History of
St Volodymyrs Cathedral

History of St. Volodymyrs Cathedral

In 1852, when the monument to Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir erected on the bank of the Dnieper River was completed, Philaret (Amfiteatrov), metropolitan of Kiev and Galitskii was asked to consecrate the one. The archbishop, however, was dead against it saying that St. Vladimir threw down the idols and never erected them.

"Kiev, a city blessed by God, holy nurse of Orthodox religion and home of sanctuary has still no holy church erected in honor of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir ... Now, according to the will and pleasure of the most pietistic Emperor, a warm cathedral in ancient Byzantine style is intended to be built in this city in the name of the baptizer of Russia at the cost of voluntary donations of faithful sons of the Orthodox church". It was with these words that metropolitan Philaret Amfiteatrov addressed all orthodox community in 1852.

Thus, the Emperor Nikolai (Nicholas) the First allowed all-Russia subscription to erect another monument to St. Vladimir, i.e. a temple to be erected to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus.

We need to say that Kiev of those old times was far from what our modern day capital looks like now. Down to 60ies of 19th century Kiev looked like an ancient Russian city with earth mounds, fortifications and deserted squares. At those times there were no beautiful palace-like buildings made of stone or comfortable pavements or any industrial constructions. Central districts of today looked like waste land with some modest bourgeois houses scattered around. St. Volodymyrs Cathedral, Kiev University and Opera House now stand at what used to be a wide city field ...

Initially the Cathedral was expected to be erected nearby the ruins of the Golden Gate, however, a place for construction right opposite the University of St. Vladimir was allotted on the motion of Isidor (Nikolskii), a new metropolitan of Kiev. In 1857, during his visit in Kiev, the Emperor Aleksandr (Alexander) the Second ordered to construct the Cathedral between Bibikovskii Boulevard and Fundukleevskaia Street (today T. Shevchenko Boulevard and Bogdana Khmelnitskogo Street).

Archbishop Philaret was the first to donate 7,000 rubles and later on Kiev Pechersk Lavra donated one million bricks, and thus, the amount of approximately 100,000 rubles had been collected by 1859 (approximately 3,000,000- 5,000,000 dollars if converted with a view to our realias).

The architect academician Ivan Schtrom originally presented the design of huge thirteen-domed temple, however, the amount of voluntary donations was not enough to erect such a grand church (cost estimate exceeded 700,000 rubles).

So, in 1860 metropolitan Isidor designated instead of late metropolitan Philaret gave instructions to eparchial architect P.I. Sparro to adjust the design of the Cathedral. The latter cut down the design considerably in 1861, downsized the construction rejecting free edges of the cross, made rectangular form in the layout and left seven domes only having refused to be in charge of the construction process due to busy condition.

The work was relegated again to another architect Aleksandr Beretti who brought opposite adjustments to the design leaving the shape of the temple almost unchanged and increased the size in one and a half time.

In substance, the architect downscaled the plan of the temple in one and half times having increased the size of the construction and having left the thickness of the walls and columns unchanged.

According to this design the Cathedral was founded at a marvelous place in Bibikovskii Boulevard on July 15, 1862 (the day of St. Vladimir). The first stone was laid by Arsenii (Moskvin), metropolitan of Kiev.

The amount of funds was just enough and by customs of those times competitive tendering was declared with results as follows: merchant Pochinin promised to build the temple for 124,699 rubles, Fedorovich - for 143,900 rubles, Schtronberg - for 127,500 rubles, Rappoport - for 124,690 rubles and Khavalkin - for 100,000 rubles. It was enough to award the victory to Khavalkin with whom a contract was entered into on March 29, 1862.

Delivery of construction materials began. However the stones delivered for foundation were absolutely unsuitable, so the latter was made out of bricks.

In 1866, when the Cathedral was constructed to the level of domes, the walls, vaults and arches cracked; the construction process was suspended.

I. Schtrom called from St. Petersburg said that errors in calculations committed in the course of redesign caused such undesirable effect. The construction process stopped for 10 long years...

It was in 1875 only that Aleksandr (Alexander) the Second noticed unfinished building during his stay in Kiev and ordered to continue the construction process immediately.

R.B. Bernhardt, an architect and expert of vault theory invited from St. Petersburg made new calculations of load on the walls and ceilings and found engineering solution to eliminate the cracks: he offered to reinforce outer supporting walls by side naves and counterforces.

counterforce (originated from French word contreforce - "counter force" meaning abutment, cross wall, vertical ledge reinforcing the basic supporting structure, mainly the outer wall

The construction process was then guided by the architect V.N. Nikolayev who developed the design of side naves upon which the layout of St. Volodymyrs Cathedral began to look like ancient basilicas. The walls were reinforced by counterforces and the main dome and vaults of small domes were overbuilt.

