The Basilica of Saint-Pierre-Aux-Nonnains is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world still standing. Erected sometime in the 4th century AD, it was originally part of a Roman-era spa when Divodurum, the former name of Metz, was a major military and trade center along the Germanic frontier. Specifically it was used as a pagan gymnasium when Christianity in Western Europe was still in its infancy. It was one of the few buildings in the city to remain standing after the Huns passed through in 451 AD.
Metz was an important cradle of Frankish civilization, with both Merovingians and Carolingians tracing their ancestry to the place. After the conversion of Clovis I to Catholicism, Metz became a Christian stronghold. During the 7th century, the old Roman gymnasium was converted to use as a Benedictine church. During the reign of Charlemagne, Metz was almost chosen as the capital city of the newly founded Holy Roman Empire, an honor which was instead bestowed on nearby Aachen. Neverthless Charlemagne was apparently fond of the old church, and two of his sons were buried in what would later be designated the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-Aux-Nonnains.
Amazingly, the original Roman structure remained essentially intact throughout the Middle Ages. Apparently by the 16th century the old edifice was showing its age, and the Church moved out. It then spent over 400 years in service as a warehouse: a perfectly intact thousand-year-old building, one of the best preserved Roman constructions in the world, was then used for storage. Thankfully, its historical importance was recognized in the 1970s and the basilica was restored. It is now used primarily as a concert hall, a fitting tribute to its medieval musical heritage.
The interior is much less Roman in appearance than the exterior, as the whole place was renovated in the 10th century, and again in the 20th century. Although still designated as a Basilica by the Roman Catholic Church, the building’s use nowadays is for musical functions and exhibitions. It is certainly an ideal place to see Gregorian Chant music performed.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.