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Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod. Святая София.Великий Новгород. | by Peer.Gynt
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Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod. Святая София.Великий Новгород.

The Cathedral of St. Sophia (the Holy Wisdom of God) in the Kremlin (or Detinets) in Veliky Novgorod is the cathedral church of the Archbishop of Novgorod and the mother church of the Novgorodian Eparchy.



The 38-metre-high, five-domed, stone cathedral was built by Vladimir of Novgorod between 1045 and 1050 to replace an oaken cathedral built by Bishop Ioakim Korsunianin in the late tenth century (making it the oldest church building in Russia proper and, with the exception of the Arkhyz and Shoana churches, the oldest building of any kind still in use in the country). It was consecrated by Bishop Luka Zhidiata (1035–1060) on September 14, in 1050 or 1052, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. (A fresco just inside the south entrance depicts Sts. Constantine and Helena, who found the true cross in the fourth century; it is one of the oldest works of art in the cathedral and is thought to commemorate its dedication.) While it is commonly known as St. Sophia's, it is not named for any of the female saints of that name (ie., Sophia of Rome or Sophia the Martyr); rather, the name comes from the Greek for wisdom (Σoφíα, from whence we get words like philosophia or philosophy—"the love of wisdom"), and thus Novgorod's cathedral is dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God, in imitation of the Hagia Sophia cathedral of Constantinople. It replaced an even older wooden, 13-domed church built in or around 989 by Bishop Ioakim Korsunianin, the first bishop of Novgorod. The main, golden cupola, was gilded by Archbishop Ioann (1388–1415) in 1408. The sixth (and the largest) dome crowns a tower which leads to the upper galleries. In medieval times these were said to hold the Novgorodian treasury and there was a library there, said to have been started by Yaroslav the Wise. When the library was moved to the St. Petersburg Spiritual Academy in 1859, it numbered more than 1,500 volumes, some dating back to the 13th century. The current Archbishop, Lev (Nikolai L'vovich Tserpitskii), has reestablished a library there, in keeping with the ancient tradition. As of 2004, it housed some 5,000 volumes. A Sunday school is also held in the gallery.

The cupolas are thought to have acquired their present helmet-like shape in the 1150s, when the cathedral was restored after a fire. The interior was painted in 1108 at the behest of Bishop Nikita (1096–1108), although the project was not undertaken until shortly after his death. Archbishop Nifont (1130–1156) had the exterior whitewashed and had the Martirievskii and Pretechenskaia porches (papter', more akin to side chapels) painted sometime during his tenure, but those frescoes are hardly visible now in consequence of frequent fires. In the 1860s, parts of the interior had to be repainted and most of the current frescoes are from the 1890s. A white stone belltower in five bays was built by Archbishop Evfimii II (1429–1458), the greatest architectural patron to ever hold the archiepiscopal office. He also had the Palace of Facets built just northwest of the cathedral in 1433. The nearby clocktower was initially completed under his patronage as well, but fell down in the seventeenth century and was restored in 1673.

From the 12th to the 15th century, the cathedral was a ceremonial and spiritual centre of the Novgorod Republic, which sprawled from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains. Novgorodians were exceedingly proud of their church, boasting that they were willing "to lay down their heads for Holy Wisdom" or "to die honorably for Holy Wisdom." When one prince angered them, they told him "we have no prince, only God, the Truth, and Holy Wisdom." On another occasion, they made the cathedral the symbol of the city itself, saying "Where Holy Wisdom is, there is Novgorod."

The cathedral has long been the city's great necropolis, the burial place of 47 people of prominence in the city's history, including several princes and posadniks and 32 bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans of Novgorod. The first burial there was Prince Vladimir himself in 1052. The first bishop was Luka Zhidiata in 1060. The last burial in the cathedral was Metropolitan Gurii in 1912. Most of the burials are below the floor in the Martirievskaia Porch, on the south side of the cathedral, named for Bishop Martirii (1193–1199). Later burials took place (again below the floor) in the Pretechenskaia Papter' on the north side of the cathedral. Today, there are several burials in the main body of the church. The sarcophagi of Prince Vladimir and Princess Anna overlook the Martirievskaia Porch; Archbishop Ilya (also known as Ioann) (1165–1186) is buried in the northwestern corner of the main body of the church, next to the Pretechenskaia Porch. Bishop Nikita lies in a glass-covered sarcaphogus between the chapels of the Nativity of the Mother of God and Sts. Ioakim and Anne and the sarcophagus is opened on his feast days (January 30, the day of his death and April 30/May 13, the day of the "uncovering of his relics," i.e., when his tomb was opened in 1558) so the faithful can venerate his relics. Two other princes also lie in the main body of the cathedral and in the Chapel of the Nativity of the Mother of God.

The cathedral was looted by Ivan the Terrible's Oprichnina in the 1570s but restored by Archbishop Leonid (1572–1575). He built the Tsar's Pew which stands just inside the south entrance of the main body of the cathedral near the Martirievskii Porch. Leonid also had several large chandeliers hung in the cathedral, but only one of them survives.

Beginning in the eighteenth century, the archbishops or metropolitans of Novgorod lived in St. Petersburg (they were known as archbishops or metropolitans of Novgorod and St. Petersburg). Thus, while Novgorod technically still had a prelate, he was not often active in the city itself, and the church in the city was administered by a vicar bishop for much of the time. Twelve metropolitans of Novgorod and St. Petersburg (or Leningrad) are buried in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg, rather than in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom.

During the Nazi occupation of Novgorod, the Kremlin was heavily damaged from the battles and from the Nazi abuse. However, the cathedral itself survived. The large cross on the main dome (which has a metal bird attached to it, perhaps symbolic of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove) was removed by Spanish infantry. For over 60 years it resided in the Madrid's Military Engineering Academy Museum, until November 16, 2004 when it was handed over back to the Russian Orthodox Church by the Spanish minister of defense José Bono. The domes were heavily damaged in the war, and the large Christ Pantocrator in the dome was ruined. According to legend, the painters painted him with a clenched fist. The archbishop told them to repaint Christ with an open palm, and when they returned the next morning, the hand was miraculously clenched again. After repeated efforts, a voice from the dome is said to have told the archbishop to leave the painting alone for as long as Christ's fist remained closed, he would hold the fate of Novgorod in his hand.

During the Soviet period, the cathedral was a museum. It was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1991. An inscription on the north wall of the west entrance attests to its rededication by Bishop Lev and Patriarch Alexius II.


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Taken on May 8, 2012