The frescoes of Sistine Chapel in Vatican, “The Last Supper” in Milan… These are world masterpieces that every honored person aught to see while travelling to these cities. Does Kyiv have any majestic art to surprise foreign guests? Let us visit st. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv.
History of the Cathedral
The temple has a gorgeous look. It’s an example of neo –Byzantium architecture: a cross-domed church with 6 blue and 1 golden helmet-like domes (in total 7) which have to remind us about 7 sacraments of God. The first sacrament is baptism. It was Prince Vladimir who baptized thiscountry in 988 and went down in history of Ukraine as a prince-baptizer. Built in late 19-th c. this magnificent cathedral was dedicated to him.
The construction lasted for long 20 years, the design project changed for 3 times, 3 architects worked on the Cathedral exterior. It was built exclusively on donated money. But let’s appreciate the interior too.
The altar paintings
The entrance to st. Vladimir’s Cathedral is free. You can hardly ever see a queue in front of it. That’s only because a few people are aware of a real masterpiece found inside – a huge oil painting of the Mother of God executed on a concave altar wall behind the iconostasis. It strikes your eyes at the moment you enter the Cathedral: the Virgin Mary is tightly holding the Holy baby, while the Son of God is stretching his arms to the world. The monumental painting is especially impressive as it’s made only in dark colors on the golden background. Let’s go upstairs, there, from the loft’s place this scene seems even more breath-taking!
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The history of the painting doesn’t lack fascinating details. When the construction of the Cathedral was finally finished at the end of the 19-th century, an acknowledged Russian scholar Adrian Prakhov was responsible for inner decorations. He visited the Cathedral with the Vice Governor to discuss the interior design of the temple. Having stopped at the entrance door and scrutinizing the altar wall, they were stunned to admit that they saw an image of the Mother of God made of moisture spots on the plaster. The scholar hurried up to make a sketch of the wet figure. The same image was seen by many parishioners who perceived the revelation of Virgin Mary as a miracle. Soon the gossips about divine event spread all over the city.
Virgin Mary and baby Jesus
A.Prakhov searched for the artists who would garnish the Cathedral for the long time. Among others, he especially insisted on participation of famous artist Victor Vasnetsov, but he renounced as well. Some time later, V. Vasnetsov visited his summer residence (Where?) to see his wife and the baby. The spouse was holding the baby in her arms, - she went out to the porch to greet her husband, - and the child, being the first time outside after a long disease, rejoiced and stretched arms to his dad and to the world. At the very same moment the artist understood how he should paint the Holy Mother with the Baby. He returned to Kyiv with sketches. Having met A.Prakhov once again, both men shared their ideas about the decoration of the altar wall, and to their great surprise, the sketches looked similar! That was surely a divine order!
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The work was extremely hard and exhausting: the image of the Mother of God appeared in st.Vladimir’s Cathedral after two years. V.Vasnetsov painted the temple for long 11 years, creating 15 pictures and 30 figures, in total 4000 square meters of oil paintings! Many mural pictures became paradigmatic: ”The Baptism of Kyivans by Prince Volodymyr” and “The Prince Volodymir’s baptising” (on the right wall when you enter the Cathedral) were often copied in other churches. Several times the artist fell down from the scare folding, he seriously damaged his health. Having finished decoration he announced: “I’ve set a candle to God”.
Great artists’ works in the Cathedral
Apart from V. Vasnetsov other masters of art left their marks in the decoration of st. Vladimir’s cathedral. Particularly, a noted Russian artist Michail Vrubel painted “The Resurrection of Christ”, “The 5-th and the 6-th day of the Creation” and many exquisite ornaments.
The artists of Polish origin P. Svedomsky and V.Kotarbinsky created 18 scenes and 84 figures. “The Last Supper”, “The Entry to Jerusalem”, “The Crucifixion” and “The Judgment of Pontius Pilate” are their most noted Bible scenes found in the Cathedral.
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Another master of Russian art M.Nesterov was also involved in the Cathedral’s garnishing. His mostly cited work here is the image of St. Barbara. Like the Mother of God by V.Vasnetsov, the image of martyr was painted from a live person – his beloved one. M.Nesterov was in deep love with a daughter of his boss Elena Prakhova. That’s why it’s so touching! They say, when Kyivans noticed close resemblance between the martyr and E.Prakhova they became indignant and refused to worship a martyr in this church.
Santa Barbara’s story
The image of st. Barbara has been created here not without good reason. The relics of the saint, which gave the name to Santa-Barbara US city are kept in the Kyivan church! As you enter st. Vladimir’s Cathedral you’ll notice a marvelous shrine with the martyr’s relics to the right from the isle. It’s known that st. Barbara lived at the dawn of Christianity in a rich pagan family in city of Iliopoulos (present Turkey). Her father locked his daughter in a tall tower in order to preserve her from outside world. Once, when he was several days away, Barbara left her prison and secretly adopted Christianity. That made her father furious, he asked the ruler of the city to decapitate his daughter personally. The torturers were severely punished: they were killed by a lightning. Before St. Barbara passed away she desperately asked God to deprive people of death without repent, that is of sudden death.
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That’s why the martyr became the saint patroness against sudden death and is often depicted with a Cup on icons: people have to repent and be given communion before their final way. At the church shop you may ask to buy a small souvenir from Kyiv – a ring of st.Barbara, which will keep you protected from sudden death. Even Russian Tsarinas Elizavetta and Anna Ioanivna changed their golden rings with jewelry for simple rings of . Barbara when visiting Kyiv.
Cathedral as a masterpiece
After admiring mural paintings of st. Vladimir’s Cathedral it’s quite difficult to say: is it a temple or rather the art museum? Of course both! The majestic Cathedral greets everyone. And those who are not yet satiated with the artistic masterpieces of late 19-th century, can continue their tour within 5 minutes’ walk in Kyiv art gallery! There you’ll be able to see marvelous canvases of V.Vasnetsov, M.Vrubel, M. Nesterov and V.Kotarbinsky. Don’t be amused! Every honorable museum would be proud to have at least a small painting of these art masters in its collection. Meantime, you’ve seen thousands of square meters of the true art in st.Vladimir’s Cathedral!
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How to get to the Cathedral
You can get to the Cathedral by subway; it’s 5 minutes’ walk from University metro station (red line). Address: 20, Tarasa Shevchenka boulevard. It won’t take you a lot of time to get there by taxi if you’re staying in historical center of the city.
Please, follow the old tradition of visiting religious places in Ukraine. Usually men take off their headdresses, while women cover their heads with scarfs or kerchiefs. Ladies also have to wear long skirts and sleeved blouses or jackets.
Mariya Korkach, professional Kyiv guide
Photos: www.vlsobor.com, shutterstock.com, Anna Vishtak