Saint Basil’s Cathedral

The design, building and history of Saint Basil’s Cathedral.

The design, building and history of Saint Basil’s Cathedral.

The Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia has many different names around the world. The official names for the church in the Red Square are the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat or Pokrovsky Cathedral. Other names that it can be known as are Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed which is anglicised to become Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The construction of this cathedral was done on orders of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. The building marks the geometric centre of Moscow and was also the tallest building in Moscow until the Ivan the Great Bell Tower was completed in 1600.

Construction and Style

Previously on the site where the cathedral is built, there was a striving marketplace. The Trinity Church marked the centre of the marketplace and was built out of the same white stone that was used to build the Kremlin of Dmitry Donskoy and its cathedrals. Every time Tsar Ivan IV had a victory in the Russo-Kazan War, he built a wooden memorial church next to the Trinity Church and by the end of his Astrakhan campaign there were a total of seven wooden churches. The church believes that this cathedral was built by Barma and Postnik but the identity is not really known.

The origin of these unique buildings that come together to make the cathedral can be debated but it is said that the layered design comes from the earliest part of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the cylinder shape comes from the Church of Beheading of John the Baptist. Dmitry Shvidkovsky believed that the shapes of the churches came from blending early Muscovite elements with some elements from the Italian Renaissance. Around the time when the cathedral was built, numerous Italian and Greek workers continuously worked in Moscow. Some Russian researchers observed similarities with the cathedrals design to the Italian concepts by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Donato Bramante and also a likeness to various sketches done by Leonardo da Vinci, although he was not known in Ivan’s Moscow.

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Layout and Structure

The original layout of this cathedral was going to be seven churches around the central core but this wasn’t followed and the architects opted for a different layout of eight churches around the core. The core and the four larger churches are built on compass points that are octagonal and the four other churches are built on compass points that make a cuboid shape. The larger churches had to be built on huge foundations whereas the smaller churches are built on platforms to look like they are hovering. The foundations were made from white stone and the churches themselves were made from a new material, red brick. Even though the side churches are placed to create perfect symmetry, the cathedral is not. As a result of this, viewing the cathedral from the north and the south, it appears as a multi-axial shape whereas viewing the cathedral from the west; it appears to be perfectly symmetrical.


This building was originally known as the Trinity Church. According to the tradition, Trinity refers to the sanctuary on the east of Holy Trinity. The central sanctuary of the church is dedicated to the Intercession of Mary. Between the end of the 16th century and the end of the 17th century the cathedral was also known as Jerusalem – . this referred to its church of Entry into Jerusalem. The name of Vasily the Blessed was given to the church at the beginning of the 17th century when Vasily died while the cathedral was being built and he was then buried on site to remember him.

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