The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

(Храм Спаса на Крови)

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (Храм Спаса на Крови) is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg, Russia. It is also variously called the Church on Spilt Blood and the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (Собор Воскресения Христова), its official name. The name refers to the blood of the assassinated Alexander II of Russia, who was mortally wounded on that site on March 13, 1881 (Julian date: March 1).

Construction and features

Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.

The Church is prominently situated along the Griboedov Canal. The embankment at that point runs along either side of a canal. As the tsar's carriage passed along the embankment, a grenade thrown by an anarchist conspirator exploded. The tsar, shaken but unhurt, got out of the carriage and started to remonstrate with the presumed culprit. Another conspirator took the chance to explode another bomb, killing himself and mortally wounding the tsar. The tsar, bleeding heavily, was taken back to the Winter Palace where he died a few hours later.

A temporary shrine was erected on the site of the attack while the project for a more permanent memorial was undertaken. It was decided that the section of the street where the assassination took place was to be enclosed within the walls of a church. That section of the embankment was therefore extended out into the canal to allow the shrine to fit comfortably within the building and to provide space on the exterior wall for a memorial marking the spot where the assassination took place. Inside, an elaborate shrine was constructed on the exact place of Alexander's death, garnished with topaz, lazurite and other semi-precious stones. Amid such rich decoration, the simple cobblestones on which the tsar's blood was spilled and which are exposed in the floor of the shrine provide a striking contrast.


Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics—according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. This record may be surpassed by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which houses 7700 square meters of mosaics. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day—including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (and Russian, despite his name). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.

Russian Revolution of 1917

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by hostile Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary storage site for the corpses of those who died both in combat and of starvation and illness. It suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Savior on Potatoes.

Modern times

In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship. Right now, it is a Museum of Mosaic. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services served in it were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.

1956 was another critical year in the fate of the church, when the city authorities once again decided to demolish the church in order to build a new street. The new campaign of tearing down religious buildings continued for over ten years.

It was only in 1968 that the Cathedral was granted protection of the State Inspection of Landmarks of the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning. In 1970 director of St. Isaac's Cathedral and Museum G.P. Butikov persuaded the city bosses and then the officials of the Ministry of Culture that the church had considerable historical and artistic value. He also petitioned to make the church a branch of his museum, carry out restoration and, in the future, open a museum there.

The executive committee of the Leningrad City Soviet adopted decision No. 535 on July 20, 1970, in accordance with which a branch of St. Isaac's Museum and Cathedral was opened in the building of the former Church of Savior on Spilled Blood. The memorial church was transferred onto the balance of the museum on April 12, 1971.

By that time the Church of Resurrection was in a critically dilapidated condition and required immediate restoration.

Railing. After the design by A.A.ParlandRestoration could not begin without an initial large volume of construction and engineering operations. Simultaneously the research staff of the museum studied archival materials on the Savior on Spilled Blood not only in Leningrad, but also in Moscow, Sverdlovsk, and Barnaul. To determine the state of the decor of the church and offer recommendations on restoration, contracts were settled with institutes and research laboratories.

Restoration itself started only in 1980.

The first stage of restoration was completed by August 19, 1997, when Savior on Spilled Blood Cathedral and Museum opened its doors to visitors. The exposition of the cathedral centers on architecture and the decor of the building.

Specificity of the museum collection led to expositions of religious art, which smoothly combine artistic, informational, and memorial value.

The exposition of the Savior on Spilled Blood serves as the media for learning Russian history and culture. The objective of the museum is to present the historic and artistic value of the Cathedral, and make our contemporaries feel a part of Russian historical and cultural tradition.

The Cathedral of Resurrection is the only surviving monument to Alexander II in the city.

The tragic events of March 1, 1881 found their reflection not only in the ciborium of the church, but also in the building of the vestry, which has for several years housed the exhibition dedicated to Emperor Alexander II (1818 - 1881), the assassinated nonarch.

The next objective of the Savior on Spilled Blood Cathedral and Museum is to restore the former status of a historical memorial.

Prepared by V.A. Zelenchenko

Photo 00:

Храм Воскресения Христова построен на том месте, где 1 марта 1881г. членом "Народной воли" был смертельно ранен император Александр II. На этом месте первоначально была возведена часовня по проекту архитектора Н.Бенуа. Затем на месте часовни был возведен храм по проекту архитектора А.Парланда. Стены здания облицованы эстляндским мрамором и специальным глазурованным кирпичом, цоколь облицован гранитом. Во внутренней отделке храма использованы итальянские разноцветные мраморы, цветные поделочные камни из разных районов России: яшма, порфиры, цветные мраморы. Великолепны мозаичные иконы храма, выполненные по эскизам А.Рябушкина, М.Нестерова, В.Васнецова, Н.Харламова.

Saint Petersburg Санкт-Петербу́рг

Saint Petersburg Sankt Peterburg Leningrad Petrograd Санкт-Петербу́рг​ Sankt-Peterburg, is a city and a federal subject (a federal city) of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (Петрогра́д, 1914–1924) and Leningrad (Ленингра́д, 1924–1991). It is often called just Petersburg (Петербу́рг) and is informally known as Piter (Пи́тер).

Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg ceased being the capital in 1918 after the Russian Revolution of 1917. It is Russia's second largest city after Moscow with 4.6 million inhabitants, and over 6 million people live in its vicinity. Saint Petersburg is a major European cultural centre, and an important Russian port on the Baltic Sea.

Saint Petersburg is often described as the most Western city of Russia. Among cities of the world with over one million people, Saint Petersburg is the northernmost. The Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Russia's political and cultural centre for 200 years, the city is sometimes referred to in Russia as the northern capital. A large number of foreign consulates, international corporations, banks and other businesses are located in Saint Petersburg.

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