Cathedral of St. Sophia, Kiev

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The Cathedral of St. Sophia, also known in the Orthodox tradition as "Divine Wisdom," is one of the

great churches of Eastern Christendom. Despite debate about the beginning date of its construction, there is general consensus that the work began in 1037 on the order of grand prince Yaroslav of Kiev and was completed in the 1050s. Although the exterior of the cathedral has been modified by reconstruction in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (it had fallen into ruin after the Mongol invasion in 1240), excavations in the 1930s, as well as the study of possible designs, have furnished what is considered a definitive version of the original. In its basic parts, the plan of Kiev's St. Sophia conforms to the crossdomed model. Each of its five aisles has an apse with an altar in the east. The central aisle, from the west entrance to the east, is twice the width of the flanking aisles. This proportion is repeated in the transept aisle that defines the cathedral's main northsouth axis.

The focal point of the exterior is the main cupola, elevated on a high cylinder ("drum") over the central crossing and surrounded by twelve cupolas arranged in descending order. The thick opus mixtum walls (composed of narrow brick and a mortar of lime and crushed brick) are flanked by two arcaded galleries on the north, south, and west facades, and by choir galleries on the interior. Thus the elevated windows of the cylinders beneath the cupolas are the main source of natural light for the interior space. The interior walls of the main cupola and apse are richly decorated with mosaics. The rest of the interior walls contain frescoes that portray saints as well as members of Yaroslav's family.

See also: architecture; cathedral of st. sophia, novgorod; kievan rus; orthodoxy; yaroslav vladimirovich


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

Rappoport, Alexander P. (1995). Building the Churches of Kievan Russia. Brookfield, VT: Variorum.

William Craft Brumfield

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Cathedral of St. Sophia, Kiev

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