Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

The Cathedral of St. Sophia (the Holy Wisdom of God) in the Kremlin
Novgorod Kremlin
Novgorod Kremlin stands on the left bank of the Volkhov River about two miles north of where it empties out of Lake Ilmen.-History:...

 (or Detinets) in Veliky Novgorod
Veliky Novgorod
Veliky Novgorod is one of Russia's most historic cities and the administrative center of Novgorod Oblast. It is situated on the M10 federal highway connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg. The city lies along the Volkhov River just below its outflow from Lake Ilmen...

 is the cathedral church of the Archbishop of Novgorod
Archbishop of Novgorod
The Archbishop of Novgorod is the head of the eparchy of Novgorod the Great and is one of the oldest offices in the Russian Orthodox Church. The archbishops have, in fact, been among the most important figures in medieval Russian history and culture and their successors continued to play...

 and the mother church of the Novgorodian Eparchy.


The 38-metre-high, five-domed, stone cathedral was built by Vladimir of Novgorod
Vladimir of Novgorod
Vladimir Yaroslavich reigned as prince of Novgorod from 1036 until his death. He was the eldest son of Yaroslav I the Wise of Kiev by Ingigerd, daughter of king Olof Skötkonung of Sweden....

 between 1045 and 1050 to replace an oaken cathedral built by Bishop Ioakim Korsunianin
Ioakim Korsunianin
Ioakim Korsunianin was the first bishop of Novgorod the Great . As his surname suggests, he probably came from the Byzantine town of Cherson on the Crimean Peninsula and was sent to Kievan Rus' about 989...

 in the late tenth century (making it the oldest church building in Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 proper and, with the exception of the Arkhyz
Arkhyz is a mountainous region in the vicinity of the eponymous aul sitting at an altitude of 1,450 meters in the valley of the Bolshoi Zelenchuk river, in the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia, Greater Caucasus, Russia, about 70 km inland from the Black Sea shore. The modern village was founded in...

 and Shoana
Shoana Church
Shoana Church , also known as Khumara Church , is an early 10th-century Alanian church sited on a cliff above the left bank of the Kuban River, 7 km upstream from Karachayevsk and 4 km downstream from the ruins of Skhimar, in the vicinity of Kosta Khetagurov Village...

 churches, the oldest building of any kind still in use in the country). It was consecrated by Bishop Luka Zhidiata
Luka Zhidiata
Luka Zhidiata was the second bishop of Novgorod the Great . He replaced Efrem, who was not consecrated bishop, but who administered the eparchy from the death of Ioakim Korsunianin until Luka's appointment....

 (1035–1060) on September 14, in 1050 or 1052, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
Feast of the Cross
In the Christian liturgical calendar, there are several different Feasts of the Cross, all of which commemorate the cross used in the crucifixion of Jesus....

. (A fresco just inside the south entrance depicts Sts. Constantine and Helena, who found the true cross in the fourth century; it is one of the oldest works of art in the cathedral and is thought to commemorate its dedication.) While it is commonly known as St. Sophia's, it is not named for any of the female saints of that name (ie., Sophia of Rome
Sophia of Rome
Saint Sophia of Rome is venerated as a Christian martyr. According to tradition, she was a young woman of Rome who was killed for her faith during the reign of Diocletian. She was buried in the cemetery of Gordianus and Epimachus.-Veneration:...

 or Sophia the Martyr
Sophia the Martyr
Saint Sophia the Martyr is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church on September 17. Born in Italy, Sophia had three daughters: Faith , Love and Hope , who were named after virtues mentioned by Saint Paul in .They are said to have been martyred during the reign of Hadrian...

); rather, the name comes from the Greek for wisdom (Σoφíα, from whence we get words like philosophia or philosophy—"the love of wisdom"), and thus Novgorod's cathedral is dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God, in imitation of the Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey...

 cathedral of Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

. It replaced an even older wooden, 13-domed church built in or around 989 by Bishop Ioakim Korsunianin, the first bishop of Novgorod. The main, golden cupola, was gilded by Archbishop Ioann (1388–1415) in 1408. The sixth (and the largest) dome crowns a tower which leads to the upper galleries. In medieval times these were said to hold the Novgorodian treasury and there was a library there, said to have been started by Yaroslav the Wise. When the library was moved to the St. Petersburg Spiritual Academy in 1859, it numbered more than 1,500 volumes, some dating back to the 13th century. The current Archbishop, Lev
Lev (Archbishop of Novgorod)
Lev is the current Archbishop of Novgorod the Great and Staraya Russa. He was named Bishop of Novgorod the Great and Staraya Russa on July 20, 1990 and elevated to the archiepiscopal dignity on February 25, 1995....

