St Isaac’s Cathedral - History and Facts | History Hit

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Admiralteyskiy okrug, Saint Petersburg, Russia

St Isaac’s Cathedral is a neoclassical church in St Petersburg, Russia.

Peta Stamper

16 Apr 2021

About St Isaac’s Cathedral

St Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sobor) in St Petersburg, Russia, is a 19th century neoclassical church designed by the French architect, Ricard de Montferrand and consecrated in 1858.

St Isaac’s is one of the city’s principal and most impressive churches, boasting a breathtaking blend of multicoloured marble, paintings, mosaics and plasters. St Isaac’s also has a 43 metre high observation tower, offering splendid views of the city.

St Isaac’s Cathedral history

Named for the patron saint whose feast day coincided with the birthday of Peter the Great, St Isaac’s Cathedral was built on the order of Tsar Alexander I. The French-born Auguste de Montferrand was elected to design the new incarnation, and the building commission worried the designs were not grand enough, the emperor supported Montferrand.

Innovative methods were employed to erect the design’s massive columns and the cathedral’s construction cost over a million golden rubles. Built to accommodate 1,400 worshippers, St Isaac’s inspired awe with a coloured stained glass window of the ‘Resurrected Christ’ within the main altar, despite taking 40 years to construct. The resulting idiom in Finnish ‘to build like the church of Isaac’ meant a long-lasting building project.

After the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviet government seized St Isaac’s, stripping it of its religious function. The cathedral was repurposed as the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism in 1931. In 1937, the museum shifted focus, becoming a museum of the cathedral. During World War Two, the magnificent dome was painted grey to prevent it attracting enemy aircraft.

In 2017, the Governor of Saint Petersburg offered the cathedral back to the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the church did not reclaim the cathedral as citizens of the city opposed the offer.

St Isaac’s Cathedral today

Today, the golden dome continues to dominate the Saint Petersburg skyline. Although continuing to hold occasional services, St Isaac’s Cathedral remains a museum, reflecting both its original imperial and later Soviet functions.

Within the cathedral, you can not only admire the richly decorated bronze interior, adorned with marbles and granites from all across the Russian empire, but see a model of the wooden frame used to erect the massive columns and a statue of the designer himself, Montferrand.

Getting to St Isaac’s Cathedral

Saint Petersburg is easily travelled via public transport. Catch the 22 or 27 buses to Isaakiyevskiy Sobor stop, a 3 minute walk down to St Isaac’s Square and cathedral. Alternatively, the Vitebsky train station is a 30 minute walk away.

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