Most people don’t know this, but Saint Basil’s Cathedral is not the real name of the cathedral. It’s official name is both the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed (Russian: Собор Василия Блаженного, pronounced: Sobor Vasiliya Blazhennogo) and Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat (Russian: Собор Покрова Пресвятой Богородицы, что на Рву, pronounced: Sobor Pokrova Presvyatoy Bogoroditsy, chto na Rvu). The church has become one of the most iconic images that people associate when they think about Moscow or Russia.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral is located within Red Square, is now a museum. Occasional church services are still held, but typically only once a year in October in honor of the Day of Intercession. From the time of its completion in 1561 it was Moscow’s tallest building until 1600 when the Ivan the Great Bell Tower was completed.
History of Saint Basil’s Cathedral
In 1554 Ivan the Terrible (grandson of Ivan the Great) ordered the construction of the cathedral to mark his capture of Kazan from the Mongol empire. It started construction in 1555 and was completed in 1561. The original building contained eight churches built around a ninth that was known as the Central Church of Intercession. A tenth church was later built over the grave of a local saint named Vasily (Basil) in 1588.
In its original construction the building were white to match the white stone walls of the Kremlin. The domes of the cathedral were gold. At the start of the 1800s the building and its domes were painted the colors that you see today. During the French invasion in 1812 the church was looted, but largely escaped the destruction that the Moscow Kremlin faced. By 1816 renovations had restored the cathedral to its former glory.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the state shunned organized religion and confiscated the cathedral from the Russian orthodox church. From 1928 the cathedral was used as a branch of the State Historical Museum. In 1933 the Bolsheviks removed the cathedral from the heritage register so that they could demolish the church to expand the square for larger demonstrations.
St. Basil was barely spared from Josef Stalin’s demolition. Stalin ordered the demolition of the cathedral however, Architect Pyotr Baranovsky sent a telegram to Stalin stating that he would rather die than destroy the cathedral. Pyotr spent five years in a Gulag prison for standing against the demolition of the cathedral. The cathedral was however spared.
In 1991, a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union, limited church services once again resumed within the cathedral.
The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed (Russian: Собор Василия Блаженного, Sobor Vasiliya Blazhennogo) is popularly called the St Basil’s Cathedral. The cathedral is the most popular landmark in Russia. It is located at one end of Red Square. The cathedral now functions as a museum and a church.
There are seven chapel halls in the cathedral. All chapels are uniquely designed and visitors can explore these chapels. Each chapel is dedicated to an event or battle against Kazan. Visitors can see the canopy covered Crypt of Saint Basil. Saint Basil is one of the most respected Saints in Moscow. The Cathedral was named after him due to the fact that Tsar Ivan IV respected and liked him.
Visitors can also join the church service if they visit during service time. They experience a traditional Orthodox ceremony and also enjoy the singing from the choir. There are artifacts on display in the cathedral. The interior is also decorated with icons and murals. The exterior is colorful with domes designed like flaming fire.
The cathedral is open every day except on Tuesdays. The entrance fee is 400 Rubles for adults and 150 Rubles for students. The ticket office’s working hours vary; between November to April, the office is open from 11 am to 5 pm and the closing time extends to 6 pm from May to October. The cathedral is open from 10 am to 7 pm.
Miscellaneous Important Information
The nighttime view of the cathedral is spectacular. It is recommended that visitors can tour the cathedral during the day and return in the evening for photos. Visitors can only see the exterior of the cathedral at night but it is worth it.
Visitors can also purchase audio guides at the entrance. Also, the small chapels can be confusing and it is advisable to go with a tour guide. An annual service is organized in October to honor the day of intercession.