The Naval cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt is a Russian Orthodox cathedral built in 1903–1913 as the main church of the Baltic Fleet and dedicated to all fallen seamen. The cathedral was closed in 1929, and was converted to a cinema, a House of Officers (1939) and a museum of the Navy (1980). The Russian Orthodox Church reinstalled the cross on the main dome in 2002 and served the first Divine Liturgy in the cathedral in 2005, but since then it is opened only on special occasions.
The first Orthodox church in Kronstadt was built in 1728–31. The wooden church remained the main place of worship in Russia"s largest naval base until 1840, when the counterweights balancing the church bells broke through the rotting floors and seriously damaged the belltower structure. Emperor Nicholas I personally ordered the shutdown of the unsafe church and it was demolished in 1841. For the next half century worship was performed in temporary locations. A temporary wooden church built in 1861 was inadequate for the ten thousand Kronstadt seamen from the start.
Construction management, extremely centralised until the reign of Alexander II, was gradually decentralized in the 1880s–1890s. The right to initiate individual construction projects passed from the Emperor himself to imperial ministers and department chiefs. In 1896 admiral Pavel Tyrtov, director of the Imperial Russian Navy, started preparations to build a cathedral in Kronstadt in earnest. Tyrtov insisted that the cathedral be built on the site identified nearly two centuries earlier by Peter I and reasoned that it should not cost more than the new Kharkiv cathedral (200,000 roubles).
October 27, 1901 the 14,000 strong garrison of Kronstadt was summoned for the groundbreaking on Anchor Square. Earthwork and work on concrete foundations and a granite base continued through 1902; the walls were laid down in a massive ceremony May 8, 1903 with the Emperor in attendance. Despite social unrest that culminated in the Russian revolution of 1905, the cathedral was structurally complete in 1907. Anyway numerous amendments and changes were implemented by spring of 1909.
The cathedral operated as such for only 16 years. October 14, 1929 it was closed and valuables were nationalized to state treasury. A small portion of these relics were displayed at the Museum of Navy and the Russian Museum. In 1930—1931 the cathedral was defaced: its crosses and bells were toppled over and hauled to the foundries. One bell, weighing 4,726 kilograms (second largest) remained in place — either due to technical difficulties or deliberately, as an emergency alarm signal. Internal marble items, including the iconostasis and the memorial boards with names of the fallen seamen, were ripped out, broken or cut and reused for ordinary construction needs. A small number of memorial boards ended up in the Museum of Navy and were 'written off' in 1970.
In 1932 the cathedral hall was converted to a cinema, frivolously named New Star, but soon renamed to more appropriate Maxim Gorky; in 1939 the cinema was upgraded to a House of the Officers (akin to a community center) of Kronstadt garrison. During World War II it was closed; the dome received three direct artillery hits. Post-war 'reconstruction' of 1953—54 finally converted the cathedral to a functioning concert hall. This time, the builders added a suspended ceiling that isolated the hall from the dome; it remained in place as at end of 2007. Reduction of military personnel in 1960s made the concert hall redundant; in 1980 the cathedral reopened as a branch of the Central Museum of Navy.
The Church attempted to repossess the cathedral since 1990s. In 2005 the first Divine Liturgy in held the Naval Cathedral since 1929. As of September 2008 the cathedral is operational, but it is opened only on special occasions. The cathedral is undergoing extensive repairs and improvements, and was reconsecrated in April 2012. In his remarks, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said the cathedral looked 'better than 100 years ago.' Repairs are scheduled to be completed in 2013, in time for the cathedral"s centennial anniversary.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.