In the layout St. Volodymyrs Cathedral Church is a hexastyle three-apse structure, cross-domed three-nave temple; traditional five tops over the naos (central dome is larger and higher than the side ones located over corner cells) at the western façade (over corner repeating elements of the choir) were supplemented by 2 belfries of smaller size if compared to small domes.

Facades have vault roofing raised in the central edges of the cross in the layout; they have arcuated windows in Byzantine style (triple in the central curtain walls and double in others); Byzantine tradition is emphasized by the decoration of domes with arches supported by uprights and by laying facades and arches from quadras.

Some features, i.e. heavy counterforces linked to pilasters, exact division of the building by the wide cornice of 2 floors and symmetrical belfries at the western façade disturb precise reproduction of Byzantine models.

Dimensions of the temple - 29.85*54.93 m, height to the cross of the main dome is 48.99 m. Belfry is one of the side domes of the Cathedral.

Apse (originated from Greek word hapsis meaning a "dome"), apse (originated from Latin word absis) is a corbel of the building semicircular, faceted or rectangular in the layout covered with a semi-dome or hemispherical vault (conch).

Apses first appeared in basilicas of ancient Rome. In Orthodox churches apse is an altar corbel normally oriented to the east.

Nave (originated from French word nef and Latin word navis meaning a "ship") is an elongated premises, a part of interior (usually in basilica-like buildings) limited from one or both longitudinal sides by a row of columns or poles separating it from neighboring naves.

Division of interior by naves with a row of poles appeared in temples of ancient Greece. In architecture of ancient Rome interiors of civil buildings (basilicas) consisted of a number of parallel naves. Beginning from 4th century basilica type was adopted for Christian temples and the nave becomes a widespread element of Christian architecture. Both interior space of basilica temples widespread in Middle Ages in Western Europe of catholic tradition and interiors of numerous cross-domed churches appeared and widespread in architecture of eastern Christian countries and Byzantine Empire are divided into naves.

In Epichristian temples there could be three or five naves only (normally odd number), and the central nave has always been wider and higher.

There were 3 holy tables (thrones) in the Cathedral: one high alter and two on the second floor. (reference to "Orthodox church and its structure"): in the central apse - in honor of Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir, in choirs - in honor of Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga and saint blessed Princes Boris and Gleb. Delubrum was located in the western part of the southern nave. The construction process had mostly been completed by 1882.

In 1882 construction of the Cathedral was mainly completed.

Naos (originated from Greek word ναος meaning a "temple" or "holy place") is the central part of the Christian church where people who pray stand during the warship service. Naos is the right word for the core of Byzantine church covered with a dome. Speaking symbolically naos is embodiment of Christian Universe on Earth. Functionally naos is the place where the church community gathered for warship service.

In basilica naos consisted of several naves (Greek word meaning a "ship").

From the east naos is linked with the sanctuary (altar), the most important premises of the church where the holy table is located and liturgy is conducted. In Orthodox churches the sanctuary is separated from naos by the velum and iconostasis.

It is unclear until now whether the naos of the church was intended for all laymen. Evidently side naves and galleries only were initially intended for laymen. The central nave was used by clergy, different processions and certain categories of laymen only. In the Cathedral of St. Sophia of Constantinople markings on the floor for processions of the clergy are still noticeable.

From the west naos is linked with the antechurch or narthex in Greek. Some Russian churches have no antechurch and the entrance door leads right into the naos.

Cross-domed type of the temple was widely spread in mature Byzantine art beginning from 9th century. In such temple naos was of square or almost square shape. There were four columns in naos supporting the arches, vaults and dome.

In Old Russian architecture a type of the temple with supporting poles (that came after Byzantine columns) was widely spread. Naoses of Russian churches of 11th -13th century were of rectangular shape and were divided by poles into three or five naves.

Normally there were choirs in the western part while repeating elements located under them stood out as narthex.

In 14th -15th century choirs in temples disappeared. In 16th -17th century temples with no columns covered by pavilion with cruciform or coved vault were widely spread. Naos in such temples was of utterly simple rectangular shape. At the end of 19th - beginning of 20th century a lot of churches and cathedrals were built with repetition of many shapes of Byzantine architecture. In such temples naos space becomes of complex and expressive shape again.

