Church of the Savior on the Blood in St. Petersburg, history and description

The history of the Church of the Savior on the Blood

The history of the Church of the Savior on the Blood is considered one of the fateful for Russia. Therefore architects have tried to create a special, original Russian style, different from the rest.

The unusually original Church of the Savior on the Blood, whose photos in St. Petersburg indicate that the landmark is a striking example of an indigenous “Russian style,” signals the birth in Russia around 1830 at a time of the decline of classicism, as well as the beginning of the popularity of eclecticism. The national rebirth of Russia was then implied as a strengthening of the ancient Orthodox spirit, which exalted a truly pure Christian faith, as well as a complete return to the patriarchal way of life. The church building from the edge of the nineteenth to the twentieth century is now a popular tourist attraction in Russia.

Before getting acquainted with the history of the Church of the Savior on the Blood, it is worth knowing a little about its appearance. The silhouette of the temple rises directly over the water surface of the famous Griboyedov Canal. Its glowing gold, multifaceted mosaic, as well as colorful enamel vault stands on four pillars, which are poles. On top of it are five chapters, among which the middle hipped one is highlighted, as well as the bulbous ones on the sides. The place in the center is occupied by an 8-member tent, which is a pronounced high-rise dominant. It visually creates the impression of a peculiar orientation upwards. The dome of the hipped roof is considerably inferior in size to the domes on the side chapels and the one on the bell tower, because of which the impression is created that the hipped roof cuts the heavenly space. Therefore, it is usually not difficult to find out where the Church of the Savior on the Blood is located, because the graceful structure can be seen from afar.

History of the Savior on the Blood

The festive appearance of the building says nothing, because it was built on the spot of one of the most important tragic events in Russian history, the place where Alexander II was mortally wounded during the attack carried out by the Narodnaya Volya I. Grinevitsky, when he was heading for the parade of troops on the Field of Mars. Russia was then shaken by this tragic incident. The great temple on this site was erected by order of Alexander III, son of the murdered Tsar, the people it was called “The Savior on Blood. Inside this church regular services were to be performed for the murdered man, and it is considered an important meeting place for pilgrims, where they prayed for the soul of Alexander II.

Thanks to the tradition of Russian architecture, church structures were built as a memorial to important historical events. Representatives of the “Russian style” tried to recreate the national indigenous Russian style, which was rooted in ancient Russian architecture, as well as folk art, the deepest traditions of the identity of the people. The appearance of the Church of the Savior on the Blood in St. Petersburg is literally mesmerizing.

The famous architects of St. Petersburg, A. I. Tomishko, I. S. Kitner, V. A. Schreter, and. S. Bogomolov participated in the first design competition. The projects were submitted for consideration in the “Byzantine style”, which did not meet the character of the required “Russian church art”. Alexander III did not choose any of them, having expressed his wish to build a church in the Russian style, so that the building would serve as a kind of metaphor of St. Petersburg’s coming closer to the precepts dictated by Old Moscow Rus’. The building was to symbolize the unity of the Tsar and the state, the people and their unshakable faith, reminding the descendants of the Romanov dynasty, and to be a monument to the autocracy of Russia.

According to the results of the second competition, the joint work of Archimandrite Ignatius (I. V. Malyshev), abbot of the Trinity-Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg, and architect A. A. Parland received high approval. This project pleased the new emperor most of all, satisfying all his requirements. After Parland made adjustments, significantly changing the initial appearance of the church, the project was approved in 1887. Archimandrite Ignatius made a proposal to consecrate the future church-monument in the name of the Resurrection of Christ. If we consider the photo of the Church of the Savior on the Blood in St. Petersburg, we can understand that here is clearly seen the idea of a deep understanding of overcoming death, arguing the connection between the death of Alexander II and the victim of the Savior in the redemption. The Cathedral of the Resurrection was solemnly laid on October 6, 1883, in the presence of the imperial couple: Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna, and Metropolitan Isidor, who drafted the ceremonial plan. To mark the occasion, a mortgaging plaque with a seal specially embossed on it was laid at the base of the future throne. Emperor Alexander III laid the foundation stone in person. A fragment of the grating of the canal, part of the cobblestone sidewalk and granite slabs, covered with blood, have been taken off, packed in crates and brought to the chapel on Konyushennaya Square for storage.

