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Dormition Cathedral

Dormition Cathedral

In 1158, Prince Andrei the Pious, Yuri Dolgoruki’s son, made Vladimir upon Klyazma – a city founded 50 years before that by Vladimir Monomah – his capital. And in that same year Andrei the Pious began to build upon a high mountain above the Klyazma Dormition Cathedral that became the main temple of north-eastern, Zalesskaya Rus. The Dormition Cathedral became the biggest construction of the new capital and the center of its architectural ensemble. Having occupied the most convenient spot of the city’s relief on the edge of a cliff, it lorded over the city and its vicinities, while the cathedral’s golden dome could be seen many miles around.

Andrei the Pious conceived his temple not only as the main cathedral of Vladimir diocese but also as a stronghold of new archdiocese independent from Kiev, since the capital city of Vladimir was entering not only into a political rivalry with Kiev but also a church one.

To fulfill this purpose, local masters were not sufficient, and then, according to a chronicler, “God brought masters from all the lands.” Among them were masters from Kiev, cities along the Dnepr, from Galich, Greece and Germany sent by the emperor of the Sacred Roman Empire Frederick Barbarossa himself. In this way, Prince Andrei’s claims for independence in a way received international political support. The whitestone temples of Vladimir built under Andrei the Pious and his successor, Vsevolod the Big Nest, are monuments of architecture of worldwide significance.

In its height the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir was equal to Sofia of Kiev – the temple of the new capital, according to Andrei the Pious’ idea, of course, could not be inferior to Kiev’s sanctuary. The prince used tenth part of his incomes to construct the temple. The cathedral was laid of a white limestone, while its main head was covered with reddish gold, for which fact the cathedral received its name “gold-headed.” The architecture of the Dormition cathedral in Vladimir determined development of north-eastern Russian architecture for several centuries ahead. The architecture of the Moscow State grew out of it – Vladimir’s Dormition Cathedral served as a pattern for later Moscow’s constructions.

Famous whitestone carving of ancient Russian temples sprouts from that on the Dormition Cathedral’s walls. It is on the facades of the Dormition Cathedral that the first carved whitestone masks and compositions appeared – “Three Young Men in Fiery Furnace,” “Forty Sebastian Martyrs,” “The Ascension of Alexander the Great to Heaven.” The latter plot was in Middle Ages widely spread in Europe and the Orient… But the period of the flourishing of the whitestone carving was still far ahead.

When scaffoldings were removed from the Dormition cathedral the people sighed with astonishment: such a church in Russia had never been seen! “Prince Andrei – the chronicler says – decorated it with various items of gold and silver; he made three gilded doors, decorated the temple with precious stones and pearls and all kinds of amazing ornaments; he lit the church with many silver and golden chandeliers; he made the ambo1 of gold and silver.”

Sacred golden vessels, flabella and other furniture ornamented with precious stones and pearls were numerous. Three big “jerusalems” were made of pure gold and precious stones.

The outward appearance of the building made the contemporaries marvel. The Dormition Cathedral built by Andrei the Pious’ masters was compared by chroniclers with King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Its one time capacity was two thousand people. In the temple’s appearance beauty of architecture was combined with exquisiteness and luxuriousness of decoration. Apart from bas-relieves, under Andrei the Pious’ supervision, masters widely used the technique of ironing the portals and dome drums with gilded copper. The shining brass plates of the floor appeared to be golden sheets. The cathedral could be entered through the portals, the doors of which were “painted with gold.” The huge interior of the temple shone with dazzling of gold, majolica and paintings. The chronicler says that during the celebration of the temple’s Dedication Day of Dormition of the Holy Virgin, “The Golden Gates” of all the portals were opened and the flow of worshippers streamed into the temple. Underneath their feet a shining carpet of colored majolica plates and brass gilded slabs was spread. The fire of the candles was reflected in the precious items of furniture and on the choir above the festively dressed crowd stood the prince and his court…

The “young days” of the cathedral were troublesome. Time and again severe calamities befell it. Completed in 1160, the Dormition Cathedral was severely damaged in 1185 by a fire. All the wooden structure got wiped out by fire, and the white lime stone of the walls got burned to such an extent that the builders who restored the temple had to erect new walls around it and joined them by arches with the walls of the old temple, which in this way became “incased.” While restoring the temple, masters of Vladimir made it bigger (now its capacity became up to four thousand people) and enlarged the altar part. Under Prince Vsevolod III, the luxurious decoration of the temple was replaced by an even more beautiful and expensive one.

