I am ‘reliably’ informed that today is St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s birthday! More particularly it is the 450th! The basillica was started in 1555 and was completed 6 years later. (I suppose, therefore that you might expect that the 450th ‘birthday’ should have been on some day in 2005 but as you will read below St Basil’s was the last of a number of churches that ultimately comprise the cathedral.)Regardless this is a wonderful building, and this was clearly the view of Czar Ivan The Great who then lived up to his ‘Terrible’ label by apparently ordering the eyes of the architect of the church to be put out so that he would be unable to create anything more beautiful!
I think this is my favourite building in the world and it is an abiding wish of mine that I might someday visit it for myself. It has just had many millions of roubles spent on ‘restoring’ it to its full glory in recognition of its 450 years and even if they have not got it exactly right it will be truly a spectacular sight, both from the outside and through the interior.
It is no small wonder that it has actually reached this venerable old age given that Napolean’s army intended to blast it to pieces back in 1812 but it is said that luckily it rained heavily and this precluded the use of taper-lit canon! Following the Revolution it was again under threat when the Bolsheviks decided it was in the way of urban development but Stalin was convinced to let it stand.
While there are a bunch of other churches around Russia that feature similar ‘onion’ domes to St Basil’s those that crown this church are arguably the most wonderful. What is now St Basil’s was originally a group of 8 side-churches around a 9th and was called ‘Trinity Church’. It became St Basil’s after a 10th church was built to mark resting place of venerated local St Vasily (Basil), although its full name is the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat.
The church was commissioned by Ivan to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, and was built at the geometric centre of Moscow. The design was intended to represent the shape of flames of a bonfire rising into the sky.