There are also interesting facts about the Church of the Savior on Blood that you should know. The construction of the temple began before the approval of the final design. Its construction took 24 years and the estimate was 4,606,756 rubles. Of these, 3,100,000 rubles was allocated by the treasury, and the rest was donated by the imperial, government agencies and private individuals.

The proximity of the canal made adjustments to the construction, greatly complicating it. For this reason, for the first time, instead of the usual piling of metal piles, a concrete foundation was used in the construction practice of St. Petersburg. The brick walls were built on a solid, heavy-duty foundation made of the solid slab of Putilov. In addition they were decorated with red-brown bricks brought from Germany, the details in white marble received special attention. The exterior cladding was notable for its high decorative complexity. The intricate glazed tiles and multicolored decorative tiles produced by the Kharlamov factory were especially beautiful. In 1894 the domes were brought together, in 1896 by St. Petersburg Metal Works the frameworks of the nine heads of the cathedral were made of metal constructions. The heads were covered with four-color jewelry enamel, produced according to a special recipe by Postnikov’s factory and unparalleled in Russian architecture. The area of their coverage is a thousand square meters, which, in fact, is considered an unprecedented case in the history of Russian architecture.

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The cross, which is 4.5 meters high, was erected on the central head of the Church of the Savior on the Blood in St. Petersburg solemnly in 1897, after which Metropolitan Pallady of St. Petersburg and Ladoga immediately performed a separate prayer service, consecrating it. After that, construction continued for another ten years, which took mainly finishing work, laying mosaics. The following points were also taken into account:

  1. The bell tower 62.5 meters high stands on the place of the direct fatal wounding of Alexander II, so it has a special role. Above its onion part was a high cross, topped with an imperial crown.
  2. Under a golden canopy, on the west side of the bell tower, is a crucifix of marble with the image of the savior, laid out in mosaic, marking from outside the temple the place of the tragedy that led to the death of the tsar.
  3. Below the cornice, the surface of the bell tower is covered with drawings of coats of arms of cities, as well as provinces, where mourners have empathized with the murder of the Tsar-Liberator for all of Russia.

Entering the Church of the Savior on the Blood in St. Petersburg, the visitor at once finds himself not far from the place where Alexander II was wounded, i.e. from that part of the embankment, which is marked with a hipped canopy of jasper, which is a tent with eight facets, supported by four columns. Most of its decoration is made of natural Altai and Ural jasper, luxurious balustrade, exquisite vases and flowers of stone on top of the tent are made of rhodonite from the Urals. Behind the gilded metal grille, decorated with the imperial crown, one can see the cobblestone sidewalk, the sidewalk slabs and the canal grate – the place where the Tsar-Liberator fell dead. Near the memorial place people come there and pray for the repose of his soul. The main events of his reign, the episodes of his fate are carved on the red granite boards inside the niches of the false arcade, which is located below the walls of the facade.

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Both porches are united under one tent. They are attached to the bell tower from the north and south side and are also the front entrances. The double-headed eagles crown the hipped roofs covered with multicolored tiles; in the tympanums of the porches there are compositions of mosaics made after the original sketches of V. M. Vasnetsov “The Passion of Christ”.

Created by the architect A. Parland, the unique Church of the Savior on the Blood in St. Petersburg, combined all the best qualities of the arsenal of architecture of pre-Petrine Russia. As a consequence, an unusual elegance and a lot of decor. The Savior on the Blood, thanks solely to the theatrical colorful decor, looks like a real flower. which bloomed on the swampy soil of St. Petersburg. Its appearance stands out for its indomitable abundance of the brightest details, the exquisite palette of all kinds of finishing materials, the coloring, the overtones, the responses of mosaics, enamels, tiles, and multicolored tiles.

Savior on the Blood – an amazing history and overview of the temple’s architecture and decorations

of the Church of the Resurrection

In St. Petersburg, at the very edge of the embankment of the Griboyedov Canal (before 1923 the Catherine Canal), reflecting in its waters, near the Mikhailovsky Garden stands a uniquely beautiful building of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ.

