Thursday, February 5, 2015

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 180

Saint Basil's Cadredral, Moscow, Russia

The church on this 1985 postcard sent by a friend started life as Trinity Church and later Trinity Cathedral; however, today it is often referred to as Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Through the years it has been variously known as, The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat (the official name), and Pokrovsky Cathedral.  Constructed on orders from Ivan the Terrible between 1555 and 1561 it was the tallest structure in Moscow, Russia until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600.  After the Russian Revolution and the general state program of atheism the church was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox community and has operated as a State Historical Museum since 1928.  It has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.  Situated near the Kremlin it is sometimes mistaken for the Kremlin.  The painting of Red Square by Fedor Alekseev in 1802 found in Wikipedia shows the position of the church in relation to the Kremlin wall, the moat and Red Square as they looked before the catastrophic fire of 1812.

Red Square by Fedor Alekseev, 1802 

There are nine onion domes corresponding with the original eight side churches arranged around a ninth central church.  A tenth church was built over the grave of Saint Vasily (Basil) in 1588.  The building is shaped to resemble a bonfire rising into the sky and is unlike any other Russian architecture.  Although the identity of the architect is not known for certain it is thought to have been Postnik Yakovlev or Barma and Postnik Yakovlev.  Ivan Yakovlevich Barma is another possibility.  Legend holds that Ivan the Terrible had the eyes of the architect removed to prevent the construction of another church like it. 

The picture below, also from Wikipedia, shows the amazing and gorgeous painted interior.  Many churches of similar vintage in other parts of Europe have lots of gold gilt but the only the old churches in Norway we saw on our recent trip had a similar type of painted walls and ceilings.

Interior wall paintings
St. Basil’s has undergone several renovations following fires and general deterioration from age and use.  The foundation is white stone while the rest is red brick.   Bright colors were added beginning in 1680 through 1848.  The original Trinity Church burnt down in 1583 and when that refitting was completed in 1593 some additions had also been constructed.  A significant expansion and refitting took place from 1680 to 1683.  Wooden shelters above the first floor and stairs that had been the source of frequent fires were rebuilt with brick.  An old detached belfry was demolished and the new bell tower built on the old square foundation changed the appearance of the church.  The first floral ornamental murals were added on all exterior and interior walls of the first two floors.  Several other restorations have been done some more successful than others. 

A plan for the urbanization Moscow envisioned by Joseph Stalin did not include Saint Basil’s but Vladimir Semyonov the master planner for the city dared to object, as did the preservationist Pyotr Baranovsky who ended up spending time in the Gulag for his objections.  Eventually attitudes changed and by 1937 all agreed that the church should be spared.  Now as it approaches 500 years of age it continues to be a major landmark in Moscow.

Saint Basil is also known as Basil Fool for Christ, Basil Wonderworker of Moscow, or Blessed Basil of Moscow.  He was born near Moscow in December ca 1469 the child of serfs, apprenticed as a shoemaker in Moscow, and died 2 August 1552 or 1557.  “He adopted an eccentric lifestyle, shoplifting and giving to the poor to shame the miserly and help those in need,” went about naked with chains weighing him down.  He rebuked Ivan the Terrible for not paying attention in church and for violent behavior toward the innocent.  Several clergymen participated in his funeral serviceAt and Ivan the Terrible even acted as one of the pallbearers.  Saint Basil was canonized in 1588 and is buried in the cathedral.

The two stamps on the postcard are shown below.

A traditional symbol of the Soviet Union is seen on this 1976 stamp called Russian Republic of Udmurtia.

Yury Artsimenev designed this second stamp that shows a sable in a cedar tree, dated 1984.

An interesting side note about this particular postcard is that it was mailed from Moscow in September 1985 the same year that Mikhail Gorbachev established the policy of Glasnost and therefore probably the first time American tourists could visit Moscow because of the Cold War (1947 – 1991).

For more detailed information, see:

Below is an early 20th century postcard from Wikipedia showing almost the same view as the 1985 card.

Early 20th century postcard of Saint Basil's Cathedral

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