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Kievan funicular at the beginning of the 20th  century. Kiev
Monday, 17 January 2022

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Must-see in Ukraine > St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv

Eugeniy Skibin, the guide-interpreter of Prime Excursion Bureau 

 

The idea of building the church, worthy of glorious deeds of Volodymyr the Baptist and dedicated to the 900th anniversary of Baptism of Rus, belonged to Filaret (Amfiteatrov) who addressed to the Orthodox people in 1852.  The Metropolitan’s appeal who donated  7 thousand roubles for the new church  was responsive with Orthodox believers who collected about one hundred thousand roubles, and Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery made a donation of one million bricks manufactured at their own brick factory. On 15 July 1862, St. Volodymyr’s commemoration day, Metropolitan Arseniy laid the foundation stone of the cathedral.

     

It was conceived in old Byzantine style. According to the original design it was to be topped with 13 domes but since there was lack of funds the present day cathedral is smaller with only seven domes. The construction was going on until 1864 when suddenly there appeared cracks in walls. They ceased work. Immense funds were needed to save the construction. For ten years the cathedral stood unfinished. In 1875 on the order of Alexander II the construction resumed and at last in 1882, after 20 years, was completed.

 

The best masters were invited to paint St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral. The common theme of the Cathedral murals is “For the Sake of our Salvation”. 

There are 30 images of the Rus ascetics: blessed princes, saint maidens, God’s fools.

Professor of fine arts Adrian Prakhov, outstanding connoisseur of Russian antiquity, artistic critic, archaeologist, was commissioned to conduct painting and adornment works at St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral. His name is connected with the history of Kyiv for ever. 

   

   Photo. Madonna with Child, St. Volodymyr's Cathedral, Kyiv. V.Vasnetsov.

It was he that uncovered frescos of the 12th century in St. Cyril’s church; it was there that under his guidance Mikhail Vrubel executed murals. A. Prakhov was the first to publish research works on T. Shevchenko’s literary heritage.

In the orchestra of painters working in the Cathedral the first violin was played by Viktor Vasnetsov who devoted 11 years of his uninterrupted work to the Cathedral. He worked as hard as ascetics, he depicted who served God. The Cathedral was badly heated. Vasnetsov got often ill. A few times he fell off the scaffolding   which once could cost him his life but God’s mercy protected the painter. Among Vasnetsov’s works is one of the best in the history of sacral painting – the altar wall image of the Mother of God. It miraculously occurred on the altar wall. As the painter related, he couldn’t specify the image for a long time. And the Blessed Virgin herself helped him. Once early in the morning having come to work he and Prakhov amazingly saw on the altar wall the explicit shadow of the figure of the Mother of God with the infant in her arms. The painter immediately climbed the scaffolding and began quickly contouring the miraculous image that was slowly fading away. Totally for 11 years of his intensive work Vasnetsov painted about 2 thousand square metres. Among his works there are The Logos, The Father and the Son of God, the Saviour, Baptism of Prince Vladimir, Baptism of Kyivans, The sacrament of Eucharist,  Last Judgement, Blessedness of Paradise, The Fall  and others. Having finished his work in the Cathedral he stated: “I put up a candle to God”.

The young talented painter Mikhail Nesterov, also invited by Prakhov to paint the Cathedral, contributed amazingly tender, lyrical images. Among his works are SS Cyril and Methodius, SS Boris and Gleb, Grand Princess Olga, the martyr Barbara, SS Konstantin and Yelena, Birth of Christ, Epiphany, Resurrection and others.     

       

Photo. Babtism of  Kyivan's. St. Volodymyr's Cathedral, Kyiv, V.Vasnetson.

 

Photo. Last Judgment St. Volodymyr's Cathedral, Kyiv, V.Vasnetson.

There also worked painters Kotarbinsky, brothers Swiedomskys who studied at European fine arts academies. Their academic works are as follows: Days of Creation, Transfiguration, Ascension, Raising of Lazarus, Entrance into Jerusalem and others. 


The unfairly modest place in painting the Cathedral belongs to the genius of Mikhail Vrubel. Originally the sketches were worked out by him but they weren’t approved as the final version. He managed to perform only ornaments there.

 

Ukrainian painters also took part in painting St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral. They were A. Murashko, S. Kostenko, N. Pymonenko. Ukrainian masters contributed with their style and colouring.
The Cathedral iconostasis was done of Carrara marble,  the best in the world.

On 20 August 1896, 34 years afterwards, long-awaited consecration of St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral took place. The Emperor Nicholas II with his wife were present at the ceremony. All the participants of works, some posthumously, were awarded a special memorable golden medal executed by Professor Prakhov.


 

 

 St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral at once attracted attention of contemporaries who unanimously called it “the first inspired work of the Russian sacral art”.

So the majestic Cathedral-monument was conceived  on the initiative of Nicholas I, was being built in the reign of Alexander II and Alexander III and finished and consecrated n the times of Nicholas II.
The Soviet power officials treated the Cathedral in their own way. From 1929 till 1941 it housed the anti-religious museum. Those days because of constant humidity frescos and other murals were damaged. During the Nazi occupation the services were resumed, after the war – closed, in the 60s – resumed again.

At present in the Cathedral rest the holy relics of St Barbara and St Makarios. The first were brought to Kyiv in the 12th century by Prince Svyatopolk. For a few   centuries they were kept in St. Michael’s Gold-domed Cathedral in the 500kg-shrine of pure silver. When in the 30s of the 20th century the monastery was closed St Barbara’s holy relics were secretly translated to St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral but for all that the silver shrine mysteriously disappeared.

At present St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv’s Patriarchy.