Duration: 4 hours
Car: tourist class included
Entrance tickets: included
During the last years of Peter I’s reign there were four cathedrals in St. Petersburg: Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Cathedral of Assumption of Our Lady and Cathedral of St. Isaac of Dalmatia. Both the first, and the subsequent cathedrals consecrated in the name of St. Isaac were tied closely to the lives of Russian emperors and Russian statehood.
The third St. Isaac’s cathedral was laid on August, 8, 1768 in accordance with the project by Antonio Rinaldi. The money for construction was already allocated, but the construction under management of Rinaldi and architect A. Vista went very slowly. Architect Vincenzo Brenna finished the delayed construction, and on May, 30, 1802 Metropolitan Amvrosy in the presence of Emperor Alexander I consecrated the cathedral which thus was transferred from the Imperial Court to the Eparchial Department. Sculptural artwork of this cathedral was done by K. Albani, P.P. Sokolov and I. Shvarts, molding by Bernasconi, icons by Gualtegri and A.I. Ivanov, and the decor by F.D. Danilov. Later memorable divine liturgies were held here in honor of St. Petersburg Centennial, and to celebrate universal peace in Europe on July, 10, 1814.
Immediately after ascension to the throne Emperor Nicholas I had to solve numerous problems which he had inherited from his royal brother. The building of a new St. Isaac’s Cathedral was high on the liSt. The Czar regularly heard reports on its construction, and made useful comments himself, both in the technical, and in the artistic parts of the project. The Emperor had to be credited for that works moved ahead quickly enough. They cost the Russian treasury the inconceivable sum of money in those times more than 23,000,000 silver rubles.
The cathedral was considered a project of great importance. When someone suggested to build a trading harbor for large ships in St. Petersburg, which was very necessary for the growing Russian industry, the Czar rejected the project, because money was necessary to complete St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
The fact that consecration and opening of the Cathedral became a significant event in the cultural life of the capital and Russia testifies to the special attention of the reigning dynasty to this cathedral.
Before the consecration Ceremony of the St. Petersburg Cathedral in the name of St. Isaac of Dalmatia on May, 30, 1858 the Czar issued instructions on the sequence of the ceremony of consecration of three side-altars of the Cathedral. The main altar was to be consecrated on May, 30, and side altars on June 1 and 8. Holy relics were brought from St. Alexander Nevsky Laura and the Kazan cathedral, and placed on the main throne where on the day of consecration the early liturgy was served prior to the beginning of the religious procession.
On the same day at 6 o’clock p.m. after the ringing of the big bell with the usual peal, His Grace Metropolitan Grigory with four archimandrites, two archpriests and local clerics held a nightlong vigil before the main throne of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in accordance with the church charter.
Some 1200 choristers took part in the opening ceremony. The effect made by their singing seemed amazing for those present.
There was a table covered with cloth put before the Royal Gates, on which there were an artophorion, a communion cloth, the Holy Gospel, a communion cross, a chalise, a communion plate, two small plates, a labis, a spear, scoops, shrouds, aers, ropes, two chitons, two draperies for the throne and the altar, nails, soap, sponges, scarves for wiping lips, cufflinks, towels and knifes. All this was covered with a veil, and four candlesticks with lit candles were placed around.
In the altar, before the High Place, there was another small table covered with a veil, on where there were myrrh, church wine, pink water in vessels, a chipper, an aspergillum, and four stones for nail the boards of the throne.
On Friday, May, 30, at 8 a.m. a peal was sounded for the water sanctification ceremony before the main altar, which was performed by one of archimandrites with four priests and three deacons. The confessor of Their Imperial Majesties with the local court clergy wearing their Twelfthtide garments, brought along with two gonfalons the holy relics of John the Baptist and the Holy Icon of the Savior from the church at the Winter Palace, for the procession.
Ceremony of consecration of the cathedral began at 9 o’clock in the morning on May, 30 and ended about 4 p.m. St. Isaac’s Cathedral was proclaimed the main cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church and remained as such up to the Renovation Split of 1922.
