All about the Saint Isaac's Cathedral

Saint Isaac's Cathedral

St Isaac's Cathedral is the largest Russian-Orthodox place of worship in St. Petersburg, along with being one of the tallest domed structures anywhere on earth. The sheer scale of this 19th-century project astounds us, impressing us, and captivating our view.

Fascinating Facts

  • At the time of its completion, St Isaac's Cathedral became famed as the most costly cathedral anywhere in Europe – even at 19th prices, it cost the Russian treasury more than 23 million roubles. This enormous costs arose not only from its vast proportions, but similarly from its rich decorations. The bill came as an unpleasant shock to Emperor Nicholas I, and demanded economies be found, even on the church's ceremonial vessels.
  • The cathedral's consecration was likened to a state holiday – the event lasted over seven hours, in the presence of Russian Emperor Alexander II. All around the perimeter of the building were spectator seats, whose price went from 100 roubles each – a tidy sum, for those times.
  • In Soviet times, the cathedral was repurposed as a Museum of Atheism. The main visitor attraction was a Foucault pendulum, suspended from the ceiling of the dome - and oscillating through the central nave.
  • The 102-metre-tall building can accommodate up to twelve thousand worshippers. Despite this, its architect, Auguste Montferrand, recommended a maximum of seven thousand. Of course, in Montferrand's time it was customary for ladies to wear huge structured dresses to church – we took up at least one square metre of space per lady.

History

The history of the cathedral dates back to 1710 – a time at which the church here was a wooden chapel dedicated to St Isaac of Dalmatia. It was the very church where Tsar Peter the Great wed Catherine Alekseevna. Very soon, the wooden building was rebuilt in stone – yet this was not the colossal church we see today. The appearance of the new stone church was sharply criticised.

Emperor Alexander I appealed to architectural experts for help – who announced an architectural competition to build a more fitting cathedral. A young French architect, Auguste Montferrand, was announced as the winner. Building his cathedral would go on to take 40 years.

Over 40 different kinds of stone were used in the construction – a fact which gave rise to an unofficial nickname as museum of coloured stone. Nearly one hundred kilograms of gold were used to gild its dome. Artists whose work adorns the dome include Karl Briullov, while other internal decoration was provided by Vassily Shebuev, Ivan Vitaly and Fyodor Bruni.

What to see

  • The colossal granite columns of the exterior – each of which weighs over 112 tonnes.
  • Take a look at the cathedral dome from the interior. Today, a dove statue stands at the place where the soviet-era Foucault Pendulum once hung. Slightly below it is the painting 'The Adoration of the Virgin Mary' – which covers 1000 square metres, around the same size as the largest halls in the Hermitage Museum.
  • The mosaics executed by combining painting and stone-marquetry. Mosaics in the cathedral make use of such semi-precious stones as lazurite, malachite, and marble. Geologists take particular pleasure in a mineral mosaic portrait of the cathedral’s architect, Montferrand.
  • There is an upper colonnade now open as an observation platform – with breath-taking views over the city center from the height of 43 meters.
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