Thursday, 24 November 2011

Extraordinary scenes of devotion to the Virgin Mary in Russia

An ancient relic, long venerated as a girdle or belt which belonged to the Virgin Mary, has completed its ten city-tour of Russia, after being loaned to the Russian Orthodox Church by the famous Mount Athos monastery in Greece, where it is usually kept and guarded. 

In an extraordinary display of the strength and vitality of Christianity in Russia after the downfall of the Soviet system, nearly half a million people queued for days in sub-zero temperatures to see the relic when it made its final stop in Moscow. The Church authorities were forced to extend its display in the cathedral by three days, whilst the secular authorities had to introduce fifteen hundred more police onto the street and re-route traffic.

The relic was displayed at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (above) which has special significance for Christianity's struggle against Communism in Russia. Originally created to give thanks for Imperial Russia's victory over the French invasion led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812, it was remodelled several times and went through extensive renovations, before finally being consecrated as the largest Orthodox church ever built on the same day as the penultimate Romanov tsar to date, Alexander III, underwent his coronation. The cathedral had a long and extensive gallery honouring the war-dead from the wars of 1812. After the Revolution, the Soviet regime decided to destroy the cathedral in order to replace it with a building called "the Palace of the Soviets," a modernist monument to the October Revolution. In 1931, on Stalin's orders, the cathedral was dynamited and reduced to rubble. The "palace of the Soviets" was never completed due to lack of funds and time, with Stalin presumably being kept busy with the business of genocide. In the 1950s, the site was turned into a public swimming pool.

After the fall of Communism, a replica of the cathedral was faithfully rebuilt as a symbol of the resurgence of Russian Orthodoxy after seven decades of hardship.

You can watch the desecration and demolition of the original, HERE.
And The Daily Telegraph has an excellent article on the veneration of the relic at Christ the Saviour, HERE


  1. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was a perfect site for people to visit the relic. I note you mention the cathedral was historically significant because it was built to honour Russia's victory over the nation-threatening French invasion of 1812. The royal family might have been absolutely insensitive to the bulk of the population who were workers and peasants, but they WERE faithful to the Church.

    Also the architecture is ideal. If many thousands of devoted Orthodox Christians wanted to participate in the once in a lifetime experience (mainly women?), the Cathedral was where it had to be.

  2. Absolutely, Hels. Although I don't know if I'd necessarily agree that the imperial family were totally insensitive to the peasant-classes. By modern standards, they certainly were, although it's hard to judge a 19th century autocracy by modern standards in any meaningful way. However, without doubt, when the urban working classes emerged in Russia in the late 19th century, the imperial administration did repeatedly put their welfare at secondary importance to the injection of stimulus and capital into the empire's economy. Although the subversive in me wonders if that's really any different to how leaders in most modern capitalist democracies regard the working classes. Maybe Witte and Stolypin were just more brazen about it?

    You're right about it mostly being women who attended the Cathedral to see the relic. Although the Telegraph article (linked above) did interview a 70 year-old man who was visiting the cathedral because of repeated health problems. Apparently the Muscovite authorities did set up a separate line for women and children, which maybe indicates how many women attended the display.

    The Cathedral's architecture is very interesting. When it was originally commissioned in 1812, by Alexander I, it was built in a neo-Classical European style, a bit like Our Lady of Kazan in Saint Petersburg. However, when Alexander's brother took the throne as Nicholas I in 1825, he felt that for symbolic reasons the architecture should be more Slavic or Russia and so it was rebuilt during his reign and that of his son, Alexander II, to become the Cathedral we see and admire today. Or rather, the replica of it! Nicholas I's decision to make it more Russian is part of the reason it took so long to build.

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