The significance of the temple

The temple commemorates a grim event in the history of Russia – the assassination of Emperor Alexander II. Despite this, the cathedral is not a monument to death, but a memorial that offers hope for life. Festive and colorful, like a fairy-tale palace, the cathedral is called the Savior on the Blood to commemorate the innocent bloodshed.

A motley chorus of chapters and a picturesque silhouette, bright multicolored decoration and ancient Russian forms of the cathedral enter into unexpected contrast with the surrounding architecture, instilling joy and faith in people. Against the background of austere buildings of the Northern capital cathedral seems a toy.


Autocrat and reformer Alexander II left a good memory in the people as Tsar Liberator, abolishing serfdom in Russia in 1861. Twenty-three million peasants were freed from slavery and gained civil rights.

Alexander II

The country’s transformations and reforms undertaken by the emperor were not easy. The “culprit” of these difficulties, Emperor Alexander II, began a hunt: eight terrorist attempts on the tsar were organized. The last one – on the embankment of the Catherine Canal – was fatal for the monarch.

On March 1, 1881, the People’s Volunteers blew up the carriage of the Emperor returning home. After the explosion the tsar was not hurt and came out of the damaged carriage to look at those who attempted to kill him. At that time the unnoticed terrorist Ignatius Grinevitsky threw a bomb which tore off the tsar’s legs. A few hours later the tsar died.

During the attack on the emperor 17 people were wounded, two were killed on the spot. The terrorist Grinevitsky died in hospital from his wounds a few hours after the death of Alexander II. The organizers of the attack were sentenced to death by hanging.

Erection of the cathedral

Tsarevicide shook the whole country, people prayed for the soul of the emperor and supported the idea of perpetuating the memory of the martyr.

Alexander III, the son and successor to the murdered Tsar, who had ascended the throne, ordered the erection of a memorial church in memory of his father, a church of repentance.

The cathedral was designed by the architect Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, a descendant of Scots born in St. Petersburg, and the abbot of the Trinity Sergius Hermitage, Archimandrite Ignatius. The project was done in the “Russian style” and absorbed architectural features of churches in Moscow and Yaroslavl of XVII century.

On October 6, 1883, Emperor Alexander III personally laid the first stone in the foundation of the temple, which was built as a penitential sacrifice to perpetuate the memory of the Tsar-Liberator.

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The treasury allocated for the construction of 3 million 600 thousand silver, were donations from the institutions and the royal family, officials, funds came from all over Russia. The construction cost 4 million 600 thousand rubles.

A special commission on the construction of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was headed by Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, the youngest son of the deceased Tsar. The temple was under construction for 24 years (1883-1907). Alexander III personally controlled the course of construction, expressing his wishes and comments.

19th century

When building the temple, the architect had a special task: to leave untouched the section of the sidewalk where Alexander II’s blood had been spilled, and to include it into the space of the temple. Therefore, the building was built right at the edge of the embankment. Grand Duchess Catherine Mikhailovna, the owner of the Mikhailovsky Palace, donated a part of the Mikhailovsky garden for the construction of the temple.

Around the temple appeared paved square. The garden is separated from the Mikhailovsky garden by a wrought iron fence with a virtuoso plant ornament in the form of floral arrangements. Trees planted under Peter I were cut down in the garden for the construction of the temple.

On August 6, 1907, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, the church was consecrated in honor of the Holy Resurrection of Christ with the participation of Nicholas II, the grandson of the murdered emperor, and members of his family. In April 1908 the chapel vestry, which stood next to the cathedral, was consecrated – a depository of icons donated by the people in memory of the tragic death of Alexander II. Maintenance of the cathedral was assumed by the state.

Archival photo

Thus an unusual temple appeared in St. Petersburg, built in the Neo-Russian style and causing controversy and debate. The temple received many rave reviews, but there were people who considered the cathedral an artistic squalor, an architectural monstrosity that should be blown up.

Architecture and description of the building

In execution, the Savior on the Blood resembles St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, but it is a unique and distinctive temple. The exterior of the building is a collective image of the Russian Orthodox Church, festive and bright.

Architectural features

The quadrangular building is crowned with a slender tent 81 meters high (the year of the emperor’s death), with nine ornate chapters, with a 63-meter bell tower (the age of Alexander II at the time of the assassination attempt).

Five of the nine domes of the Savior are covered with enameled copper plates, the color pattern of which is not repeated, another four are covered with gilded copper.