Kiev Church and Archeological Society wished to make interior décor of the church look like the one in old Byzantine style in which Old Russian churches were built in times of St. Vladimir and Yaroslav the Wise.

It was at that very time that Adrian V. Prakhov (1846 - 1916), professor of theory and history of art from St. Petersburg University, prominent expert of Russian antiquity, historian of arts and archeologist, offered his services. The name of professor is in close connection with history of Kiev. It was Prakhov who discovered wall-painting of 12th century in Kirillovskaia church; Mikhail Vrubel under his guidance made his first church paintings there; being an outstanding connoisseur of Ukrainian language and culture, Prakhov was the first to publish his scientific works related to creative heritage of T. G. Shevchenko.

He was burning with an idea to embody ancient monumental traditions in Volodymyrs Cathedral and expose spiritual grandeur of Kievan Rus in painting.

A year later the professor presented necessary drawings of iconostases and Ciborium (image of the Holy Sepulcher) carved from marble. This work was not approved at first and Vladimir Nikolayev was offered to do the same work for his design of inner decor, wall painting and iconostases was much simpler than expensive and complex version of Prakhov. However, the professor was supported by St. Petersburg Archeological Society and personally by count D.A. Tolstoy, a powerful Minister of Internal Affairs. (Ministry of Internal Affairs allocated 200,0000 rubles to church decoration, i.e. several million dollars if converted at the current rate).

...So, in spring of 1885 the Cathedral plastered inside was prepared for interior decoration. Prakhov expected to cope with the paintings within 2 years.

As he was free to use any money to bring to life his ideas, he made up his mind to engage most famous masters of his time: Viktor Vasnetsov, Vasilii Surikov and Vladimir Polenov.

But the latter two were busy at that time. Artist Ghe rejected the offer either. Valentine Serov and Mikhail Vrubel were among the nominees to the position of the head artist of the Cathedral, but their sketches failed to be accepted. The latter, though a close friend of Prakhov from the times of collaboration in Kirillovskaia church, fell in love with Prakhovs wife and for this reason received some ornaments only from the jealous professor ...

Later the sketches of M. Vrubel were purchased by philanthropist . Tereshchenko and now they are exposed in Kiev Museum of Russian Art. Some experts believe that if paintings in the Cathedral had been entirely made by Vrubel, it would have looked absolutely different being painted in such mystical and cosmic manner. Perhaps we would agree, but it would have been absolutely different Church. In general tendency of moving away from Christ has already become evident at that time in Vrubels oeuvre. Demonism in his paintings and insanity were sad result of his creative work. It is known that he repainted the face of Sitting Demon over forty times even when the picture was exposed in public.

But let us get back to Prakhov. He managed to engage for work prominent artists and sculptors of that time: Mikhail Nesterov, a young but already bright ecclesiastical painter, brothers Aleksandr Swedomsky and Pavel Swedomsky residing in Rome, academicians of painting with good education, and Wilhelm Kotarbinski, their Roman friend, Pole by origin, who made bright career for himself in Kiev.

Certainly, involvement of Vasnetsov in the painting process of the Cathedral was the most crucial and determinative step.

"...I undertake to do the work with my assistants using my best high quality materials within two years as of the date of execution of this condition" as specified in the contract signed by Vasnetsov.

However the work continued 11 years. It took two years for Vasnetsov to finish the central figure of the Holy Virgin...

Now there She steps gently and slowly towards the lookers. The Queen of Heaven carries his Son to give Him into the sinful world... Her large sad and loving brown eyes look kindly at the viewers. Her pale face illuminated with inner light is unusually beautiful. Traditional image of the Holy Virgin painted by Vasnetsov was original and unique. This image is called "Vasnetsovs Holy Virgin" from those times.

Viktor Vasnetsov himself believed it to be the main work of all his life. He kept saying that "there is no other business more holy and fruitful for the Russian artist than church decoration in Rus(Russia)".

Viktor M. Vasnetsov pronounced sacramental words upon completion of the work: "I put a candle to God".

Prakhovs plan of Church décor was based on the idea to memorize Equal-to-the-Apostles Price Vladimir, Baptizer of Rus. The history of Rus in the system of painting is represented as a part of universal history which limits are marked by the Days of Creation (southern nave to the right of the entrance), Last Judgment (western wall, the wall with the entrance in it) and scenes from earthly life and Passions of Jesus Christ placed between them (side naves, choirs and vaults of the central nave). Ancient history of Kievan Rus is represented in compositions "Baptizing of Prince Vladimir" (to the left of the entrance over the side entrance to the stairs leading to choirs) and "Baptizing of Rus" (to the right of the entrance over the side entrance to the delubrum), in images of saints and spiritual men on the pylons of the central nave. Thus, the Cathedral is a kind of thanksgiving prayer to the Creator whose glory is established through the glory of Saint Kievan Rus.

