Adam and his bride arrived in Saint Petersburg today. That means that all three of us brothers now have been to Russia’s northern capital. Before the couple departed the States, I recommended that they visit some of the city’s lovely religious edifices that Aaron and I visited several years ago.
When one visits a European city, he should make sure to see the cathedral. Confusingly, several Russian churches are named cathedrals when they are not. The word sobor (собор) is often translated as cathedral, or the bishop’s church. There is a Russian word for cathedral—caphedral—from the same Greek word, but a sobor is really just an important church . . . sort of like the Roman Church’s use of the word basilica. Moreover, true Russian cathedrals appear to retain the name and status of a cathedral even when the bishop gets a new (and often bigger) temple. Instead of wrecking the old building and constructing upon it, the Russkies consecrate another temple, which thus proliferates those lovely domes and bell towers throughout Russia’s great cities. By contrast, the Western tradition differentiates such churches. The ever informing Wikipedia states:
Cathedral churches may have different degrees of dignity:
A parish church which was formerly a cathedral is known as a “proto-cathedral”.
A parish church temporarily serving as the cathedral or co-cathedral of a diocese is known as a “pro-cathedral”.
Two churches jointly serving cathedrals of a diocese are each known as “co-cathedrals”.
The church of a diocesan bishop is known as a “cathedral”.
A church to which other diocesan cathedral churches of a province are suffragan is a “metropolitan cathedral”.
A church under which are ranged metropolitical churches and their provinces is a “primatial cathedral”.
A church to which primatial, metropolitical, and cathedral churches alike owe allegiance is a “patriarchal cathedral”.
The removal of a bishop’s cathedra from a church deprives that church of its cathedral dignity, although often the name is retained in popular use, as for example former cathedrals acquired by the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (which lacks episcopal structure). Technically, such churches are proto-cathedrals.
I am ignorant as to whether there are corresponding Orthodox terms. That said, I counseled my brother and sister-in-law to see the following.
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, in Saints Peter and Paul Fortress, has tombs of the imperial family after Peter the Great. It is the tallest Orthodox temple in the world due to the bell tower. It served as the city’s first cathedral until A.D. 1859.
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral is the city’s second cathedral, from A.D. 1859 until its confiscation by the Soviets. It is the largest church in the city, and its dome is one of the largest in the world. Visitors may ascend the dome for spectacular views of Saint Petersburg.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan is the current cathedral, modeled on Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Aaron and I were able to attend the divine liturgy there. I do not know how many temples served as Saint Petersburg’s cathedral during the Communist period. The Cathedral of Prince Vladimir functioned as the cathedral at the beginning of the Second World War.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood / the Church of the Resurrection has a similarly colorful style as Saint Basil’s in Moscow. It was built on site of Alexander II’s assasination, and it serves as a memorial to him.
The Alexander Nevsky Lavra and its neighboring cemeteries are requisite stops for visitors. The lavra is one of the most important monasteries in the Russia, and the cemeteries contain the graves of Russia’s illustrious.
I also recommended that, if they had enough time, they see the Church of Saint Catherine, the main Roman Catholic church in town, the Trinity Sobor, Our Lady of Vladimir Sobor, the Chesma Church with its candy cane style, the Dormition Sobor, and the Smolny Sobor, which was a beautiful Russian baroque convent that now houses an educational and art complex. Aaron and I attended vespers at Our Lady of Vladimir, where Dostoevsky was a parishioner. The service followed Rachmaninov’s setting, which I find to be some of the most beautiful music ever composed.
I hope that the newlyweds enjoyed a long day—a long day, indeed, during the white nights of Petersburg.