Ascension Cathedral (Sophia, Pushkin)

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St. Sophia (Ascension) Cathedral
Софийский (Вознесенский) собор
St Sophia cathedral Pushkin 1.jpg
Basic information
LocationPushkin, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Geographic coordinates59°42′18.89″N 30°23′38.05″E / 59.7052472°N 30.3939028°E / 59.7052472; 30.3939028
AffiliationRussian Orthodox
MunicipalitySaint Petersburg, Tsarskoye Selo
Year consecrated1788 (1989, 1999)
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusCathedral
Architectural description
Architect(s)Charles Cameron, Ivan Starov;
the bell tower - Leon Benois
Architectural typeCathedral
Architectural stylePalladian
Direction of façadeWest
Spire(s)Stone, granite

The Ascension Cathedral in the town of Sophia (now a part of Pushkin) in the vicinity of Saint Petersburg, was one of the first purely Palladian churches to be built in Russia. Rather paradoxically, it may also be defined as "the first example of Byzantinism in Russian architecture".[1]


Construction. Architecture[edit]

The cathedral was founded in July 1782 at the instigation of Catherine II of Russia as a reminder of her lifelong Greek Plan. The Tsarina, eager to liberate Constantinople from the Turks, wished to have a replica of the Hagia Sophia in the proximity of the Catherine Palace where she spent her summers. But the first project - an exact copy of the Hagia Sophia - was very expensive.

Then the Empress called upon her favourite architect, Charles Cameron, to design this "Byzantinesque" church, but the Scottish architect, though well versed in the Palladian idiom, had a vague idea of what Byzantine architecture stood for. His design called for an austere and monumental whitewashed exterior, with Doric porticoes on each side, probably a reference to the works of Lord Burlington.

Construction works, supervised by Ivan Starov, lasted for six years. In the eventual variant, the five wide domes were placed on squat drums, vaguely reminiscent of the Hagia Eirene. The church was consecrated on 28 May 1788 in the presence of the Empress. During the two decades that followed, the Imperial Academy of Arts had the interior adorned with Neoclassical paintings. A detached two-storied belltower was added considerably later, in 1905, to a design by Leon Benois.


In 1784, the cathedral was to be the chapter church of the newly established Order of Saint Vladimir. The first dean was archpriest Andrey Samborsky - the religion teacher of tsarina's grandsons.

In 1817, Alexander I of Russia gave the cathedral to a hussar regiment of his Leib Guard, which was quartered in Sophia. During the rest of the 19th century, the regiment had the cathedral transformed into a sort of military museum, its walls lined with marble plaques honouring the hussars' victories. Near the altar, for instance, were placed the banners captured by General Cherniaev from the Khan of Kokand.


In 1934, the Communist government had the cathedral closed down, with marble plaques and precious furnishings either nationalized or stolen.

Since 1989[edit]

View of Sophia Cathedral, by Giacomo Quarenghi.

In 1989, the Russian Orthodox Church resumed worship there. The same year, a bust of Alexander Nevsky was added nearby, by way of commemorating the 750th anniversary of the Battle of the Neva.

The complete consecration after the restoration took place on May 19, 1999.

In 2003, a monument to the Leib guard hussar regiment was erected south of the cathedral.

See also[edit]

Inline references[edit]

  1. ^ Anthony Cross. By the Banks of the Neva. Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-521-55293-1. Page 292.

Online references[edit]