The varying cupolas of the church with its nine picturesquely grouped domes create a unique asymmetrical group which makes the cathedral recognizable in Russia. At the base of the octahedral hipped roof on the wall there are eight oblong windows with carved platbands in the form of corbel arches.

The quadrangular building is crowned with a slender tent 81 meters high.

At the top of the tapered hipped roof are 8 ledges with windows. The hipped roof is finished with a lantern, topped with a bulbous cupola with a cross. Glavka covered with white, yellow and green enamel in the form of bands winding around it, looks elegant. Around the tent are 4 onion domes covered with colored enamel, with different patterns.

On the western side of the temple adjoins a 63-meter bell tower, built on the site of the fatal wound of the emperor. Its dome is the largest of all the chapels of the cathedral. Under the bell tower, at the place of the murder of the tsar, is set “Crucifixion with Stables” – a unique cross of granite and marble. On the cross, surrounded by icons, is the crucified Savior.

On the cross of the bell tower installed a gilded crown as a sign that the largest contribution to the construction made by the imperial family. The bell tower has eight arched apertures, which are separated by columns.

Stone decoration

During the construction of the temple, advanced technology of the time was used. To prevent water from the canal to pass under the building, a waterproofing concrete base was built under the square of the temple to strengthen the ground.

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The walls of the facade are lined with durable Estonian marble, glazed brick and colored tiles. The cathedral’s plinth is covered with Serdobol granite. In niches there are 20 memorial boards of red granite on which the deeds of Emperor Alexander II are indicated in gilt letters.

Cathedral architecture

Exterior decoration of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was done with mosaics for the first time. Coats of arms of Russian cities, provinces and districts located on three sides of the bell tower and covered with mosaics are the main decoration of the Cathedral’s facade.

Carrying out the wish of Alexander III, when decorating the church architect Parland used bright, rich decorative elements inherent in the Russian style of architecture.

In the appearance of the cathedral is a rich palette:

  • colored bricks, granite;
  • gilded copper, colored enamel;
  • openwork arches and tiles;
  • carved marble platbands with mosaic inserts;
  • mosaic panels with evangelic scenes and portrayals of saints;
  • gables – corbel arches.

Domes and towers are covered with decorative patterns. White arches on the background of red brick look in a special way. The hipped ceilings are finished with colored tiles and crowned with gilded two-headed eagles.


The entrances to the temple are smart double porches, the walls of which are decorated with mosaic pictures on the theme of the Passion of Christ. Above the main tent there is a gilt cross. When finishing the temple made 7065 square meters of mosaic coverings. To create sketches involved 30 painters.

20 types of marble from Russia and Italy, gold smalt and rock crystal, semi-precious and precious stones, gold and silver were used to decorate the 81-meter building. The complete electrification of the Cathedral, illuminated by 1,689 lamps, made it possible to see every detail of the masterpiece.

The northern side of the facade is decorated with the mosaic “Resurrection”, in the south – the panel “Christ in Glory”, in the west the facade is decorated with the mosaic “The Savior Not Made by hands”, in the east – “The Savior Blessing”. Above the window of the bell tower is a mosaic icon of the heavenly patron saint of the emperor, Alexander Nevsky; then there are images of the heavenly patrons of the members of the imperial family.

Interior decoration of the cathedral

The appearance of the temple is subordinated to the main task – to perpetuate repentance and memory of the people about the innocent murdered Tsar-Liberator. When decorating the interior of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the architect used not paintings, but mosaics, laid out according to sketches of talented artists, members of the Imperial Academy of Arts.

Inside of the church

The walls from floor to ceiling, the vaults of the temple and the icons are mosaic masonry of semi-precious semi-precious stones. Gospel mosaic scenes created by Vladimir Frolov look amazingly vivid. Sunlight penetrates inside the temple through the windows, illuminating the icons and reflecting off them, filling the space with a soft glow.

In the central part of the cathedral there are mosaic icons representing the earthly way of Jesus Christ from His Nativity to the miraculous acts during His earthly life. Above the altar on a golden background are two icons – “Christ in Power” and “Christ in Glory”.

