The history of the cathedral on Berlin’s Spree Island began in 1465, when the St. Erasmus Chapel in the newly built royal palace of Cölln on the Spree was elevated to the stature of collegiate church. In 1536, Elector Joachim II moved the it into the former Dominican church, south of the palace.With Martin Luther’s support, the elector established the Reformation in 1539, and the church became a Lutheran. In 1608, the collegiate church was dissolved, and the Dom was declared the highest parish church in Cölln on the Spree. When Elector Johann Sigismund converted to Calvinism in 1613, the Cathedral became Court and Parish Church.
From 1747 to 1750, Frederick the Great commissioned Johann Boumann the Elder to build a new baroque building to the north of the city palace. After the coffins were transferred from the crypt, the old, dilapidated Cathedral was torn down. On the occasion of the union of Prussia’s Lutheran and Reformed communities, the interior and exterior of the Cathedral were renovated. The classicistic conversion by Karl Friedrich Schinkel was completed in 1822.
Planning for the new Cathedral building in the Lustgarten began in the 19th century. Between 1825 and 1828, Karl Friedrich Schinkel presented numerous plans for a new Cathedral building. In 1842, construction began on a voluminous five-aisled basilica, based on drafts by August Stüler. However, due to the builder’s hesitations and the limited financial means, building advanced slowly and was stopped in 1848, at which point only the burial place had been completed.
Not until the reign of King William I, who later became Emperor, were the plans for a monumental Cathedral building advanced again. In 1893, after the demolition of the old Cathedral, the foundations of the new structure were begun. The laying of the foundation stone took place on June 17th, 1894. The central building, a baroque-influenced Italian high Renaissance structure, was consecrated almost 11 years later, on February 27th, 1905. Flanked by four corner towers, the Cathedral’s dome rose 114 meters above street level. The interior and exterior of the Cathedral were ornamented with an extensive pictorial scheme illustrating the New Testament and the history of church reformation. Criticism of the building had already begun before the Cathedral was dedicated, and it still continues today. The Cathedral is accused of being too ostentatious, the expression of imperial “Byzantinism” and “showmanship”. Despite all of these discussions, the Cathedral has always found many enthusiasts, who find the architecture uplifting and festive. At the same time, it provides a place for stillness and prayer within the restless center of Berlin.
The most prominent damage to the Cathedral caused by an air raid in 1940 was the loss of the altar windows. In 1944, the impact of a liquid incendiary bomb struck the foot of the dome lantern. Because access to this location was so difficult, the fire could not be extinguished, and the entire dome construction was destroyed. Parts of the burning dome crashed into the church and through the floor, causing the fire to spread all the way into the crypt below. Within one night, the Cathedral had been transformed into a ruin. Vandalism and weathering caused further damage. Money for the necessary protection of the structural materials came slowly. The bells chimed again for the first time after the war’s end in November of 1948, and a provisional roof for the Cathedral’s dome was only built in 1953. During this period, services and church music took place in the crypt area beneath the memorial church.
With financial support from the German Protestant Church and the government of the Federal Republic, reconstruction of the still war-damaged Cathedral began in 1975. The memorial church on the north side and the imperial underpass on the south side of the Cathedral were torn down. The restored Baptismal and Matrimonial Chapel has been back in use for services and events of the Cathedral congregation since 1980. Construction work on the exterior façade of the Cathedral – with extreme alterations in the dome area – was essentially complete in 1983. Work on the interior began in 1984. On June 6th, 1993, the Sermon Church was reopened in a ceremonial service. The windows in the chancel and the mosaic paintings in the dome of the sermon church were reconstructed in the years that followed. In 2002 the last of the dome mosaics was festively unveiled.References:
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.
Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics — according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day — including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (born in St. Petersburg in 1842 in a Baltic-German Lutheran family). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.
In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship; it is a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.