July 12: the cathedral of Candyland

2012/07/12 § 1 Comment

On this day in 1561 Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat was consecrated.

You probably know it as St. Basil’s Cathedral.  It was built at the order of Ivan the Terrible, who was smart and artsy but man that guy had a temper.  It’s a weird thing: a strong symbol of Russia generally and Moscow specifically (it stands at the city’s geographic center) but a completely unique building–it has neither precedent nor progeny.  It suggests something of the vernacular wooden traditions of Russia, something of Byzantine form and color, but isn’t really indebted to either.  Even the details of its craftsmanship–usually the smoking gun of mystery buildings–are silent.  It’s a cacophony of shapes and colors, but the plan is rigorously symmetrical and organized around the compass points and dedications to specific saints and liturgical  needs.  It’s a gigantic pile but the interiors are relatively cramped.

What is this thing doing in Moscow, or anywhere, save, perhaps, Disneyland or a sweets-themed board game?  Is it a church, sculpture, monumental carnival ride, or model for a birthday cake?  Ivan’s Terrible joke on architecture?  Or in the excellent description of Marquis de Custine, “A sort of irregular fruit bristling with excrescences, a cantaloupe melon with embroidered edges.”  This one asks more questions than it answers, and we have to leave it at that.

Image: the Cathedral (from this source)


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§ One Response to July 12: the cathedral of Candyland

  • Susan Barsy says:

    Your recent posts on Russian architecture make me think of certain elements of German art and literature from the 19th century and earlier–from the period around and prior to the unification of Germany. When I came across them I thought them surprisingly weird–uncategorizable, really. But don’t many places that we expect to be “western” or “eastern” have strong folk and tribal traditions that perhaps contribute something to the look of buildings like these? SB

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