 (Nikolai L'vovich Tserpitskii), has reestablished a library there, in keeping with the ancient tradition. As of 2004, it housed some 5,000 volumes. A Sunday school is also held in the gallery.
The cupolas are thought to have acquired their present helmet-like shape in the 1150s, when the cathedral was restored after a fire. The interior was painted in 1108 at the behest of Bishop Nikita (1096–1108), although the project was not undertaken until shortly after his death. Archbishop Nifont (1130–1156) had the exterior whitewashed and had the Martirievskii and Pretechenskaia porches (papter, more akin to side chapels) painted sometime during his tenure, but those frescoes are hardly visible now in consequence of frequent fires. In the 1860s, parts of the interior had to be repainted and most of the current frescoes are from the 1890s. A white stone belltower in five bays was built by Archbishop Evfimii II (1429–1458), the greatest architectural patron to ever hold the archiepiscopal office. He also had the Palace of Facets built just northwest of the cathedral in 1433. The nearby clocktower was initially completed under his patronage as well, but fell down in the seventeenth century and was restored in 1673.

From the 12th to the 15th century, the cathedral was a ceremonial and spiritual centre of the Novgorod Republic
Novgorod Republic
The Novgorod Republic was a large medieval Russian state which stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains between the 12th and 15th centuries, centred on the city of Novgorod...

, which sprawled from the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 to the Ural Mountains
Ural Mountains
The Ural Mountains , or simply the Urals, are a mountain range that runs approximately from north to south through western Russia, from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the Ural River and northwestern Kazakhstan. Their eastern side is usually considered the natural boundary between Europe and Asia...

. Novgorodians were exceedingly proud of their church, boasting that they were willing "to lay down their heads for Holy Wisdom" or "to die honorably for Holy Wisdom." When one prince angered them, they told him "we have no prince, only God, the Truth, and Holy Wisdom." On another occasion, they made the cathedral the symbol of the city itself, saying "Where Holy Wisdom is, there is Novgorod."
The cathedral has long been the city's great necropolis, the burial place of 47 people of prominence in the city's history, including several princes and posadniks and 32 bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans of Novgorod. The first burial there was Prince Vladimir himself in 1052. The first bishop was Luka Zhidiata in 1060. The last burial in the cathedral was Metropolitan Gurii in 1912. Most of the burials are below the floor in the Martirievskaia Porch, on the south side of the cathedral, named for Bishop Martirii (1193–1199). Later burials took place (again below the floor) in the Pretechenskaia Papter' on the north side of the cathedral. Today, there are several burials in the main body of the church. The sarcophagi of Prince Vladimir and Princess Anna overlook the Martirievskaia Porch; Archbishop Ilya (also known as Ioann) (1165–1186) is buried in the northwestern corner of the main body of the church, next to the Pretechenskaia Porch. Bishop Nikita lies in a glass-covered sarcaphogus between the chapels of the Nativity of the Mother of God and Sts. Ioakim and Anne and the sarcophagus is opened on his feast days (January 30, the day of his death and April 30/May 13, the day of the "uncovering of his relics," i.e., when his tomb was opened in 1558) so the faithful can venerate his relics. Two other princes also lie in the main body of the cathedral and in the Chapel of the Nativity of the Mother of God.

The cathedral was looted by Ivan the Terrible's Oprichnina
The oprichnina is the period of Russian history between Tsar Ivan the Terrible's 1565 initiation and his 1572 disbanding of a domestic policy of secret police, mass repressions, public executions, and confiscation of land from Russian aristocrats...

 in the 1570s but restored by Archbishop Leonid (1572–1575). He built the Tsar's Pew which stands just inside the south entrance of the main body of the cathedral near the Martirievskii Porch. Leonid also had several large chandeliers hung in the cathedral, but only one of them survives.

Beginning in the eighteenth century, the archbishops or metropolitans of Novgorod lived in St. Petersburg (they were known as archbishops or metropolitans of Novgorod and St. Petersburg). Thus, while Novgorod technically still had a prelate, he was not often active in the city itself, and the church in the city was administered by a vicar bishop for much of the time. Twelve metropolitans of Novgorod and St. Petersburg (or Leningrad) are buried in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra
Alexander Nevsky Lavra
Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra or Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery was founded by Peter I of Russia in 1710 at the eastern end of the Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg supposing that that was the site of the Neva Battle in 1240 when Alexander Nevsky, a prince, defeated the Swedes; however, the battle...

 in St. Petersburg, rather than in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom.

