st isaac's cathedral, st. petersburg

Sacred Spaces: St. Isaac’s Cathedral

Our new Sacred Spaces blog series highlights some of the world’s most beautiful and historic churches and cathedrals.  Last week, we shared the history and treasures of the Basilica di San Marco – this week, we invite you to discover St. Isaac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg, Russia).

Fourth time’s the charm

Photo via

Completed in 1858, St. Isaac’s Cathedral is one of the most famous sites in St. Petersburg.  With a height of 330 feet, the Cathedral is the second tallest building in St. Petersburg (after the Peter & Paul Cathedral) and stands as the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in the city.  It is also the fourth largest cathedral in the world.

The Cathedral is dedicated to St. Isaac of Dalmatia, a 4th century saint honored as a prophet for foreseeing the death of Emperor Valens if he did not open the Orthodox churches during a war against heretics.  St. Isaac was also the patron saint of Peter the Great, who had been born on the saint’s feast day (May 30th on the Julian calendar).

The Cathedral was actually the fourth church to stand at this place in St. Isaac’s square.  A small, wooden church (honoring St. Isaac) was originally built on the site in 1707.  This was later replaced by a stone church.  In the mid-1700s, construction began on a third church (led by architect A. Rinaldi) which, after nearly 40 years of construction, was never completed.  Finally, in 1818, construction began on the existing cathedral.

It was Emperor Alexander I who commissioned the fourth – and final –  church to be built.  It was eventually completed in 1858 by his younger brother, Emperor Nicholas I.  Auguste de Monteferrand led the project as chief architect but, unfortunately, died just six weeks after construction had completed.

A sight to be seen

st. isaac's cathedral

Photo via

Upon its completion, the Cathedral stood as the crowning jewel of St. Petersburg.  “The neoclassical exterior [of the cathedral] expresses the traditional Russian-Byzantine formula of a Greek-cross ground plan with a large central dome and four subsidiary domes.”  The main dome of the Cathedral, which is plated in pure gold (it took nearly 100 pounds of gold to gild all of the Cathedral’s domes), rises 333ft and is one of the earliest uses of iron in structural material.  “The dome is decorated with twelve statues of angels by Josef Hermann.”

The exterior of the Cathedral features gray and pink stone behind 112 red granite columns (each features a Corinthian capital). All together, the completed structure covers 2.5 acres.

st. isaac's cathedral

Photo via

The interior of St. Isaac’s Cathedral is just as impressive as the exterior:

“The interior walls of the building and the floor tiles are laid out by Russian, French and Italian marble. The walls of the building are faced with white marble with finishing panels of green and yellow marble, jasper and porphyry. The eminent painters and sculptors such as K. Briullov, F. Bruni, P. Basin, V. Shebuev, I. Vitali, A. Loganovsky, P. Klodt. were involved in the design of St. Isaac’s Cathedral.”

In addition to its many treasures, including the icon of Our Lady of Tikhvin, the Cathedral is decorated with “…900 pounds of gold, 16 tons of malachite, 1,100 pounds of lapis lazuli, and 1,000 tons of bronze.”   Inside, the Cathedral is separated into three altars: the central one dedicated to St. Isaac, the left altar to St. Alexander Nevsky, and the right altar to St. Catherine.  “Currently, church services are held in only one of the cathedral’s chapels, while the main altar has been used for church services only on major religious holidays. “

Though it became a museum in 1928, St. Isaac’s Cathedral will be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 2019.

Tour St. Isaac’s Cathedral

You don’t need to travel to St. Petersburg to take in the beauty of St. Isaac’s Cathedral! Check out the video below for views of the Cathedral’s glorious interior. (Can’t view the video below? Click here to view it directly on YouTube).

Main photo by Florstein (WikiPhotoSpace). Via Wikimedia Commons.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral  –
10 Reasons Why St. Isaac’s Cathedral is a Unique Masterpiece –
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral –
St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg –
Venerable Isaac the Founder of the Dalmatian Monastery at Constantinople –
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categorized in: