It started as a convent. Then, Tsar Alexander I decreed that it should be taken down and built back up as a grand cathedral. The Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer would not be completed until the coronation of his great nephew. Under the rule of Josef Stalin, it was destroyed with dynamite, and fragments of the architecture were later repurposed to help build Moscow’s subway. In its place, Stalin sought to build a Palace of the Soviets. Then World War II interrupted its progress.
Then it became the site of a large, outdoor swimming pool, heated to a constant 80 degrees.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer was finally rebuilt. Despite its importance to the Russian people, as a sign of both national and spiritual identity, its rebuilding was not without controversy:
This cathedral is a virtual replica of the first. But whereas the first one took 44 years to build, the new one, thanks to modern construction techniques and seemingly unlimited funds, was built in three. It is said to have cost well in excess of $1 billion.
“The rebuilding of Christ the Redeemer was of particular importance to us at the turn of the new millennium,” said the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II. “It symbolizes both the rebirth of the Orthodox faith and the rebirth of the Russian nation.”
On the other hand, Father Gleb Yakunin, an outspoken Orthodox priest and former Duma deputy, opposed the project from the start.
“Now is not the time to build this cathedral,” he said. “It is wrong to spend so much money on a church when people are so poor.”
The statistics of the new building are as mind-boggling as the original: The cathedral stands 330 feet high, the cupola measures 100 feet in diameter and more than 800,000 square feet of marble and granite were brought from all over Russia or imported from throughout the world.
The white marble iconostasis, an icon screen separating the nave from the sanctuary, is shaped in the form of a chapel and stands four stories high with its own gold cupola 80 feet across and a marble surface of 7,000 square feet.
“Worthwhile things don’t just appear,” said sculptor Zurab Tseratelli, who designed the massive bronze doors at the front of the cathedral.
“This cathedral is the affirmation of the faith that was stolen from the people of Russia. I believe its rebuilding is the wisest decision.”