During the Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 occupation of Novgorod, the Kremlin was heavily damaged from the battles and from the Nazi abuse. However, the cathedral itself survived. The large cross on the main dome (which has a metal bird attached to it, perhaps symbolic of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove) was removed by Spanish infantry
Blue Division
The Blue Division officially designated as División Española de Voluntarios by the Spanish Army and 250. Infanterie-Division in the German Army, was a unit of Spanish volunteers that served in the German Army on the Eastern Front of the Second World War.-Origins:Although Spanish leader Field...

. For over 60 years it resided in the Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

's Military Engineering Academy Museum, until November 16, 2004 when it was handed over back to the Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

 by the Spanish minister of defense José Bono
José Bono Martínez
José Bono Martínez is a Spanish politician, born in Salobre, Albacete. A member of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party , he is the President of the Congress of Deputies. Before that, he was the Minister of Defence of Spain from April 18, 2004, in the Government chaired by José Luis Rodríguez...

. The domes were heavily damaged in the war, and the large Christ Pantocrator in the dome was ruined. According to legend, the painters painted him with a clenched fist. The archbishop told them to repaint Christ with an open palm, and when they returned the next morning, the hand was miraculously clenched again. After repeated efforts, a voice from the dome is said to have told the archbishop to leave the painting alone for as long as Christ's fist remained closed, he would hold the fate of Novgorod in his hand.

During the Soviet period, the cathedral was a museum. It was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991. An inscription on the north wall of the west entrance attests to its rededication by Bishop Lev and Patriarch Alexius II
Patriarch Alexius II
Patriarch Alexy II was the 15th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church....



Novgorod's St. Sophia was the first Slavic church in which local divergences from Byzantine pattern
Byzantine architecture
Byzantine architecture is the architecture of the Byzantine Empire. The empire gradually emerged as a distinct artistic and cultural entity from what is today referred to as the Roman Empire after AD 330, when the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire east from Rome to...

 were made so evident. With its austere walls, narrow windows, the church is redolent of Romanesque architecture
Romanesque architecture
Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of Medieval Europe characterised by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque architecture, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 10th century. It developed in the 12th century into the Gothic style,...

 of Western Europe, rather than of Greek
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 churches built at that time.

The Novgorod cathedral also differs strikingly from its namesake and contemporary in Kiev
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev is an outstanding architectural monument of Kievan Rus'. Today, it is one of the city's best known landmarks and the first Ukrainian patrimony to be inscribed on the World Heritage List along with the Kiev Cave Monastery complex...

. As one art historian put it, the Kiev cathedral is a bride, whereas the Novgorod cathedral is a warrior. Its decoration is minimal, the use of brick is limited, and the masses are arranged vertically rather than horizontally. These features proved to be influential with Novgorod masters of the next generation, as the Yuriev Monastery
Yuriev Monastery
The St. George's Monastery is one of Russia's oldest monasteries. It stands south of Novgorod on the left bank of the Volkhov River near where it flows out of Lake Ilmen. The monastery used to be the most important in the medieval Novgorod Republic...

 Cathedral (1119) and the Antoniev Monastery
Antoniev Monastery
The Antoniev Monastery rivalled Yuriev Monastery as the most important monastery of medieval Novgorod the Great. It stands along the right bank of the Volkhov River north of the city centre and forms part of the Historic Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings, a World Heritage Site...

 Cathedral (1117) clearly show.

The oldest icon in the cathedral is probably the Icon of The Mother of God of the Sign, which according to legend miraculously saved Novgorod in 1169 when the Suzdalians attacked the city; it was brought out of the Church of the Transfiguration on Il'ina Street and displayed in the cathedral and on the walls of the city by Archbishop Ilya
Ilya (Archbishop of Novgorod)
Ilya , also known as Ioann , was Archbishop of Novgorod from 1165 to his death in 1186.-Life:The son of a priest, Ilya was himself priest of the Church of St. Blaise south of the Novgorod Kremlin. The church was rebuilt in 1407, destroyed during the Second World War, and has been rebuilt again; it...

