5 oldest churches in Moscow (PHOTOS)

Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik
Almost all of these temples, built even before the tsars started ruling Russia, are open to the public.

1. Saviour Cathedral of the Andronikov Monastery

The Savior Cathedral of the Andronikov Monastery in Moscow

The oldest church in the Russian capital is located outside the Moscow Kremlin. This is the Spassky (Saviour) Cathedral of the Andronikov Monastery in the Tagansky district of the capital, on the high bank of the Yauza River.

The first cathedral of the monastery, founded in 1357, was wooden and burned down in 1368. In its place, the Spassky Cathedral was built out of plinthon – baked mud bricks. The cathedral was rebuilt in white stone in 1425-1427 – which has been preserved to this day. It’s considered it the oldest church in Moscow, because it was actually founded earlier than any of the preserved buildings. During the Great Patriotic War of 1812, the cathedral was looted, set on fire and, subsequently, the vaults along with the tower collapsed inside the temple. Therefore, in the 19th century, it was, once again, renovated and reconstructed.

The Savior Cathedral, scheme

A hundred years later, in 1959-1960, Soviet architects restored the cathedral to its supposed original appearance. And, in 1993, the burial place of the elder Saint Andronik of Moscow, the first hegumen (head of a monastery of the Eastern Orthodox Church) of the Spaso–Andronikov Monastery, a disciple of the famous Sergius of Radonezh, was discovered under the main altar of the cathedral. It was previously believed that his relics were stolen from the cathedral after 1917. His disciple, the Monk Savva of Moscow, the second hegumen of the monastery, was buried in the same crypt with him.

2. The Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in the Moscow Kremlin

The Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos in the Moscow Kremlin

Over the years, this church in the Moscow Kremlin has actually become part of the building of the Grand Kremlin Palace. It was built in 1393-1394 by order of Evdokia Dmitrievna, the widow of Prince Dmitry Donskoy. The church belonged to the women's half of the palace and was the house temple of the princess. It was connected to the hall of the women’s half with a passage and this is why it is also called ‘The Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos Na Senyakh’, which means “at the passage”.

The lower half of the walls and the main portal have been preserved from the original church, but the church was rebuilt many times. In the 19th century, it was mainly frequented by employees of the Kremlin Palace – one of them being Andrei Bers, the doctor of the Moscow Palace. On September 23, 1862, his daughter, Sophia Bers, was married to Leo Tolstoy in the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos.

Now, the church no longer functions and it is closed to the public. Today, it is the oldest preserved church building in the Moscow Kremlin. Only the underground floor of the Annunciation Cathedral goes back to the same period (the 1390s).

3. The Dormition Cathedral

Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin

Built in 1475-1479 under the guidance of the Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti, the Dormition (or Assumption) Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin is the oldest fully preserved building in Moscow. This church also was the main cathedral of Russia until 1917.

The first Dormition Cathedral was founded in 1326 under Ivan Kalita. Its founder was Metropolitan Peter of Kiev and All Rus’, who moved his throne from Vladimir to Moscow and, thus, marked the beginning of the history of Moscow as the capital of the Russian Church. Therefore, the Dormition Cathedral was of special importance to the Moscow princes.

READ MORE: William Brumfiled on Dormition Cathedral

In 1470, there was a major fire in Moscow and the cathedral partially collapsed. The restoration of the cathedral became a symbolic project for Ivan III, Grand Prince of Moscow. At that time, Moscow was already the undisputed political and spiritual center of the Russian state and Ivan emphasized this – in 1472, a wooden church was built inside of the newly founded cathedral, where the wedding of Ivan and Sophia Paleologue, niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, took place. The marriage symbolized the role of Moscow and its ruler as the keepers of the Orthodox Christian world and the heirs to the Byzantine Empire.

But, in 1474, the unfinished cathedral collapsed again – this time due to a small earthquake. The walls of the temple were simply not strong enough. Italian engineer and architect Aristotle Fioravanti was invited to Moscow to complete the work. He fundamentally changed the technique of building the temple – he arranged the production of bricks using a new technique for Muscovites, and used iron piles to strengthen the walls. In 1498, the Dormition Cathedral hosted the first coronation in the history of Russia – the grandson of Ivan III, Dmitry, was crowned as the heir to the Moscow throne. Since then, all coronations in Russia were held only in the Dormition Cathedral. The tombs of the Russian metropolitan bishops and patriarchs are also located in it.

4. The Cathedral of the Annunciation

Annunciation Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin

This cathedral was originally built as a one-domed house church of the family of Moscow princes. It was erected of white stone in the 1390s under Vasily I, son of Dmitry Donskoy. From those times, a sub-basement (storage room) was preserved under the cathedral. This 7x7-meter room is almost as old as the walls of the Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos and has been preserved in its original form. Moscow princes would store their treasury in this basement.

The basement of the Annunciation Cathedral (treasury of the Moscow princes) – the oldest intact structure in Moscow

The extant cathedral was built in 1484-1489 by Pskov masters Krivtsov and Myshkin and, later, rebuilt in the 1560s under Ivan the Terrible. For the Moscow tsars, it served as a repository of holy relics. During the Soviet years, the cathedral was converted into a museum and, now, it is no longer in operation. However, since 1993, a patriarchal service is held in the cathedral every year on the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On this day, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia releases white doves from the steps of the cathedral.

5. Church of the Deposition of the Robe

The Church of the Deposition of the Robe

This small church was founded in 1450 as a house church of Moscow metropolitans, but it burned down in 1474 and was rebuilt in 1484-1485 by the same architects who built the Annunciation Cathedral. The church has endured many rebuilds during its history and, now, looks (after the reconstruction in the Soviet period) as it did in the 17th century, when it was connected with the Teremnoy Palace by a passage. The church has been handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church and services are held there on feast days, while the rest of the time, a museum operates there.

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