At the opening of the royal gate in silver, decorated with enamel, is the image of Jesus Christ presenting the holy gifts and the apostles Peter and Paul bending down before him. Above the iconostasis are mosaic icons “The Ascension of Christ” and “The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” laid out according to sketches by the artist Belyaev.

In the hemisphere of the central vault, in front of the altar, is the icon of the “Transfiguration of the Lord. Christ stands before his disciples in the golden divine light, he is surrounded by the prophets Elijah and Moses and his disciples, the Apostles Peter, James and John.

On the inner surface of the central vault is an icon of Christ the Almighty. It was made in the Byzantine tradition: laconic in color and pattern.

The mosaic decoration of the temple is complemented by the floor, which is laid out with colorful ornaments of 10 sorts of Italian marble in the form of 45 mosaic carpets, the patterns on which are not repeated.

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The halls and iconostasis are the pride of the temple.

In addition to mosaics, semi-precious stones are used in the decoration of the interior of the temple:

  • Ural jasper;
  • marble;
  • porphyry;
  • labradorite;
  • orlec;
  • porphyry;
  • serpentine;
  • rock crystal;
  • topazes.


The Savior on Spilled Blood is the only Orthodox church where one is asked not to light candles: fire will burn the unique mosaics. The decoration of the canopy above the place of the Emperor’s death wound is especially solemn, with a touch of luminous sadness. The shadow is a carved tent of precious gems, which is supported by four columns of jasper.

Here are preserved fragments of the Catherine canal with its cobblestone sidewalk, sidewalk slabs, and lattice, invariably preserved from the time when Alexander II’s blood was spilled on them. Opposite is a window, through which light pours onto the memorial site. Above the window is an icon of the “New Testament Trinity”; on either side of it is a picture of the guardian angel of the Tsar and his heavenly patron, the Holy Prince Alexander Nevsky.

The golden tone of the wall gives a special soft light to the tragic place. The crucifix established here is always covered with red carnations. Almost as much money was spent for finishing the halls as for the rest of the temple.

Interior decoration

The central iconostasis, designed by architect Parland, is the work of Italian stonecutters. In the center is the royal gate, decorated with carved corbel arches, with three crosses of rock crystal. On each side are three carved columns, each with a unique pattern.

The Soleia of the iconostasis and the carved pews along the walls are made of green marble. To the right and left of the royal gate are the icons in accordance with the drawings of Vasnetsov “Our Lady” and “Savior”. The altar wall is of Italian marble of different tones from red-brown to soft yellow; it seems to be carved from wood.

Work of Italian stonecutters

The dramatic years of the Savior on Spilled Blood

The cathedral was not planned for mass visits, parishioners came by passes. Here daily sermons were preached, requiem services were served, separate services were conducted in memory of Alexander II, but people were not baptized and wedding ceremonies were not performed: the cathedral was not a parish church. After the revolution, a parish was organized at the Church of the Resurrection, and in October 1930 they closed and decided to dismantle it.

The Great Patriotic War halted the destruction of the church. During the Leningrad blockade the cathedral became a morgue, and people who died of hunger, cold and wounds in Leningrad were brought there.

After 1945 the decorations for the performances were kept in the former cathedral rented by Maly theater. In 1956 it was decided to blow up the temple, which was postponed indefinitely.

Ceiling painting

In 1961 a German high-explosive shell weighing 150 kg was found in the central dome. It had lain in the rafters for 18 years on the arm of the Savior. The operation, during which the shell was extracted with the help of a hoist and the sapper Viktor Demidov disarmed it, required skill, self-possession and courage.

In 1968 the temple became a branch of the St. Isaac’s Cathedral Museum, which saved it from destruction. From 1971-1997, restoration and restoration work was in progress. Russian and Soviet restorers performed a professional and civic feat, restoring from neglect the temple-monument, which shared with the people the times of greatness and persecution.

On August 19, 1997, exactly 90 years after its consecration, the museum-monument “The Savior on Spilled Blood” was opened to visitors. Since May 23, 2004, from the day of its re-consecration, regular divine services have been held in the Church of the Resurrection of Christ.


In memory of the tragic death of Alexander II, every year on March 14, a bishop service and a memorial service for the murdered emperor are held. Temple-Museum works every day except Wednesday. Time spent in the temple is not limited. Excursions are not available during the service.

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