St. Sophia Cathedral - Fascinating Structure with a Fascinating History

This five-domed stone cathedral was built by Vladimir of Novgorod, son of Yaroslav the Wise. His father’s last request was that the St. Sophia Cathedral of Novgorod be built as a sign of appreciation to the Novgorodians due to the fact that they had given so much support to him during his struggle for Kiev. Before the St. Sophia Cathedral was built, an ancient wooden, 13-domed church established in 989 existed in its place.

The cupolas or the dome-shaped roof are thought to have gained their present shape in the 1150’s, after it was rebuilt after being in a fire. The interior rooms were painted in the 11th and 12th centuries but certain parts of the interior had to be repainted in 1860s. The many frescoes, or paintings done directly on partly dry plaster, have faded to the point where not much of the pictures can be seen due to the many fires. In the 15th century the white stone bell tower was added and the clock tower was finished by 1673.

The St. Sophia Cathedral was built as a ceremonial and spiritual institution of the Novgorod Republic during the 12th to the 15th century and stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains. The St. Sophia has been seen by the Novgorodians as a monument standing for their independence something they are very proud of.

Fortunately, the Cathedral survived the Nazi occupation of Novgorod, even though the Kremlin was damaged so much from the Nazi abuse. When the Spanish infantry came they removed the large cross from the main dome of the church. In fact till November 16, 2004 the cross spent 60 years in the Madrid’s Military Engineering Academy Museum. Then in 2004 the Spanish minister of defense Jose Bono gave it back to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The main cathedral gates of the St. Sophia have led to much speculation as to their origination. Customarily they were thought to have been brought by Saint Vladimir from Korsun in Crimea as part of the apparent Korsun Treasures. There are still a few objects left that can be seen but the gates itself have been replaced on many occasions. Year 1335, Archbishop Basil donated a gate, which was later transferred to Ivan III residence in Alexandrov near Moscow on his request and can still be seen there today. The gates that stand at the St. Sophia Cathedral now are bronze doors that are thought to have been taken by Novgorodian pirates from Sigtuna a Swedish town in 1187. These gates are only opened on special occasions twice a year.


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