Sacred Spaces: St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

Photo via

The St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral, locally known as the “Sailors’ Cathedral,” is one of St. Petersburg’s largest cathedrals.  It is actually the second church to be built on this location in St. Nicholas Square, the first being a wooden chapel built for sailors during the reign of Peter the Great.  This small church bore the name of St. Nicholas.

However, as the area grew and became more populated, “Empress Elizabeth issued a decree to build a stone church for the regiments living [t]here.”  Under the eye of architect Savva Chevakinsky, the new cathedral was built between 1753 and 1762.  But before construction could begin, the church’s foundation had to be raised two meters from the ground to protect it from floods.  In 1760, Empress Elizabeth oversaw the consecration of the Cathedral’s main altar.

St. Nicholas Cathedral stood as a piece of beautiful baroque architecture and one of St. Petersburgs most celebrated monuments.  The exterior of the Cathedral is ornamented with Corinthian columns and stucco frames.  “It is crowned with five widely spaced heads with golden domes. […] The perfect mix of golden domes, blue facades and white columns gives the cathedral elegance and solemnity.”

Inside St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral

Photo via

The Cathedral actually consists of two separate churches known as the Upper Church and Lower Church.  The Upper Church was consecrated in the name of the Epiphany.  The Lower Church was consecrated in the name of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and travelers.

Many miracles are attributed to St. Nicholas including when, en route to Jersualem, a storm threatened St. Nicholas’ ship. As he calmly prayed for safety, the storm died down and the voyagers were able to safely arrive to their destination. There was also a sailor who was injured during the storm and was restored to health as the storm died.  You can learn more about the life of St. Nicholas and his many miracles here.

St. Nicholas Cathedral is home to a beautifully-carved wooden iconostasis.  “The main shrine of St. Nicholas Cathedral is the Icon of St. Nicholas, dating back to 17th century. Empress Catherine the Great ordered to give the cathedral ten images in the memory of the Russian naval victories over the Turkish and Swedish fleets.”  Each of these icons is housed in its own spectacular gold frame.

The walls of the Cathedral are decorated with scenes from the Russian Navy’s history.  “In 1907, two marble plaques were hung on the south wall of the upper church in honor of sailors who died in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5.”  Later, in 1989, a memorial plaque was installed which honors 42 sailors who had died off the coast of Norway.

Of the treasures of the Cathedral, one of the most revered is the image of St. Nicholas.  It was originally given to the Cathedral by Greek sailors, but was taken from Russia by the French in 1812.  In 1835, the Prussians gave the image back to Nicholas I and it was returned to its rightful home.

Today, the Cathedral remains an active Orthodox center, revered for both its beauty and its history.

Tour the Cathedral

Can’t make it to St. Petersburg to see the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in person? You can tour the Lower Church with the wonderful video below. (Can’t see the video below? Please click here to view the video directly on YouTube).

Main image via
Naval Cathedral of St. Nicholas –
St. Nicholas Cathedral, St. Petersburg –
St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral –


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categorized in: