Kazan Cathedral – an Unlikely Monument to Military Victory

Kazan Cathedral

A cathedral might seem like an unlikely monument to military victory, but being built on the eve of war and containing a ‘miracle-working’ icon, that is just what Kazan Cathedral has become.

Our Lady of Kazan Aids the Russian Army

Our Lady of Kazan

The cathedral was constructed between 1801 and 1811, as the Napoleonic wars raged. In 1812, after the Russian Army was forced into a series of retreats, their leader, General Kutuzov knew they needed help. He came to the newly built cathedral to pray for inspiration to the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan, after which Kazan Cathedral is named. Under Kutuzov’s leadership, the Russian Army went on to defeat the massed armies of the Napoleonic forces. Kutuzov credited the victory in part to the ‘divine inspiration’ of the Icon. To honor this source of inspiration, captured military banners were sent to the cathedral to be put on public display, and the keys to captured cities and fortresses were placed in the sacristy.

A Relic of the Russian Army

General Kutuzov at Kazan Cathedral

Soon after the momentous victory in 1813, Kutuzov fell ill and died. His body was brought to St. Petersburg and buried within Kazan Cathedral. Fourteen years later, he was further honored with the bronze statue that has stood outside the cathedral ever since. This statue stands opposite that of Barclay de Tolly, field marshal during the wars of 1812, confirming the cathedral’s significance to the Russian Army.

Kazan Cathedral Turned Museum

Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism at Kazan Cathedral

Like many places of worship, in the Soviet era, Kazan Cathedral was seized by the state and re-opened as a Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism. Much of the precious artworks were transferred to other museums, sold abroad, or simply lost. The iconostasis – the silver doors behind the altar – were melted down into silver bullion and lost forever.

Kazan Regains Its Legacy

During the Siege of Leningrad

It was during the Siege of Leningrad in World War 2 that Kazan Cathedral regained its legacy as a place for military inspiration. Though the museum was mostly closed, a special exhibition was opened focussing on the achievements of Kutuzov and the Russin Army. Soldiers came to the tomb of Kutuzov to swear allegiance to the Motherland. Despite all other statues being buried during the siege for their protection, the bronze statues of Kutuzov and de Tolly were left uncovered, to provide further inspiration to the struggling citizens.

St. Petersburg’s ‘Mother’ Church

Service in Kazan Cathedral

Following the fall of communism, the cathedral has been returned to its intended use, as a working cathedral. As the mother church to St. Petersburg, services are held every day throughout the year, and worshippers queue to pray to and kiss the icon of Our Lady of Kazan. Returned to its former glory, the cathedral houses many stunning works of religious art and countless icons. The cathedral includes icons of the last Tsar and his family, who are now venerated as holy martyrs.

An Unorthodox Orthodox Cathedral

Church on Spilled Blood

Standing in contrast to the more recently built Church on Spilled Blood, Kazan Cathedral was built in a classical style, modeled on Saint Peters Basilica in Rome. This most ‘unorthodox’ design was frowned upon by many church elders at the time, but it is now seen as one of the finest pieces of classical architecture in Russia.

Tips for Visiting

Entry is free.
Open daily from 09:00 am – 8:00 pm.
For special occasions (like Easter), it’s open 24/7.
Remember this is a working church, so be quiet and respectful.
In line with church tradition, men should remove their hats, and women should
cover their hair.
Photography is strictly prohibited.

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