St. Isaac’s Cathedral



St. Isaac’s Cathedral can truly be considered the center of St. Petersburg – its golden dome is visible even from the Gulf of Finland. The height of the cathedral is 101.5 meters, which makes it the tallest and most majestic church in Russia. Climbing up the old winding staircase (562 steps) to the colonnade allows tourists to observe the amazing panorama of the city from the observation deck which is situated 43 meters high. Worn stones of the stairs are the living proof that a visit to St. Isaac’s Cathedral has been a mandatory part of a cultural program for pilgrims, tourists, and citizens of St. Petersburg at all times.

St. Isaac’s Cathedral
Auguste de Montferrand

St. Isaac of Dalmatia was the patron of Peter the Great, as the future first Russian Emperor was born on 30 May, the day of the saint. On his thirty-eighths birthday, in 1710, Peter I ordered to build a wooden Church of St. Isaac in St. Petersburg, where two years later he got married to his wife Catherine I. The church construction lasted for about 30 years, but the marshy soil had been swallowing all the efforts of the architects and eventually the construction had to be dismantled.

In 1768 the empress Catherine II decided to finish Peter’s plan and ordered to rebuild the cathedral, but to move it away from the shoreline — to the Senate square. The design of the building was grandiose: the church was fully covered in Olonets marble. But after the death of the hated mother, Paul I ordered to dismantle all the marble from the cathedral and to use it for the decoration of his favorite Mikhailovsky castle, while Saint Isaac’s Cathedral had to be built of bricks. In 1816 there was another architectural contest for St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which was attended by the most eminent architects of the time, but the emperor chose a little-known Auguste de Montferrand, who, unlike all his colleagues, did not offer to destroy the old building 

“The gilding process was conducted according to the old, later banned, technology which included the usage of mercury.”

The Cathedral was decorated with one hundred fifty paintings from Fyodor Bruni, Karl Briullov, Vasily Shebuyev, three hundred statues and bas-reliefs by Ivan Vitali, and all of that makes St. Isaac’s Cathedral a beautiful and unique example of Russian Church architecture. Gilded dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral took more than a hundredweight of the precious metal. The gilding process was conducted according to the old, later banned, technology which included the usage of mercury. Chronicles say that it caused the death of all the artists who participated in the process. 

St. Isaac’s Cathedral, among other records, broke the record for the length of construction: exactly 40 years. The city had rumors that the architect was deliberately delaying the completion of the construction, since a fortune-teller predicted the architect that he would die as soon as he finished the construction of the cathedral. Whether it was truth or not, Montferrand died immediately after the construction of the church. 

St. Isaac’s Cathedral
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
The Saviour on Spilled Blood
St. Isaac’s in scaffolding

St. Isaac’s Cathedral hosted the baptism of the children of the Royal family and local celebrations. But the building has been constantly in a construction and repairing process. There appeared another city rumor that the fall of the Romanovs royal dynasty would happen when scaffolding would be removed from the building of the cathedral. It was removed in 1916 — six months before the abdication of the last Emperor of Russia.

Today St. Isaac’s Cathedral is an outstanding example of Russian architecture and a mandatory destination of all city guests. It is one of the most beautiful and remarkable Christian constructions not only in Russia but also in the world. The temple is the fourth only to the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, St. Paul’s in London and St. Maria’s in Florence.