Monday, November 7, 2011


All that exercise of strolling around cathedrals and ooh-ing and ah-ing and gasping with delight makes one hungry.  Following our visit to St. Isaac's, our tour group had a banquet-style lunch in a large hall, complete with Russian entertainment.  Those are usually not our favorite meals. Although the entertainment is fun, the food is usually what you would expect when 100 people are being fed all at once.  This meal, however, was probably one of the better group meals we had.  It included caviar, a delicious cabbage dish, and stuffed pork:

After being fed and "cultured" (not the petri dish version, the Russian folk song version), our bus took us to a cathedral with a very unusual name: The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.  Apparently its official name is Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, but no one seems to call it that.  It looks like a larger and slightly more serious version of St. Basil's Cathedral:
Unlike St. Basil's cramped interior, however, the Savior on Spilled Blood has a large, open, more traditional interior, which would make it a fairy tale location for weddings, although I think this bride was just here for photos. I can't imagine officials would stop the heavy stream of paying tourists for a little wedding:
There are beautiful mosaics on the exterior:
. . . wonderfully prickly onion domes:
. . . and lots of ornate decor, gold leafing, and double-headed eagles:

Unfortunately for my two ice cream-obsessed siblings (you know who you are, Chris and Dave), there are horrible, unfair, Stalin-esque restrictions about what you can take inside with you. This is quite a contrast to the metal detectors found at many historical sites in the U.S., don't you think?

The "spilled blood" part of the name of this cathedral explains its origin.  It was on this very spot that Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1831 by a bomb thrown at his feet.  His son, Alexander III, had a temporary shrine erected at the site, then began a cathedral at the location to honor his father. It was completed in 1907 by Alexander II's grandson, Nicholas II, the last tsar.  Inside the cathedral are marble walls and an elaborate canopy shielding the exact spot where Alexander II's blood was spilled, and the floor of the shrine is made of the very cobblestones that were once stained with blood:
Just a bit gruesome, isn't it?

Besides the gory history, what makes this church stand out is that it contains 7,500 square meters of mosaics, which Russians claim is more than any other church in the world.  However, there is a church in St. Louis, Missouri, of all places, that has 7,700 square meters of mosaics.  From what I can tell from pictures, however, that Missouri Basilica can't begin to compare with this one in St. Petersburg, where every inch is covered with the tiny tiles, including the ceilings and support columns.  I loved the dominant sky-blue color and the mosque-like use of floral and geometric patterns framing the mosaics:

Even the marble floor has a mosaic quality:
Elizabeth, could you use your computer quilting program to make this into a quilt pattern for me?
After the Russian Revolution, the interior was almost destroyed by looters, and the Soviet government closed the building in the 1930s.  During World War II it was used as a morgue, and after the war it was used as a storehouse for vegetables (leading to its less popular nickname of "Savior on Potatoes"). Restoration work began in 1970 and continued for 27 years.

The obvious theme of the mosaics is the life of Christ, but ironically, this church has never really been used as a place of worship.  Although it was consecrated when it was completed, Alexander II intended it to be used as a memorial for his father, and since its restoration it has been considered more of a museum than a church and has never been re-consecrated.  That's a shame, because I thought the art was particularly beautiful and moving:
Mary, Queen of Heaven, flanked by the Twelve Apostles

I love the adult face of Baby Jesus and the "I have a headache" depiction of Joseph.

It was just outside the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood that we made our biggest purchase of the trip, this hand-carved and painted wooden fish that echoes the colors of the church's interior.
It has a secret drawer that opens when you pull the golden ring:

When children come to visit, this Magic Fish somehow always seems to have a goodie or two waiting for them:
You can bet that Savvy and Ella make a bee-line for the fish when they come to visit us.

Just one more church in St. Petersburg to go--the memorial to the slain family of Nicholas and Alexandra.


  1. Nice to tie-in the fish and the cathedral. One of the places that makes Russia Russian.

  2. You know, of course, what Alexander was doing when someone lobbed that bomb: standing in line at the local Ben and Jerry's. That's why they don't allow ice cream--they don't want anymore violence.

    Once again, stunning pictures. I love the Queen Mary sitting with the apostles. That fish is fabulous, too!

  3. I am a wood worker and caver. My wife and I are cruising the Baltic next June. One of the stops is St. Petersburg and the Church of spilled Blood. Do you remember the vendor location and price for the carved Russian fish. Want very much to buy one and other carved pieces. Is there a website where it can be found? Thank You.

  4. Like 'anonymous' I'm also fascinated by the fish - it's gorgeous and would have made a lovely memento. Certainly didn't see anything like that during our visit. My grandsons would love it. Are you able to supply details of a website or some means of how to obtain them online? Loved your pictures as well. It was a stunning church.
    Kind regards, Thea

    1. Thea, there is a similar fish on this website: It costs a lot more than we paid for it, but I think we bought it directly from the artists. The bottom of the fish says "Art Studio Kikin," and I remember googling it when we came home and finding a website, but I haven't been able to find it this time. The best I can do is the above retailer. I love this fish, and so do our grandkids!