St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

Saint Petersburg / Russia

Aloof from the commotion of the busy Nevsky prospect and the most popular tourist attractions of St.Peterburg, in the vicinity of the Mariinsky theatre, there is a quiet residential neighbourhood, where you will find a majestic church of breath-taking beauty unfolding its splendour as you navigate under several small bridges along the junction of two canals. A slender and elegant campanile anticipates from afar on the upcoming site of St. Nicholas Naval cathedral.

Sky blue walls under the sunshine of five golden domes, clouds of heavenly host, large windows, and even highly unusual features in a church, such as balconies with intricate a jour railings – playful elements of baroque architecture that evoke one of the merriest and the most eccentric periods of Russian history – Elizabethan time.

Built in the mid XVIII century in the naval settlement by a Russian architect Savva Tchevakinsky, the cathedral belonged to the Admiralty and was consecrated to St Nicholas the Wonderworker – one of the most cherished and revered saints in the Russian Orthodox tradition, a patron saint of all travellers, and sailors in particular. Hence, it became a place to celebrate the victories of the Russian Navy and to pray to the memory of sailors, who gave their lives for it.

Despite severe persecution of religion during the Soviet years, when most of the churches were desecrated, St. Nicholas naval cathedral remained one of the few places of worship, where divine services never stopped, not even for one day: not even during the darkest years of the Siege of Leningrad. May it be because sailors often come face to face with elemental forces of nature, and do not easily give up their faith…

If you decide to visit St. Nicholas cathedral inside, please note that, unlike several other churches in St. Petersburg, it does not have secular museum hours: sacraments and prayers take place throughout the day, so tourist visits are expected to be discrete and dress appropriate.

One of the most important relics of the cathedral is the XVII century miraculous icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker – gift from the Greek sailors. You will find it to the left of the Holy doors in the downstairs church. Then again, if you happen to come by on the eve or on the day of an Orthodox holiday or a Sunday, you might be able to see the stunning opulence of the upstairs church consecrated to the Epiphany.

After you visit St. Nicholas cathedral, do not go straight away: take a little walk round its garden, then cross the junction of canals to contemplate one of the most poetic sites of the city called Semimostye – «seven bridges». There is special magic to it: if you take a good look around, you will be able to count seven bridges from one spot, but if you try a little harder, you might see nine or even ten bridges. Do make a wish there, or two, or seven…

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