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Gheorghievski Cathedral


Of interest for us is the well-known Gheorghievski (Saint George) cathedral built just on the other side of the Volkhov in the Yuriev Monastery in 1119. As the Novgorod Chronicle of much later mentioned that Prince Vsyevolod commissioned Peter (his family name was not given) to do the job. He did it with great skill and produced a very impressive, austere and asymmetric, and at the same time rhythmic construction, a true masterpiece of the early 12th century Russian architecture. Beautiful natural landscape surrounding the cathedral makes it even more distinctive. Its features are very similar architecturally to the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, while its silhouette reminds us of the cathedral of the Nativity of the Antoniev monastery. Gheorghievski cathedral has also three cupolas at exactly the same places as the cathedral of the Nativity and yet they differ. Here the staircase tower is an organic part of the west facade with both its corners, northwestern, where the tower is located, and the southwestern, which is part of the cathedral itself, looking identical. The unusual basic architectural similarity of the three cathedrals and the very close times of their construction have made it more likely that master Peter had built all three. Fragments of the original frescoes that had survived repeated restorations indicate that they had also been painted by Byzantine masters, eventually helped by their Russian pupils from Kiev. Throughout its history Yuriev monastery played an important role in the religious, and often in social and political life of the country. Many prominent Russians and even tsars visited the monastery, in addition to thousands of simple pilgrims. Some contributions to the monastery amounted to large sums of money such as the one given by countess Anna the only daughter who inherited a large fortune from her father Count Alexei Orloff, the hero of the war with Turkey in 1769-1774 and a great favorite of Empress Catherine II. The sudden death of the countess in the monastery under suspicious conditions was sarcastically commented upon in Saint Petersburg. Several of its abbots were among the best educated Russians and their prestige rated very high in Saint Petersburg. One of the best known was Fotii who exerted a great influence on Alexander I. He was so confident of his power that when Nicholas I visited the monastery in 1835, Fotii put his hand under the Emperor's chin to kiss it. Nicholas refused and later arranged that the abbot be severely reprimanded. After the revolution the monastery was liquidated, and its buildings used for housing and storage. The cathedral and the churches were allowed to deteriorate. In the mid thirties some archeological work was done, and then the war came, bringing once more complete indifference to this extraordinary monument of ancient Russian architecture. When I visited it in 1969, weeds were growing on the windows and the roof of the cathedral and it looked completely dilapidated inside and outside.




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