A trip to St Petersburg is incomplete without a visit to this visually striking cathedral. In a city of breathtaking Baroque and Neoclassicism, this church by a canal stands out with its attention-grabbing 17th century architecture, harking back to the romanticized and colourful “Candy Land” of medieval Russia. It’s like Russian Art Nouveau, a nationally inspired design aesthetic akin to Catalan modernism.
Its official name is the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (Собор Воскресения Христова; Sobor Voskreseniya Khristova) and Russians call it Храм Спаса на Крови (Khram Spasa na Krovi), but every English-language tourist publication and website lists it under an assortment of names: Cathedral of the Ascension, Resurrection of the Christ, or Assumption, Church of the Redeemer, etc… just to confuse non-Russians. The one moniker that jumps out morbidly like a murder mystery title is the Church of the Savio(u)r on Spilled/ Spilt Blood (Церковь Спаса на Крови; Tserkovʹ Spasa na Krovi), or simply the Church on Spilt Blood (Церковь на Крови; Tserkov’ na Krovi). That’s because the cathedral was built as a memorial to Tsar Alexander II, right where the emperor was assassinated.
The cathedral was was constructed in 1883, two years after Alexander II’s assassination on March 1st, 1881. The tsar was not killed by the poisoned chalice or dagger of some sorcerous Rasputin figure, nor by the pitchforks of a mob of angry Boyar serfs. A young member of the Narodnaya Volya (“People’s Will”) had thrown a bomb at the tsar’s carriage when he was en route to his weekly Sunday military roll call. Fortunately, the carriage was a bulletproof gift from Napoleon III, and the bomb only killed a Cossack guard. Unfortunately, the Tsar then stepped out of his carriage, whereupon a second young member of the Narodnaya Volya chucked a bomb right by his feet. The emperor, with his feet blown off, stomach and face ripped apart, was then carried back to his study in the Winter Palace by sleigh. Needless to say, poor Alex didn’t survive the blast.
His Police Chief, a Mister Dvorzhitsky, wrote about the incident:
“I was deafened by the new explosion, burned, wounded and thrown to the ground. Suddenly, amidst the smoke and snowy fog, I heard His Majesty’s weak voice cry, ‘Help!’ Gathering what strength I had, I jumped up and rushed to the emperor. His Majesty was half-lying, half-sitting, leaning on his right arm. Thinking he was merely wounded heavily, I tried to lift him but the czar’s legs were shattered, and the blood poured out of them. Twenty people, with wounds of varying degree, lay on the sidewalk and on the street. Some managed to stand, others to crawl, still others tried to get out from beneath bodies that had fallen on them. Through the snow, debris, and blood you could see fragments of clothing, epaulets, sabres, and bloody chunks of human flesh.”
You can now understand why “Church on Spilt Blood” is the most poignant and preferred name. There are a variety of ways to get to the cathedral:
Or you can just stroll over from Nevsky Prospekt, the main drag. Nevertheless, the church is arrestingly gorgeous from every angle.
I prefer the gold-dipped, blue and green cupolas to the red onion domes of Moscow’s iconic St. Basil’s.
According to its restorers, the Church contains over 7500 scintillating square metres of stunning mosaics — more than any other building in the world. Let’s check out the impressive interiors, shall we?
Uh whaaaat?!? Holy jawdropping blingin’ blue mosaics!!!!!!!
The ceiling absolutely floored me once I saw it. Literally, as I had to lie on the floor to take this picture.
Standing underneath the multiple domes and pillars and gazing up at the glitteringly gobsmacking three-dimensional design will induce a religious moment of the highest order. Especially if you’re a water sign or an Enneagram 4. You just had to be there. If I were a peasant back in 1888, I would totally sign up for Chrismation again. Hello, I’d like to guarantee a spot in Eastern Orthodox Heaven please.
Not forgetting Russia’s pagan past, I swear elves must reside in this park, the Mikhailovsky Gardens, right next to the church. I mean, Finland and Sweden is just across the Baltic. I expect the fair creatures to come out dancing from the forest and whisk me away to their eldritch realm.
Absolutely magical isn’t it? Take me, Russian elves. Keep me here in Faërie!!!
Well they didn’t. So I walked over to Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street and saw some amazing modern designer furniture galleries.