In imitation of ancient Kievan churches

Conch (originated from Greek word kónch meaning a "shell") is an internal part of apse vault in the shape of ¼ of the circle: located over the holy table, credence and diaconicon.

The conch symbolizes "nonmaterial Holy Tabernacle" - glory and grace of God.

Conches were widely used in Roman and Byzantine architecture and medieval Christian churches. Mosaics or paintings of Christ, Holy Virgin and Christian saints were often placed in conches.

the image of "Holy Virgin and Child" and "Eucharist" beneath are placed against the golden background in apse conch.

Groups of biblical prophets and Russian holy hierarchs are painted on side altar walls and 2 private compositions "Annunciation" "Purification of St. Mary" are created on pylons in front of the apse.

Grand gallery of Kievan Rus saints (equal-to-the-apostles princes Vladimir Kievskii, blessed Aleksandr Nevskii, Andrei Bogoliubskii, Mikhail Chernigovskii, equal-to-the-apostles princesses Olga, reverend Efrosiniia Polotskaia, Nestor the Chronicler and Alypius the Iconographer) represents different forms of ascetic life and spiritual ministration.

The triadic composition "The Only Begotten Son - Word of God" is placed on the vault of the central nave and partially over choirs and immediately over the entrance based on description of the icon of 16th century drawn up by F.I. Buslaev (Russian philologist and fine art expert, academician of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1860)).

Stories of Christs life painted in the manner of academical religious pictures by such artists as P. . Swedomsky and W. . Kotarbinski ("Entrance into Jerusalem", "Raising of Lazarus", "Crucifixion", "Transfiguration"), ("Jesus Christ before Pilate", "Last Supper", "Agony in the Garden", "Ascension") are placed on the walls of side naves and choirs.

. V. Nesterov painted on choirs "Nativity of Christ", "Anastasis", "Theophany" and icons in side-chapels.

Some ornaments are painted by M.A. Vrubel, . Mamontov and few paintings are made by . . Swedomsky.

The program and art style of paintings in St. Volodymyrs Cathedral represent no strict devotion to orthodox symbols and dogmatic tradition.

Apart from clear loans from ancient Byzantine monuments (image of evangelists in the high altar as holy lambs and Cross against the starry sky after the fashion of mosaic in Saint Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna, mid-6th century), such elements as representation of holy men souls carried by angels to the gates of Heaven (composition "Threshold of Heaven" placed in the drum circle of the central dome) were introduced in painting. The composition "Last Judgment" on the western wall is based on traditional iconography of Apocalypse supplemented by folk elements; scene "Days of Creation" is placed in plafonds of side naves (authors P. . Swedomsky and W. . Kotarbinski).

Low marble choir screen typical for Byzantine monuments was designed by Prakhov; he also developed a number of architectural interior details, i.e bronze doors for which figures of Equal-to-the-Apostles Princess Olga (according to the pattern of sculptor R. R. Bakh) and Prince Vladimir (according to the pattern of G. R. Zaleman) were created. Mosaic images on facades of the Cathedral made on the basis of Vasnetsovs sketches were created in the workshop of . . Frolov in St. Petersburg while interior mosaics were made by masters from Venice.

Interior decoration of the Cathedral was completed in 1896. The first Night Service took place on August 19. The next day, on August 20, 1896, St. Volodymyrs Cathedral was consecrated by metropolitan Ioannicus in presence of Nikolai (Nicholas) the Second.

St. Volodymyrs Cathedral drew attention of contemporaries at once who unanimously called it "the first inspired work of Russian religious art".

110 years had passed since the day when the church erected in honor of St. Prince Vladimir the Baptizer opened its doors for the flock. Many events witnessed by the Cathedral had taken place within this period. Sometimes it also had hard times, but it survived during World War I and World War II and during rather complex period of 30ies. St. Volodymyrs Cathedral was one of few operating churches in Kiev in the period of communist ideology control. It has survived until now and today its doors are open.


1) Sergei GRABAR, specially for"Drugaia Storona" based on information of website otherside.com.ua

2) based on information of website ua.vlasenko.net

3) . . Krainii, S. S. Stepanova based on article of Vol. VIII "Orthodox Encyclopedia", Moscow. 2004.

4) based on information of website gazetanv.ru