All about the Cathedral of Saint Peter & Paul

Cathedral of Saint Peter & Paul

The centrepiece and main building on the grounds of the Peter & Paul Fortress – one of a small number of major architectural monuments to have survived from the early 18th century in St. Petersburg. Its bell-tower and spire – capped with a weathervane in the shape of an angel – are symbols of the city.

Fascinating Facts

  • Tsar Peter the Great gave orders to build the cathedral, but he did not live to see its completion. However, his remains were reburied in the cathedral vault later – and it remained the royal necropolis for the rest of his royal dynasty, through to the last Tsars.
  • In the 20th century, the bolshevik theorist Zinoviev recommended scattering the remains of the Tsars under the ice of the River Neva. The plan, however, was never put into effect.
  • Until 2012, the cathedral spire remained the tallest building in the city, at 122 metres high (not including TV towers).

History

Prior to building the Peter and Paul Fortress, Peter the Great had given orders to build a wooden church there in 1703. Ten years later, the Italian architect Trezzini was invited to come and replace the wooden church with a more fitting stone cathedral. Trezzini rose to the occasion, producing a cathedral of great elegance. The cathedral's silhouette reminds us of a tall-masted galleon.

At first, they put up the bell-tower and spire – which also functioned as an observation platform. Once it was complete, Tsar Peter loved to climb to the top with foreign guests to the city, and admire the panoramic views of his city as it took shape around him.

The weathervane atop the spire was also intended to provide spiritual protection for the young city. Tsar Peter did not live to see his project completed. The cathedral was only consecrated in 1733, where the reigning monarch at the ceremony was Empress Anna Ioannovna.

During the Second World War, experienced mountain-climbers were used to camouflage the shining spire – to prevent it offering a target to enemy bombers.

What to see

  • The interiors of the cathedral are very different to the usual decoration of Russian Orthodox churches. We notice the strong influence of both Italian churches, and of Lutheran churches of Northern Europe. The cathedral is simple and moderate outside, but solemn and exuberant inside. The huge windows allow a great deal of natural light into the church – allowing the sunlight to gleam on the baroque ikon-screen.
  • The Crypt of the Romanov Monarchs. The crypt was used for the burials of not only the Romanov monarchs, but many other members of the royal family too. The tombs of crowned monarchs are distinguished by the gold double-headed eagle.
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