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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

I did not think that Moscow would capture my imagination, but I knew that I would love Saint Basil's Cathedral.  This is what I thought of when I pictured Russian architecture.

St. Basil's was built to commemorate the capture of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan in 1552, which occurred on the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin. I will say this time and again, but the expulsion of Tatars from Russia, which happened long long ago is still considered quite a big deal.  They really did a number on the Russians and there is no forgetting the getting rid of them. 

The cathedral was thus officially named Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat (the moat being one that originally ran beside the Kremlin), but it is popularly known as St. Basil's Cathedral, after St. Basil the Blessed (a.k.a. St. Basil Fool for Christ; 1468-1552), almost from the beginning. Basil impressed Ivan in 1547 when he foretold a fire that swept through Moscow that year. Upon his death, Basil was buried in the Trinity Cathedral that stood on this site at the time.
The Cathedral of the Intercession a.k.a. St. Basil's Cathedral was constructed from 1555 to 1560. Legend has it that after it was completed, Ivan had the architect blinded in order to prevent him from building a more magnificent building for anyone else, which goes a long way to explaining why he was known as Ivan the Terrible.

In modern times, St. Basil's came very close to being removed by Stalin, who reportedly didn't like that it prevented his soldiers from leaving Red Square en masse. The architect Baranovsky saved the day for all of us who love this view by standing on the cathedral's steps and threatening to cut his own throat if the masterpiece was destroyed and Stalin relented.  Baranovsky spent five years in prison for his defiant act, but as punishment meted out by Stalin goes, that is small potatoes.

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