St. Petersburg History - Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the most recognizable landmarks of architecture in St Petersburg.

Czar, Alexander II was murdered with a grenade by anarchists from the organization of Popular Will on March 13, 1881, as he was passing by in a carriage.  

Building of the cathedral began in 1883 on the banks of the Griboyedov (Yekaterininsky) Canal as a memorial to the Czar.  An intricate shrine, adorned with lazurite, topaz and other valuable stones was constructed on the exact spot where Alexander was killed.  The canal was narrowed to include the part of the road where the tsar was killed to be inside the church. The beauty of the shrine is a stark contrast to the cobblestone street where the carriage was travelling.

 It took 24 years to complete the construction.  Donations from private citizens in Russia and other countries who were freed from the Czar’s domination funded the project.

On the bell tower walls are at least a hundred mosaic pieces commemorating the donors.  Their emblems are of their cities and countries.  The imperial gilded crown above the cross symbolizes the donations made by the Imperial Russian family, who donated the most money for the cathedral.

The church houses one of the biggest collections of mosaic in Europe, with 600 mosaic, 7500 square meters and iconic compositions.  

There was a contest to choose the artworks.  The Russian artist masters outshined the German and Italian masters in the mosaic contest. The mosaics were created from the sketches of 32 artisans such as Mikhail Nesterov and Viktor Vasnetsov. 

Icons in the cathedral reflect the story of the Russian history from medieval times thru the 19th century.  Represented are icons of highly respected and honored Russian saints such as Princes Olga, St Prince Alexander of the Neva, St Duke Vladimir of Kiev, among others.

During the 1917 Revolution in Russia, the church was extensively damaged and was closed by the Soviet powers in 1932.  During the 2nd World War it was used as a morgue, temporarily sheltering bodies of soldiers that died during combat and those who died of illness and starvation. 

It was used as a vegetable warehouse when the war ended, which led to the name, Savior on Potatoes.

In 1970 a restoration to a museum was started by the administration of St Isaac’s Cathedral.  It took 27 years and in 1997, it was opened again. 

The architecture of the cathedral is not in the Baroque or Neoclassical style, like much of St Petersburg.  It was designed in a Russian medieval style, similar to Yaroslav buildings and St Basil’s Cathedral of Moscow. The project was budgeted for 3.6 million rubles but final price was over 4.6 million rubles. 

The Holy Gates of the cathedral were destroyed and in 2005 a reconstruction began.

The church had never been re-consecrated and never held a full East Orthodox service; it was a place of prayer and reflection. In 2012, on the 129th anniversary of the assassination of Alexander II the re-consecration took place. 

Most tours of St Petersburg include the church in their sights to see.  It is also one of the top ten significant sights in the world and Europe.  Over a million tourists and Russians tour each year.


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