From the time of its consecration the cathedral became the center of city festivities. Its walls bore witness to solemn divine services in honor of saints whose names were born by members of the Imperial Family. Such services were accompanied by religious processions and parades of the Guards. Townsfolk welcomed with special enthusiasm such festivals, as anniversaries of Nistadt Peace Treaty, Poltava and Chesmen victories, and the still memorable at the time “the wonderful rescue of Russia from invasion of the Gauls and twenty other nations” (the Patriotic War of 1812). Established in 1814, this holiday was marked on December 25.
Foreigners coming to the capital considered it necessary to visit St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Royals from other countries, presidents, supreme ecclesiastics, such as Metropolitans of the Eastern Church, Armenian Catholicoses, Catholic and Anglican bishops, used to pay visits to the Cathedral.
Greatness and beauty of the cathedral were ennobled with its precious sanctities:
- The Cross with the Life-giving Tree of the Lord and a significant part of the relics of St. Andrew the First-Called, which were sent in 1833 as gift to the Most holy Synod from Jerusalem patriarch Athanasius;
- Non man-made image of the Savior belonging to Peter the Great, with a gold case and the image of a crown of thorns, presented to the cathedral by emperor Alexander II:
- Our Lady of Tikhvin icon, which became famous in Peski, suburb of St. Petersburg in the year of consecration of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and was transported to the cathedral under the order of His Grace Metropolitan Grigory;
- Our Lady of Korsun icon, from the home of imperial court servant Dmitry Lvovich Naryshkin;
- Four banners of the State Homeland Guard of St. Petersburg Region in 1855 1856 and an old banner of the Homeland Guard of 1812.
The Cathedral affairs were managed by the Imperial Church Board, which oversaw the churches of the Winter palace and suburban imperial residences. The staff of the cathedral numbered eighty people, including 12 bell ringers and 17 clergymen: the archpriest, the ecclesiarch, 3 priests, 1 protodeacon, 4 deacons, 5 psalm readers, 2 sextons.
All the divine services were conducted accompanied by the choir, who were allowed to sing only in St. Isaac’s Cathedral. There were 50 persons in the choir: 20 adults and 30 youngsters, including 12 basses, 12 tenors, 12 altos and 14 trebles. Most of the choir came from Ukraine Kiev, Poltava, Chernigov Regions, most of them being from clergy families. The catalogue of hymns was constantly checked and confirmed by the Most Holy Synod. The choir conductor was Lvov, director of the Royal Chapel Choir.
Some years after the October revolution, finding the country on the verge of a financial crisis, the Soviet government was compelled to find the means to add to the state treasury at any coSt. Besides in 1921 the country was overcoming a natural disaster, a drought and terrible famine that came along in 34 Russian provinces.
The Orthodox Church was among the first to respond to the national trouble. Cathedrals began gathering donations, some money came from abroad. It was allowed to sell precious church articles, which were not used during the church service. The parishioners and clergy of St. Isaac’s Cathedral took a very active part in this project.
But such a position did not suit the new "owners" of Russia. The collected church means were requisitioned, and any contracts and compromises between the Church and the Soviet authorities were forgotten. Sacred divine service articles were requisitioned from churches, and this led to broad-scale conflicts between believers and authorities.
As a result cathedrals were vandalized, there were thousands upon thousands of victims, much of the Russian cultural heritage and religious loci were destroyed. Only in Petrograd alone, more than 3 poods of gold 665 poods and 16 pounds of silver, 1028 of diamonds and 366 jewels were confiscated from churches. About 3 poods of gold, 140 poods of silver and about 800 jewels, i.e. the most part of what was confiscated in city cathedrals was taken from St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
In 1931 the Antireligious Museum was opened in the building, and after six years it changed its direction of work to becoming the museum of history and art.
But all flows, all varies, and on June, 17, 1990, on Sunday, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, at one point in time the first cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church, again held a solemn divine service. The divine liturgy according to St. John Crysostom was served here by the Most holy patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Alexis II.
Henceforth all the divine services in St. Isaac’s Cathedral were made on a regular basis, on all Great holidays and Sundays.