From Peter the Great to today: Restoring the unique Leonovo church

October 25, 2020

The façade of the Cathedral of the Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Mother of God in the former village of Leonovo (15 Dokukina Street, Bldg 1) will undergo a comprehensive renovation. Built in the 18th century, the cathedral was last restored in 1859 when it acquired its current look. The church is unique for having been built out of brick and stone during a period when stone construction was completely banned in Moscow.

As a cultural heritage site of federal importance, the church is protected by the state and all restoration works will be supervised by the Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage.

“The church in Leonovo is a unique structure for the early 18th century Moscow. While construction of the first buildings in St Petersburg required all available stone to be shipped there, Peter the Great prohibited any stone construction in the capital. Duke Vasily Khovansky, the owner of the Leonovo estate, had to obtain special permission to build the church. The cathedral underwent major restoration in the mid-19th century. Some targeted maintenance was conducted in the 20th century. Currently, restoration experts are working on the façade. We expect the first stage of the renovation to be finished by the end of the year,” commented Head of the Department of Cultural Heritage Alexei Yemelyanov.

The Moscow Baroque church was built in 1722 out of stone and brick and finished with plastering. Its octagon on the quadrangle (or octagon on cube) design is a traditional composition for Russian places of worship. The upper octagonal level stands on a wider square level. The façade is embellished with corner pilasters and moulded projected cornices with ‘dentals’ (downward-pointing tooth-shaped décor) on the quadrangle. Intricate moulded window aprons with ornamental extensions in the upper part as well as exterior mural paintings were added during the 1859 renovation.

The church’s bell tower, in the style of early Classicism, is decorated with corner pilasters and cornices. Its belfry is crowned with a small octagonal pyramid with dormer windows and a gilded cross sitting on a ball.

The architectural landmark is in a poor state of repair. Preliminary examination found vertical cracks, dents, fissures and holes in the walls. Fungus and mould have appeared in the brick walls; the plaster is peeling off the façade. Some of the moulded window aprons are broken and the foundations of the church and the bell tower are deformed.

The restoration experts are currently cleaning up the façade and basement of the church to prepare the building for the main stage of the renovation which will benefit both the exterior and the interior. In particular, there is a plan to renovate the floor in the left side chapel, the interior walls, window and door casing, the entrance room and canopies. The broken décor, including corner pilasters and moulded window aprons, will be restored. The beams holding the bells in the belfry will be replaced. The roof of the church will be insulated. Utility systems will be upgraded. The building also requires waterproofing to prevent further damage from moisture.

History of the church in former Leonovo

According to a legend, the stone cathedral in the Leonovo estate on the Yauza River was built at the request of Duke Khovansky after he managed to avoid a death sentence. The estate owner, Duke Vasily Khovansky, was sentenced to execution by Peter the Great “for debauchery and brazen blasphemy” but at the last minute, his death sentence was replaced by corporal punishment.

The church and bell tower were closed in 1800 at the request of the estate’s new owner, prominent philanthropist and natural scientist Pavel Demidov. Reportedly, Demidov suffered from a neurological disorder and could not stand loud noise, including bell-ringing. The church soon fell into a state of neglect, and its churchware and iconostasis were distributed among other churches. During the Patriotic War of 1812, the French used the church as a stable.

The church reopened as a place of worship thanks to Leonov’s new owner, manufacturer Yevgraf Molchanov. In 1859, he had the church renovated and reopened “to serve the spiritual needs” of Rostokino Cotton Printing Mill workers.

The church was not closed after the 1917 Revolution. Parishioners made donations to the Red Army fund during the Great Patriotic War.

The church grounds and the building itself underwent minor upgrades after the war. The church was connected to an electricity supply, central heating was installed and outbuildings were renovated.

The church is active today and offers Sunday school classes and a library.

Restoring and maintaining architectural landmarks in Moscow is a top priority of the Department of Cultural Heritage. Some 1,500 cultural heritage sites have been renovated in the city since 2011, including 203 in 2019. One of the recent projects is renovation of the 19th century Anna Lopatina Mansion in Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street. Designed in the Neo-Russian style with a fairytale-themed façade, the mansion has been the residence of the Ambassador of Brazil since 1963. A little earlier, restoration of the historical concert hall at the Moscow Classical Gymnasium was finished. The North River Terminal and a nearby park opened after a major renovation in September.


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