A new woe came in 1238. The Tatars who took the city by storm approached the walls of the Dormition Cathedral where dwellers of Vladimir were hiding along with the prince’s family and bishop Mitrofan. The Tatars put logs and brushwood around the cathedral outside and lit it. Many people seeking refuge in the temple choked to death of smoke. The Tatars broke through the doors of the temple and started a slaughter in it. All the relics were plundered but the temple, even though burned and plundered, survived.

In the end of XIII century, the temple was slightly remodeled, its roof was covered by tin and now non-existing St. Panteleimon’s side chapel was built next to its south-western corner. But in 1410, Tatar Prince Talych’s hordes broke into the city and plundered the cathedral again this time even tearing off the gilded covering of the domes. However, the main sanctuaries of the temple were saved: there is a legend that the precious items were hidden in a secret hiding place somewhere inside the temple and are not found to this day. The Tatars tortured priest Patrickiy trying to get information about the location of the hiding place, but to no avail.

In 1536, the cathedral got burned again…

Throughout XII-XIII centuries, the cathedral’s walls were several times painted. For the first time it was ornamented with paintings in 1161 under Andrei the Pious. But as early as in 1185, the cathedral itself and its wall paintings got seriously damaged by fire. Of the first painting only a small fragment remained: two peacocks with gorgeous tails, plant ornament and figures of prophets with scrolls in their hands. After a rebuilding, the temple was painted in 1189 anew. Of this painting also only several fragments remain to this day. In 1237, on the eve of the Tatar invasion, another renewing of the temple’s painting was done. But in the very next year the cathedral was severely plundered by Tatars and burned; most of the frescoes perished.

Until the beginning of XV century, the cathedral stood desolate. Only in 1408, a group of masters from Moscow came to restore the painting of the Dormition Cathedral. It included legendary Andrei Rublev and Daniel Cherny with their companions. Holding on to the old system of allocation of plots, they painted the cathedral almost anew. Frescoes by Andrei Rublev and Daniel Cherny that remained to our day with significant losses now are precious items of interest of the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir.

Andrei Rublev and Daniel Cherny painted icons for the new iconostasis. In 1773-1774, this iconostasis was dissembled, and in its place a new one was put that we can see in the temple today. At the same time, the icons by Rublev’s brush were brought to the church of Vasilievskaya village, from where in 1922 they were carried over to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the Russian museum in Saint Petersburg.

Since Andrei Rublev’s time, the cathedral has been plundered and burned several times. In XVII century, its paintings were in such a poor condition that patriarch Joseph had to send his masters to Vladimir for renewing and restoration of the old paintings.

By XVIII century, the cathedral was all in cracks from top to bottom, menacing to break down any time soon. Urgent measures were taken for its salvation. The temple was mended, although with many distortions and inaccuracies in its original appearance. Only scientific restoration undertaken in 1888-1891 gave to the temple its original looks. Of all the later constructions near it, only St. George’s side-chapel built in XIX century and a high belfry crowned with a gilded spire built in XIX century remained.

In the Dormition Cathedral Prince Andrei the Pious and his sons Gleb and Izyaslav, Grand Prince of Vladimir Vsevolod the Big Nest, Prince Yuri Vsevolodovich killed by Tatars in a battle on the Syt River and other Vladimir princes of XII-XIII centuries, Vladimir’s bishops and metropolitans including metropolitan Maxim, who brought the metropolitan’s seat from Kiev to Vladimir in 1299, are buried. In the cathedral Grand princes’ clothes of the XII-XIII century, Prince Izyaslav Adreevich’s helmet and arrows – a brave fellow-warrior of his own father, Andrei the Pious, in his campaign against the Volga Bulgars – were kept.

Until 1395, in the Dormition Cathedral one of the greatest Russian sanctuaries was kept – the icon of the Holy Virgin of Vladimir, which was later carried to Moscow. According to one tradition, it was painted by Luke the Evangelist himself. A masterpiece of a genius Byzantine artist of XI century, this icon was brought by Andrei the Pious from Vyshgorod and placed in the temple as the main sanctuary of Vladimir and Vladimir land.

The Dormition Cathedral of Vladimir was created by talent of unknown masters of XII century, sanctified by the name of Andrei Rublev, went through fires and devastations but remained to be a lampstand of the spirit lit by our ancestors a long time ago.

Ambo1 – (Greek, elevated place) is a place in a Christian temple, from which Biblical texts are read and sermons are spoken. Most of the researchers believe that ambo is a verbal noun that originates from a Greek verb ana bino – “to rise.” No matter which interpretation is the right one, this word has always been related with a high place. In early Christian and Byzantine Churches platforms put on both sides of the choir and underneath the central dome were ambos. One or two staircase flights led to them. In the Russian Orthodox Church it is a semi-round part of the solea located in front of the King’s Gates.

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