The main exhibit: looking for features of Gothic and Renaissance in the church of the XVI century in “Kolomenskoye”

October 19

The weekend is a great opportunity to go on an excursion. As long as the weather allows, it is better to go to an open-air museum, for example, in the “Kolomenskoye”. Perhaps the most interesting exhibit here is the Church of the Ascension of the Lord. it is impossible not to notice the graceful white-stone temple, the tent of which rushes upwards. The church has become one of the three Moscow monuments included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. We are going to study its history and view architecture together with the candidate of historical sciences, the guide Alexander Dokukin.

The Church of the Ascension of the Lord stands on the high right bank of the Moskva River. It was built by order of the Grand Prince Vasily III as a sign of gratitude for the birth of the long-awaited heir, the future first Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible.

The name of the church was given in honor of the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. On September 3,1532, it was consecrated. A record reminding of this date can be viewed on the Illuminated Compiled Chronicle. At that time it was a very tall structure: more than 62 meters. Only the famous bell tower of Ivan the Great in the Kremlin, built at the beginning of the XVI century, could be compared with it.


The Church of the Ascension is built in the traditional pre-Petrine style: the lower part is a quadrangle (a structure with four walls), the middle part is an octagon, and all this is crowned with a tented roof. The temple is considered an unsurpassed masterpiece of Russian architecture. The structure looks airy and flying, but it is supported by a very powerful foundation. Firstly, due to wall pylons, and secondly, to a huge slab at the base of the building about seven meters thick. The ground under the future church was reinforced with oak piles. This material tends to become more hard in the ground and with the passage of time it becomes stronger than iron. The construction of the XVI century still holds the landslide.

The walls of the church are very thick — about three meters. Inside, the temple is very small — only 8.5 square meters. On the one hand, this is due to the volume of the walls, on the other — it was not designed for a lot of parishioners and was created for the great sovereign, his heir and inner circle.

The building is the same from all sides, inside, it resembles an equi-pointed Constantinian cross. Consequently, there is no altar part as such, but this does not mean that there was no altar at all. Its function was performed by the tsar’s altar — a monumental throne, which was partly located inside the temple, and partly outside, on the gallery. Only the hind legs and the back of this throne have survived to this day. During the feasts, an icon of the Ascension of the Lord was installed on it, and during the procession, parishioners walked around this throne through the galleries. This is the only church with the altar part removed in this way.

“The Church of the Ascension is not only one of the first tent-shaped churches in our country, but also one of the few preserved. The fact is that in the middle of the XVII century, Patriarch Nikon carried out church reform and wanted everything to be according to the Greek model, including the architecture of churches. Throughout the Orthodox world, the completion of temples was cross-domed, so tent-shaped churches began to be rebuilt. But when Nikon arrived in Kolomenskoye, he considered that the church did not contradict any canons. He was struck by how the church looks from the low bank of the river: standing on the edge of the steep right bank, it seems to hover between heaven and earth,” the guide says.


The Church that Withstood

It is surprising that for centuries the temple has not changed, its design has reached the present day in its original form. Of course, there were losses (for example, the shedding of white stone carvings), there were also attempts to provide the temple with heat insulation: the arches in the basement were bricked up. In the XVIII century, the roofs over the galleries were completed, but the design has not changed, and we can see it as it was in the XVI century.

As Alexander Dokukin notes, the church could have suffered many times. For the first time — during the invasion of the Crimean Khan Devlet Giray in 1571. Then the terems complex of Vasily III and Ivan the Terrible in Kolomenskoye was destroyed, but the Church of the Ascension withstood. The next dangerous moment was the aforementioned reform of Patriarch Nikon, during which the building could be rebuilt and turned into a cross-domed one. Then — the invasion of Napoleon. In Kolomenskoye, French soldiers destroyed the palace of Catherine II, but the church withstood again.

After the revolution of 1917, the temple was preserved thanks to the famous architect Peter Baranovsky. He made everything in order the village of Kolomenskoye become an open-air museum of architecture, and the Church of the Ascension received the status of a monument.


The church survived during the Great Patriotic War. Fascist planes flew over Kolomenskoye, bombs fell nearby, barges were smashed on the banks of the Moskva River, the Vodovzvodnaya Tower, the landmark building of the XVII century, which is located next to the Church of the Ascension, was damaged. But the church itself was not hurt again. The only damage caused during the war was damage to the cross by the aerostat cable that was nearby.

“For centuries, nothing has been able to destroy the Church of the Ascension. You can treat this in different ways: a happy accident, the talent of builders who created a heavy-duty structure, or maybe it's just a miracle,” the guide believes.

On December 17, 1994, the Church of the Ascension of the Lord was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is one of three monuments in Moscow included in this list, along with the Kremlin and the Novodevichy Monastery.

Next year, the Church of the Ascension will celebrate the 490th anniversary of its consecration. In addition, there will be another anniversary in 2022. On July 25, 1662, the church was at the center of events that went down in history as the Copper Riot.

“Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, who was on a pilgrimage inside the temple, tried to calm the crowd that came to him to demand the boyars to be punished. But the people did not let up, and when things took a serious turn, the tsar ordered the riflemen to disperse everyone. This event got into school textbooks,” Alexander Dokukin notes.

Restoration and Modern Use of the Church

The last restoration work was completed in 2007. They touched all the elements of the church. In addition, special markers were made of gypsum and concrete, which make it possible to understand whether cracks are expanding on the building.

"Now the Church of the Ascension is open as a museum. In the lower part, in the basement, the history of the church is introduced. There you can see a fragment of a seven-meter slab, evaluate the thickness of the walls. Also with an excursion you can climb the ambulatories galleries. In the warm season, you can enter the temple with a ticket, and feast rites are held there as well. The church is in double subordination: it is both a museum and a consecrated temple," Alexander Dokukin notes.

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