has a spacious and well-lit interior. The interior decoration of the church (murals, icons, church utensils) and the vestments of clergymen, made by outstanding craftsmen, have always been distinguished by special luxury and splendor.
The first iconostasis in the Assumption Cathedral appeared soon after the consecration of the church in 1481 with the participation of the famous Russian icon painter Dionysius. In 1653, on the initiative of Patriarch Nikon, a new sixteen-meter iconostasis was created. In just ten months, a large artel of icon painters (about 20 people in total) from Yaroslavl, Kostroma and Ostashkov, including Vasily Ilyin, Sevastyan Dmitriev, Joseph Vladimirov and the Sergeev brothers, painted sixty-nine icons.
The iconostasis has a traditional five-tiered structure and consists of the forefather, prophetic, festive, deesis and local ranks. In the Deesis row, Nikon, according to Greek models, introduces icons depicting the twelve apostles instead of various faces of saints, as it was before. The local row contains many ancient icons collected over the years by Moscow rulers.
They were painted at different times and in different places: the Novgorod icon “Savior on the Throne” (“Savior Golden Robe”) of the 11th century (preserved under a later record), the temple icon “The Dormition of the Mother of God” (1479), “Savior the Bright Eye” (occurs from the Assumption Cathedral of the XIV century) and others. There was also the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God (XII century, now in the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery), placed in a special icon case to the left of the royal gates. Now in this place is a copy of the miraculous icon, executed in 1514.
The Assumption Cathedral was first fully painted in 1513-1515. However, individual compositions, most likely, appeared before this date. The frescoes preserved in the altar of the temple date from the late 15th – early 16th centuries. On the stone altar barrier, in the lower tier of the iconostasis, one can see images, apparently created after 1481 by the famous Dionysius and his associates.
The new painting was made in 1642-1643 in accordance with the decree of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich by a large (about one hundred and fifty people) artel of grated and fodder icon painters from Moscow and a number of Russian cities headed by the tsarist iconographers Ivan and Boris Paisein and Sidor Pospeev.
The old images were copied, the painting on the new levkas was executed with the preservation of the previous composition in the fresco technique, and then painted with tempera on dry plaster. The high artistic level of execution of the tsarist order contributed to the fact that the painting of the Assumption Cathedral served as a model for the creation of similar cycles in many churches and cathedrals in Russia.
The fresco cycle of the Assumption Cathedral is a large, well thought out theological program. Here is the history of mankind as reflected in the Holy Scriptures. The arrangement of the plots corresponds to the idea of the temple as a model of the Universe, with the division of space into the subal world and the upper world. Above are the most significant images: in the central dome – the Almighty Savior, on the sails – four evangelists, on the supporting arches – the apostles, on the vaults – the most significant episodes of the earthly life of Jesus Christ and the Mother of God.
On four round supports are the figures of one hundred and thirty-five martyrs, revered as “pillars of the Church.” On the walls, compositions are arranged in tiers in the form of wide ribbons separated by colored stripes. Here are the cycles of the Mother of God: scenes from the Life of the Mother of God and the Akathist.
The lower part shows the “Seven Ecumenical Councils”, that is, the congresses of the highest church hierarchs, held in the 4th-7th centuries, at which the main Christian dogmas were approved. A separate composition on the western wall is dedicated to the Last Judgment, which, according to Christians, will take place after the second coming of Christ.
The oldest of the icons located in the Assumption Cathedral, apparently, was brought from Novgorod the Great during the time of Ivan the Terrible and since the 16th century was housed in the iconostasis of this main Kremlin cathedral. The double-sided icon is placed in a vertical display case against the north wall. On its main side there is an image of the Mother of God Hodegetria.
During the disclosure in 1995 by Georgy Sergeevich Batkhel of this image from late recordings, fragments of painting related to the XI-XIX centuries were discovered. The original paint layer has survived only on the baby’s neck and arm. Most of the icon was rewritten anew in the 14th century by a Greek icon painter.
It is possible that at the turn of the XI-XII centuries his compatriot made the image of the warrior George, which is on the back of the icon. This is evidenced by the wide-open eyes of the saint and the characteristic hairstyle, consisting of large curls of hair arranged in several rows.
The half-length image of the holy martyr is placed on a neutral gold background, symbolizing the “unapproachable light” inherent only to God. In his right hand, George squeezes a spear, and in his left, a sword sheathed, which is turned with the handle upward, meaning a cross. A scarlet cloak is thrown over the plate armor – a symbol of martyrdom. Until the mid-1930s, when the icon was restored by Vasily Osipovich Kirikov, this image was covered with a thick layer of dark brown paint.
Opposite the iconostasis of the Assumption Cathedral, there are three hipped structures near the round pillars. These are the places of prayer where the patriarch, the king and the queen were during the church service. A white-stone tent in the center was erected simultaneously with the construction of the cathedral in 1479. It belonged first to the metropolitans, and then, after the establishment of the patriarchate, to the patriarchs.
The wooden prayer place for queens dates back to the 17th century. Of greatest interest is the royal prayer place located at the southern doors of the cathedral, also called the “Monomakh throne”. It was created in 1551 by Novgorod carvers by order of Ivan the Terrible. Metropolitan Macarius, the mentor of the young tsar, with whose assistance the first royal wedding in Russia was carried out, could have taken part in the development of the program for decorating this unusual structure.
The program is based on the idea of the imperial power established by God and its succession from the Roman and Byzantine emperors. The figures of four fantastic animals are placed at the base of the “Monomakh’s throne”. Its tent is crowned with a double-headed eagle, and on three walls in twelve reliefs there are compositions based on the story “The Legend of the Princes of Vladimir”, which tells about the transfer of the royal regalia to Russia under Prince Vladimir Monomakh from Byzantium.
The bronze openwork structure under a four-pitched roof was made in 1624 by order of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich by a group of craftsmen under the leadership of the head of the boiler shop Dmitry Sverchkov. It was intended to store Christian relics and, first of all, the cypress model of the Holy Sepulcher brought from the Holy Land. Thus, this tent had a distant resemblance to a kuvukliya, that is, a chapel over the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
The robe of Christ was placed here in 1625, brought from Iran as a gift from Shah Abbas I the Great, who subjugated the territory of Georgia. There, this relic, embedded in the cross, was kept in one of the temples.
In 1913, a shrine with the relics of Patriarch Hermogenes, who had been canonized shortly before that was tortured by the interventionists during the Time of Troubles in the early 17th century, was placed in the tent. His burial is not the only one in the cathedral. At least nineteen metropolitans and patriarchs who lived in the XIV-XVII centuries are buried here, ten of whom are canonized. Metropolitan Peter was the first to be buried in the still unfinished original church in 1326, and Patriarch Adrian was the last to be buried in 1700.