The mysteries behind Saint Basil’s Cathedral

Located at Red Square, Moscow, Russia, Saint Basil’s Cathedral has also functioned as a museum. There are several mysteries associated with the structure. Discussing its architectural style, difference of opinion surrounds this notion. The notable Architects – Barma and Postnik put their heart and soul into its creation.

However, their inspiration for the church is often disputed. It does not seem to have any possible European roots. This possibility was rejected by the prominent French Architect – Viollet-le-Duc. He commented that it was more of a Byzantine and ultimately Asian influence. Legend says that it was also a recreation of Qolşärif Masjid, which was destroyed by the Russian troops after the siege of Kazan. The Cathedral celebrates its 457th birthday on 12th July 2018.  There remain some very interesting mysteries that surround this historically and architecturally rich marvel.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia Image: Wikimedia

Saint Basil’s Cathedral was built on a religious holiday; the Intercession of the Holy Virgin. It was built between 1555-61 by the order of Tsar Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his victory over Kazan Khanate on the religious holiday. This correlation seeps further down to its architectural design as well. Four of its eight chapels are named after religious holidays that coincided with the key events in the Kazan campaign.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral actually exists as nine churches in one. All of these were built one after another and connected using hallways. All the events and eras had a certain impact on this religious monument. The most striking was in 1595 – a fire, after which the church was decorated by onion domes. The structure was later made vivid and lucid using colors in the 18th century. Architect Joseph Bove, is said to be responsible for the reinforcement of the retaining wall with stone and erected cast-iron fence.

Front Elevation Drawing of the Cathedral’s Facade and Overhead View of Floor Plan Image: Wikimedia

Reason behind the Church’s Name

The name Basil came from Basil the Blessed. Vasily (Basil) who is noted to see into the future and even predicted the fire of 1547 – due to which a large portion of Moscow was burnt to ashes. Basil suffered a lot and was even homeless. He never wore clothes or shoes, not caring much for the weather. After his death, Moscow Macarius conducted his funeral and Ivan the Terrible acted as a pallbearer. The canonization of Basil took place in 1588, after which a 10th church was added to the cathedral and the whole conglomerate was named after Basil the Blessed.

Smaller dome on the left marking the sanctuary of Basil the Blessed 1588 Image: Wikimedia

Barma and Postnik are the most widely recognizable architects of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible ordered them to be blinded after all the work was complete. This was done so that it could not be replicated or surpassed. This merely sounds unlikely because the latter was involved in the design and construction of buildings built later on as well.

Saviour of Saint Basil’s Cathedral

The French and Communist parties both wanted to destroy the structure. In the timeframe of 1812 – French troops were retreating from Moscow but never had enough time to blow up St. Basil’s Cathedral. Almost a century later, the Soviet authorities themselves wanted to take the cathedral down because of its very central nature with respect to the urban fabric of the city. Architect and Restoration Artist – Pyotr Baranovsky, who contacted Stalin using a telegram, saved the cathedral.

Pyotr Baranovsky Image: Wikimedia

Originally possessing magnanimous numerousness when it comes to bells in the cathedral built in 16th century, only One has survived to this present day. In 1929, the decision makers of Soviet Union ordered all the bronze bells to be melted down. A bell ringer, Alexei Konovalov said that by miracle a lone bell survived. To this day, it preserves the sound of the 16th century. Saint Basil’s Cathedral was converted into a museum of history and architecture in 1929 and also became a branch of the State Historical Museum. In 1990, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In early 1990s, the Cathedral and the Chapel of Basil the Blessed again commenced to be used for religious purposes.

  • Anosh Nadeem Butt

    An Architect, Designer and Photographer who is motivated to work hard, takes criticism positively, and possesses an urge to increase knowledge by studying from the past, by design processes, and through creative introspectiveness.

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