Cathedral of the Dormition

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The first Kremlin Dormition cathedral, a simple onedomed masonry structure, was built by Prince Ivan I Danilovich of Moscow in 1327 as the seat of the head of the Russian Orthodox church, Metropolitan Peter. In 1472 Metropolitan Filipp of Moscow decided to replace the old church, laying the foundation stone with Grand Prince Ivan III (r. 14621505), but in 1474 the new building was destroyed by an earth tremor before it was completed. Ivan then hired the Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti, ordering him to model his church on the thirteenth-century Dormition cathedral in Vladimir, in the belief that the prototype was designed by Mary herself. Fioravanti took the traditional five-domed structure, rounded bays, and decorative arcading, but added Renaissance proportions and engineering, "according to his own cunning skill," as a chronicle related, "not in the manner of Muscovite builders." The church became the model for a number of other important cathedral and monastery churches, for example in the Novodevichy convent and the Trinity-St. Sergius monastery.

The first frescoes were painted in 1481 to 1515 and restored several times "in the old manner" in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The complex cycles allude to the unity of the Russian land, the celebration of its saints and the history of the cathedral itself, as well as the life and veneration of Christ and the Mother of God. The icons on the lower tier of the iconostasis (altar screen), the most famous of which was the twelfth-century Byzantine "Vladimir" icon of the Mother of God, also referred to the gathering of the Russian lands and the transfer of sacred authority to Moscow from Jerusalem, Byzantium, and Kiev, as did the socalled Throne of Monomachus, made for Ivan IV in 1551, the carvings on which depict scenes of the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus presenting imperial regalia to Prince Vladimir of Kiev (11131125).

In February 1498 the cathedral saw Ivan III's grandson Dmitry crowned as heir. From 1547, when Ivan IV was crowned there, it was the venue for the coronations of all the Russian tsars and, from the eighteenth century, the emperors and empresses. It also saw the investitures and most of the burials of the metropolitans and patriarchs, up to and including the last patriarch Adrian (died 1700). Major repair work followed damage caused by the Poles in 1612 and Napoleon's men in 1812. The cathedral was particularly revered by Nicholas II, in preparation for whose coronation in 1896 a major restoration was carried out. Late tsarist official guides to the cathedral underlined the belief that the formation of the Russian Empire was sanctioned by God and symbolized in the cathedral's history and its holy objects (e.g. a piece of the robe of Our Lord and a nail from the Cross). In Soviet times it became a museum, but since the 1990s it has been used intermittently for important services.

See also: ivan i; ivan iii; ivan iv; nicholas ii


Berton, Kathleen. (1977). Moscow: An Architectural History. London: Studio Vista.

Brumfield, William. (1993). A History of Russian Architecture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lindsey Hughes

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Cathedral of the Dormition

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