Saint Basil’s cathedral also known as the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed is one of the most popular buildings in Moscow. In fact, I’m sure you’ve seen it in many of the Hollywood movies if not in real life. Saint Basil’s Cathedral is situated right next to the Kremlin in the Red Square in Moscow, Russia.

I think a lot of people consider the Cathedral as a symbol of the Red square and I don’t blame them. The large majestic building is visible from almost every corner of the Red square. It is imposing and yet attractive. When I first saw Saint Basil’s cathedral it was cold (-23oC) and I was frozen. Yet I still could not tear my eyes away from it.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

While Saint Basil’s Cathedral may well be one of the world’s most famous monuments, there is so much that most people don’t know about it. For one, it wasn’t always called Saint Basil’s Cathedral. No… It wasn’t called Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed either. In fact, the original building went by the name of Trinity Church. It later became Trinity Cathedral but it was only much later that the impressive structure took the names that we are more familiar with today.

The impressive number of names attribute to this building however has not run out. The official name after it got converted into a museum is ‘Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat’.  That isn’t all! You will find the name ‘Pokrovsky Cathedral’ is also frequently associated with it.

THERE IS MORE TO SAINT BASIL’S CATHEDRAL THAN YOU THINK

St Basil's cathedral

Even the lights are beautiful.

I would have thought that with such an impressive resume of names, Saint Basil’s cathedral would have no more surprises to hide but it did. The second surprise came when we learned about its structure. While most people know that the cathedral was constructed on the orders of Ivan the Terrible (1555-61) few know that it was a commemoration for the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. Back then Saint Basil’s cathedral was the tallest building in Moscow. That was till the Ivan bell tower was constructed in 1600.

The surprising part was that the cathedral is actually a group of 10 churches. Yes! You heard me right! It isn’t a single church. In fact, eight churches surround a ninth church that lies at the center of the cathedral. The central church is called the Church of Intercession. The tenth church was added only later in 1588 and it was built over the grave of St Vasily. That is where the cathedral derived one of its more recent names.

From what I read, Saint Basil’s cathedral was designed to look like a bonfire reaching up to the sky. If I look at it in retrospect I can see the resemblance. Even the colors that are chosen seem to contribute to making the resemblance seem real.

ENTERING INTO SAINT BASIL’S CATHEDRAL

St Basil's cathedral

Freezing my fingers off!

The one thing that I strongly remember when I entered Saint Basil’s cathedral was the warmth. After jumping from 33oC to -23oC I was chilled to the bone. The cathedral had its own heating system and the warmth was a welcome relief. I think the first thing I did was head over to the heaters and warm up my poor fingers. It was only once the blood started flowing that I allowed myself to look around.

Saint Basil's cathedral door

Even the doors are imposing.

At first glance Saint Basil’s cathedral is intimidating. It rises above you and sort of towers over you. It is difficult to distinguish where one church ends and the next begins. In fact if you don’t know that there are 10 churches within the cathedral, you can be easily fooled into thinking it is just one big religious one.

Look up! Never forget to look up!

My advice would be to head over to the stand with the pamphlets. They have them in a number of different languages so you shouldn’t have much of a problem locating one for yourself. We spent a moment pouring over the pamphlet and figuring out how the churches are arranged. Luckily there are also signs which tell you which church you are in so keep an eye out for them too.

St Basil's Cathedral

Gold… Gold… More Gold!

The inner sanctum of Saint Basil’s cathedral is very ornate. The walls are lined with gold. I’m not sure if it is real gold or just paint but I think I’m more inclined towards the later. A lot of the artwork is framed by this filigree design. Some pieces are worn with time but they are beautiful nonetheless.

St Basil's Cathedral

One of the decorated arches.

For me my entire attention was focused on my poor aching fingers. In fact I kind of regret not pay as attention to my surroundings as I should have. Jumping into the subzero temperatures for the first time took me 2 days to adjust. In my defense I had jumped over 50 degrees when I hoped from the tropical Indian climate to the cold Russian landscape. Despite my preoccupied state, I still remember the immersive beauty of the cathedral. It isn’t something that can go unnoticed.

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