Diversity of Religions

Adherents of various religions reside in the Russian capital. Temples and churches of different faiths fit harmoniously into the architectural ensemble of the city. Moreover, it was like that long before the tolerant 21st century, being more of a historically established pattern.

At the beginning of the 14th century, Metropolitan Peter moved his residence from Vladimir-on-Klyazma to Moscow, away from the raids of the Golden Horde. From that moment, Moscow became the center of Orthodoxy. Orthodox churches were built one after another all over the city.

However, Moscow remained open to everyone: foreign craftsmen arriving at the invitation of local princes, prisoners of war who had decided not to return to their homeland, and simply fortune seekers from different places flocked to Moscow. Unorthodox communities grew, settled down on the new land, and built their churches. For instance, the first Lutheran church in Moscow was built in 1576, the first mention of the mosque in the Tatar settlement dates back to 1712, and the first Catholic cathedral was built in Moscow at the end of the 17th century during the transformations of Peter the Great.

Throughout its long and difficult history, Moscow churches were destroyed, changed their purpose, or totally disappeared from the city plans. However, the multinatio­nal and multi-confessional nature of the Russian ca­pital has only developed over centuries. There is a good reason that the names of famous foreigners Franz Lefort (Lefortovo) and Yakov Bryus (Bryusov Lane) still appear in the names of Moscow’s streets and districts, while Bolshaya Tatarskaya Street justifies the close ties between Moscow and the Golden Horde. Along with these names, temples and churches of different confessions remind us that Moscow is the point where all roads converge.

Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye
16th century

The snow-white church seems to be taking off to the sky. The architects aimed to create such an association: the church was to become a symbol of the Mount of Olives from which Jesus ascended to heaven.

This is the first stone church of tent-like variety in Russia. The tent is 28 meters high, almost half of the entire building. The architecture of the church combines Russian and European architecture. Around the church, there is a two-tiered gallery with three steep stair arcades. On the facades, the corners of the church are decorated with narrow flat pilasters in the early Renaissance style with pointed gothic gables between the pilasters. The octagonal base of the lower part is decorated with rows of large keel arches in the traditional Moscow style. Since 1994, the Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Church of Life-Giving Trinity in Ostankino
17th century

The Church of Life-Giving Trinity in Ostan­kino is part of the monuments of the Ostan­kino Museum-Estate. This church, with its intricate forms, abundant décor, and pictu­resque silhouette, is a vivid example of the unique style of Moscow architecture of the 17th century.

The Ostankino church has a complex layout: the covered gallery surrounds the main building on three sides, side chapels adjoin it from the south and north, and three entrances are decorated with elegant porches. Wide cornices emphasize the movement from the main part of the building to the vaults, separate the lower tier from the upper tiers of the bell tower, and continue on the porch gallery, uniting the church and the bell tower into a single composition. Window platbands increase the de­corative effect of the church. All of them have a complex, stucco-like pattern, and some have unusual shapes of a star or a crown.

The Evangelical-Lutheran St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral
19th century

The Cathedral is the center of the Evangelical Lutheran church community in Russia. For its construction, the Lutheran community bought the Lopukhins’ Estate in the Moscow region in the 19th century, where German military and merchants had traditionally settled. The King of Prussia Frederick William III and the Russian Emperor Alexander I allocated money for the reconstruction of the estate into a church. Since then, the church has been rebuilt three more times. After a large-scale restoration in 2003–2005, the cathedral looks as it used to 100 years ago. The cathedral was built in the neo-Gothic style, typical of most Lutheran churches in Europe. It has an elongated rectangular shape, and there is a large spire above the main entrance. The building with the spire is 62 meters high and has a 19th-century organ by German master Wilhelm Sauer.

The Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin Mary
early 20th century

Although the cathedral was built in 1901–1911, it resembles ancient Gothic churches in Europe. However, unlike the famous Notre Dame, it does not have a single gargoyle. This is because Moscow authorities allowed constructing the church on the condition that there would be no statues outside it.

Despite this, the cathedral is strikingly beautiful. Its layout is a neo-Gothic three-aisled cruciform basilica. The entrance is framed by a richly decorated portal with archivolts with a large rose window above it. Numerous turrets and capitals are decorated with leaves-like images. On the left side of the facade, right behind pointed arches, there are five bells. The bells are driven by automatics, and the control panel located in the sacristy of the cathedral.

Moscow Cathedral Mosque
early 20th century, rebuilt in 2011

The history of the Moscow Cathedral Mosque began more than a hundred years ago. However, the building was completely dismantled and rebuilt in 2011. The renovated architectural complex of the mosque occupies a huge area nearly 20,000 square meters (before the reconstruction, it used to be less than 1,000 square meters). The six-story main building is decorated in the Byzantine style with several minarets, turrets, and domes of various sizes. The main minarets resemble the Spasskaya Tower of the Moscow Kremlin and the Söyembikä Tower of the Kazan Kremlin. This is how the architects highlighted the unity of the Russian and Tatar peoples. The huge dome of the mosque is covered with gold leaf, and, therefore, it harmoniously fits into the panorama of the gold-domed Moscow. The new mosque retains a direct connection with its predecessor: the fragments of the old walls are built into the renovated interior, and one of the minarets is crowned with a crescent moon, which once adorned the old building.

Moscow Choral Synagogue
late 19th century

The construction of the Choral Synagogue of Moscow began in 1887 upon the project of architect Semeon Eibuschitz. “Choral” means that the divine services were accompanied by the choir, and not just by one cantor (singer). Due to its classical facade and triangular pe­diment, the synagogue resembles administrative buildings of the early 19th century. At the time of the construction, the project was not completed: the finished dome was dismantled because of a complaint by Chief Procurator of the Most Holy Synod Konstantin Pobedonostsev. As a result, the construction of the synagogue was finished only in 2001.

At present, it is a domed basilica in the neoclassical eclectic style. A massive portico of eight columns is the main feature of the front facade. The silvery dome is decorated with a six-pointed Star of David.

Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Transfiguration
late 20th–early 21st century 

There are over a hundred Armenian churches in Russia, but the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in Moscow is an exceptional buil­ding. This is the highest Armenian church in the world (50 meters high), the largest cathedral outside of Armenia, and, finally, it is the centerpiece of the church complex that occupies 11,000 square meters. The facades and parapets of the church are lined with pink tufa. Tufa can be called the national stone of Armenia: many buildings in Yerevan were built from it. The walls of the cathedral are decorated with intricate stone carvings, folk ornaments, and bas-relief images of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, the apostles, common Christian and Armenian saints, angels, and birds. The front wall with the entrance looks like stone lace due to incredibly de­licate car­ving. The church ensemble also includes khachkars — stone steles traditional for Armenia bearing a cut image of a cross.

The Stupa of Enlightenment at the Moscow Buddhist Temple Tubden Shedubling
21st century

The Stupa of Enlightenment, a cult object of the Buddhist temple Tubden Shedubling, opened in Moscow on September 16, 2017. It was built in accordance with the Tibe­tan architectural canons. The Stupa with its spire is 15 meters high, and its architecture includes such elements as the base (a symbol of the clouded mind), the stairs and the dome (the beginning of the path to enlighten­ment), the spire (Bodhisattva state), and the top (Buddha state). In the Buddhist tradition, the stupa is not only an architectural monument but also a reliquary. Therefore, 20 tons of precious relics taking the volume of 30 cubic meters were laid in the Moscow Stupa of Enlightenment, including figurines, relics,  and scrolls with the works of Tibetan teachers. The Buddha statue was custom made in Delhi and covered with a layer of gold.

Tatiana Borisova