. The Church of the Icon Mother of God of the Sign was built next to the Church of the Transfiguration in the seventeenth century to house the icon. During the Soviet period, it was housed in the nearby Novgorod Museum (as were the bones of Bishop Nikita, said to have been kept in a paper bag until they were transferred to the Church of Sts. Philip and Nicholas in 1957); the icon was returned to the cathedral in the early 1990s and stands just to the right of the Golden Doors of the iconostasis. The icon of Sophia, the Holy Wisdom of God, is also quite old and is part of the iconostasis just to the right of the Golden Doors as well (where the icon of the saint to which the church is dedicated usually hangs). Several icons were said to have been painted or commissioned by Archbishop Vasilii Kalika (1330-1352) and Archbishop Iona (1458-1470) and Archbishop Makarii (1526-1542) (he went on to become Metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus') is said to have painted the icons in the small iconostasis in the Chapel of the Nativity of the Mother of God (the iconostasis originally stood in the Chapel of Sts. Ioakim and Anne, just to the left of its present location.
Three famous sets of gates adorned the cathedral over the centuries; they are known as the Korsun, Vasilii, and Sigtuna (or Płock, or Magdeburg) Gates. The Korsun Gates hang at the western entrance to the Chapel of the Nativity of the Mother of God at the southeast corner of the cathedral. They were said to have been brought to Novgorod by Bishop Ioakim Korsunianin, whose name indicates ties to Korsun in Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

. The Vasilii Gates, were donated to the cathedral in 1335 by Archbishop Vasilii Kalika and were taken by Tsar Ivan IV to his residence in Alexandrov near Moscow following the looting of the cathedral in 1570, where they still may be seen. They influenced artwork in the Moscow Kremlin executed under Ivan the Terrible. The doors at the west entrance (intended to be the main entrance to the cathedral, although the main one is now the northern entrance), called the Sigtuna, Magdeburg or Płock Gates, are said to have been looted by Novgorodian forces from the Swedish town of Sigtuna
Sigtuna is a locality situated in Sigtuna Municipality, Stockholm County, Sweden with 18 inhabitants in 2005. It is the namesake of the municipality even though the seat is in Märsta....

 in 1187. In fact, they were most probably wrought and sculptured by Magdeburg
Magdeburg , is the largest city and the capital city of the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Magdeburg is situated on the Elbe River and was one of the most important medieval cities of Europe....

 masters, most likely in years 1152–1154, for the Archbishop of Płock in Poland (where they were decorating one of the entrances into the Cathedral in Płock
Masovian Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral
Płock Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Masovia, in Płock, is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Poland, an example of Romanesque architecture.- History :...

 for around 250 years).

The gates were acquired by the Novgorodians most probably in the end of the 15th century, probably by Archbishop Evfimii II, who loved Western art (as can be seen in the Gothic style incorporated into the Palace of Facets) or—according to another theory—in the first half of the 15th century by duke of Novgorod and brother of the Polish king, Simeon Lingwen. It is not known precisely how the Novgorodians acquired the Płock Gates—most probably they were a gift from Archbishops of Płock or the dukes of Mazovia
Mazovia or Masovia is a geographical, historical and cultural region in east-central Poland. It is also a voivodeship in Poland.Its historic capital is Płock, which was the medieval residence of first Dukes of Masovia...

 for the brother of Polish King Władysław Jagiełło, Duke Simeon Lingwen, or for Archbishop Evfimii II. There is also another theory that the gates had been looted from the cathedral in Płock by pagan Lithuanians in the thirteenth century, and later somehow made their way to Novgorod. The first theory is considered the most likely. The Magdeburg or Płock Gates (sometimes also wrongly called the Sigtuna Gates) are opened only twice a year for special occasions, although some reports say that they are opened when the archbishop himself leads the Divine Liturgy
Divine Liturgy
Divine Liturgy is the common term for the Eucharistic service of the Byzantine tradition of Christian liturgy. As such, it is used in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Armenian Christians, both of the Armenian Apostolic Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church, use the same term...

. Since 1982, copies of the Gates, a gift from Novgorod, hang in the Cathedral in Płock.

See also

  • Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
    Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
    Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev is an outstanding architectural monument of Kievan Rus'. Today, it is one of the city's best known landmarks and the first Ukrainian patrimony to be inscribed on the World Heritage List along with the Kiev Cave Monastery complex...

  • Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk
    Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk
    The Cathedral of Holy Wisdom in Polotsk was built by Prince Vseslav Briacheslavich between 1044 and 1066...

  • Hagia Sophia
    Hagia Sophia
    Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey...

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