The Cathedral of the Dormition is located on the north side of Cathedral Square of the Moscow Kremlin in Russia, where a narrow alley separates the north from the Patriarch's Palace with the Twelve Apostles Church. The Cathedral is regarded as the mother church of Muscovite Russia. In its present form it was constructed between 1475–79 at the behest of the Moscow Grand Duke Ivan III by the Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti. From 1547 to 1896 it is where the Coronation of the Russian monarch was held. In addition, it is the burial place for most of the Moscow Metropolitans and Patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Archaeological investigations in 1968 indicated that the site of the present Cathedral was a medieval burial ground, supporting hypothesis that a wooden church existed on the site in the 12th century. This was replaced by a limestone structure built around 1326, which is mentioned in historical records.
In the 14th century, Metropolitan Peter persuaded Ivan I (Ivan Kalita) that he should build a cathedral to the Theotokos (Blessed Virgin Mary) in Moscow like the Cathedral of the Dormition in the capital city Vladimir. Construction of the cathedral began on August 4, 1326, and the cathedral was finished and consecrated on August 4, 1327. At that time Moscow became the capital of the Vladimir-Suzdal' principality, and later of all Kievan Rus.
By the end of the 15th century the old cathedral had become dilapidated, and in 1472 the Moscow architects Kryvtsov and Myshkin began construction of a new cathedral. Two years later, in May 1474, the building was nearing completion when it suddenly collapsed as the drum of main cupola was being placed.
Following the disaster, Ivan III then invited Aristotele Fioravanti, a celebrated architect and engineer from Bologna, Italy, to come to Moscow and entrusted him with the task of designing the cathedral from scratch in the traditions of Russian architecture. The Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir was once again taken as a model for the building, and so Fioravanti travelled to Vladimir in order to study Russian methods of building. He designed a light and spacious masterpiece that combined the spirit of the Renaissance with Russian traditions. The foundation for the new cathedral was laid in 1475, and in 1479 the new cathedral was consecrated by Metropolitan Geronty. The interior was painted with frescoes and adorned with many icons, including the Theotokos of Vladimir and Blachernitissa.
The design of the new church, with its five domes (symbolic of Jesus Christ and the Four Evangelists) proved immensely popular, and was taken as a template for numerous other churches throughout Russia.
In 1547 the coronation of the first Russian Tsar, Ivan the Terrible, took place in this cathedral. From 1721 it was the scene of the coronation of the Russian emperors. The ritual installation of metropolitans and patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church also took place in this cathedral, and their tombs are to be found here.
The cathedral suffered from many disasters in its history, including fires in 1518, 1547, 1682 and 1737, and looting under the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Time of Troubles in 1612. During the French occupation of Russia, it was looted and used as a horse stable.
It was thoroughly restored in 1894-1895 and from 1910-1918. On November 21, 1917 the cathedral was the setting for the installation of Tikhon (Belavin), the Metropolitan of Moscow, as the first patriarch of the restored Patriarchate of Moscow. However, following the 1917 Russian Revolution, the new Bolshevik government closed all churches in the Moscow Kremlin, and converted the cathedral into a museum. By special permission from Vladimir Lenin, the last Pascha (Easter service) was held in 1918. The final moments of this Paschal service was the subject of an unfinished painting by Pavel Korin entitled Farewell to Rus. Most of the church treasures were transferred to the Kremlin Armory, or were sold overseas.
In 1990 the Dormition Cathedral was returned to the church for periodic religious services, only a few years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was restored to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991.
Dormition Cathedral is a tremendous 6 pillared building with 5 apses and 5 domes. It was modeled after the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, in that it made extensive use of limestone masonry on a high limestone base, and was laid out as a three nave church with a vaulted cross-dome. It is built of well-trimmed white-stone blocks. However, Fioravanti did not use cantilever vaults as was common in Russian architecture, but introduced groin vaults and transverse arches. For the upper portion of the building, he used specially-made bricks, larger than the standard Russian size, which reduced weight and allowed for more slender arch supports. Thus, the easternmost pair of columns in front of the apses are typically Russian in the use of massive rectangular open piers, whereas the remaining four are simpler Corinthian columns. The slim shape of these columns contributes significantly to the light, spacious effect of the interior.
Inside, the church decoration is dominated by its fresco painting. The huge iconostasis dates from 1547, but its two highest tiers are later additions from 1626 and 1653/1654 under Patriarch Nikon. It addition to its liturgical function, the iconostasis also served as a sort of trophy wall, in that Russian Tsars would add the most important icons from cities they had conquered to its collection. One of the oldest, icons with the bust of Saint George dates from the 12th century and was transferred to Moscow by Tsar Ivan IV on the conquest of the city of Veliky Novgorod in 1561.
However, one of the most important cult images of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Theotokos of Vladimir kept at the Cathedral from 1395-1919 is now at the Tretyakov Gallery.
Near the south entrance to the Cathedral is the Monomach Throne of Ivan IV (1551).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.