The west front of Notre-Dame la Grande church adorned with statuary is recognised as a masterpiece of Romanesque religious art. The district was already populated in Roman times. The ancient vestiges of a brick and rectangular stone construction can be located near the gutter on the northern wall of the current church.
The church is mentioned in the 10th century, referring to the Romanesque church of the same name. Its position next to the Palace of the Counts of Poitou-Dukes of Aquitaine, is certainly significant as from the political point of view, the bishops of Poitiers were barons of Poitou. The whole of the building was rebuilt in the second half of the 11th century, in the period of High Romanesque, and inaugurated in 1086 by the future Pope Urban II.
The plan of the church is composed of a central nave with aisles according to a frequent plan in Romanesque architecture of Poitou. A deambulatory with radiating chapels developed around the church which preserved a part of its murals. A crypt of the 11th century, dug a posteriori under the choir, also preserves frescos of the time. The plan does not have transepts, for good reasons: buildings were in the north, and the principal street passes to the south. The Romanesque gate is preserved in part to the south. Cut down by this stage, one found there before the Revolution, an equestrian statue representing Constantine. This statue was the counterpart of another, older statue destroyed by the Huguenots in 1562. It is not known if the identity of the first rider had been the same. Behind this statue, on the ground, a small vault dedicated to Saint Katherine was referred to during the Middle Ages. The bell-tower dates from the 11th century. In the beginning it was much more obvious: the first level is concealed today by the roofs. Located at the site of the crossing, it presents a square base, then over it a circular level of a roof decorated with tiles. This type of roof, frequent in the south-west, was often copied by the architects of the 19th century, in particular Paul Abadie in Angoulême, Périgueux and Bordeaux.
During the second quarter of the 12th century, the old bell-tower-porch which was on the frontage was removed and the church was increased by two spans towards the west. In the south, the turret of a staircase marks the site of this enlargement. It is at that time that the celebrated frontage-screen was built.
In the north, there was a cloister in the 12th century. It was removed in 1857 for the construction of the metal markets. There remains the door (walled up). Three arches supported by columns duplicated with capitals with foliage were re-installed in the court of the university opposite, as was a pillar on the corner.
Private vaults were added to the Romanesque structure during the 15th and 16th centuries. Of Flamboyant Gothic style, they belonged to the middle-class families of the city, who had been merchants since the end of the Middle Ages. The largest was built in the south by Yvon the Insane, Grand Seneschal of Poitou in the 15th century. His tomb was placed there before the Revolution.
The church was refurnished after the Revolution. Thus, one finds there a Baroque pulpit carved from wood in the 17th century, coming from the convent, two bronze lecterns of the 16th century. The statue of Our Lady of the Keys dated from the end of the 16th or beginning of the 17th century. The tradition says that it is a copy of the miraculous statue, destroyed by the Huguenots in 1562. Its hieratic, foreign style in the taste of the end of the 16th century, recalls the Romanesque period. The whole of the stained glass dates from the 19th and 20th centuries. The choir organ is end of the 19th century, whereas the large organ is from 1996.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.