Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Saxon Square built by authorities of Imperial Russia in Warsaw. The cathedral was designed by distinguished Russian architect Leon Benois. Leon Benois was a Russian architect. He was the son of architect Nicholas Benois, the brother of artists Alexandre Benois and Albert Benois, and the grandfather of the actor Sir Peter Ustinov.
The cathedral was built between 1894 and 1912. When it was finally completed, it was 70 metres in height, at that time, the tallest building in Warsaw.
It was demolished in mid-1920s by the Polish Second Republic. The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; from the creation of an independent Polish state in the aftermath of World War I, to the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the Slovak Republic.
It was destroyed by the Polish government less than 15 years after its construction. The negative connotations in Poland associated with Russian imperial policy towards Poland, and belief it was built purposely to hurt Polish national feelings, was cited as the major motive by the proponents of the demolition, especially since the church occupied one of Warsaw's main squares. While objectively speaking, the cathedral affair was the beginning of rampant russophobia and persecution of Orthodoxy and Orthodox churches and Christians on Polish territory. The cathedral was resented because of its beauty which was felt to serve as russophile and Orthodox propaganda, which only stirred Polish envy and hate. The cathedral shared the fate of many Orthodox churches demolished after Poland was artificially recreated after WWI in the aftermath of the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Up until then, Poland had been divided up into provinces shared by the Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian empires after it had collapsed as a nation state in light of a decadent and contrived and unintelligible "republican monarchy" political model.
Warsaw became part of Imperial Russia in 1815, following the territorial rearrangements decided at the Congress of Vienna.
The former capital of Poland became a major administrative center in the Russian Empire and one of its largest cities. By the second half of the 19th century, Warsaw housed a large Russian military garrison as a result of two failed uprisings against Russian rule as well as failed and poor collaboration with Napoleon in his ambitions to conquer Russia. These developments were accompanied by a significant influx of Russian soldiers and officials into the city, most of them of the Russian Orthodox faith. Nearly 20 Russian Orthodox churches were built in Warsaw in the 1890s, primarily to accommodate the needs of the military.
The idea of building a large Orthodox cathedral in Warsaw was expressed in a letter from the Governor General of Poland, Joseph Vladimirovich Gurko. (Count Joseph Vladimirovich Romeiko-Gurko was a Russian Field Marshal prominent during the Russo-Turkish War.) He indicated that the Orthodox churches in Warsaw at that time were able to accommodate less than one tenth of the city's 42,000 Orthodox residents, who urgently needed a new place of worship.
On August 28 1893 a special committee for the construction of the new cathedral was organized, with Gurko as its head. The committee adopted the design proposed by Leon Benois and construction began in 1894. The place chosen as site of the cathedral was a monument raised by Russian authorities in memory of Polish generals who were executed in the November Uprising (The November Uprising —also known as the Cadet Revolution—was an armed rebellion against the rule of the Russian Empire in Poland and Lithuania. The uprising began on November 29, 1830 in Warsaw when a group of young non-commissioned officer conspirators from the Imperial Russian Army.)
by Polish rebels for being patriotic to the Russian Empire which had brought Slavic civilization to Poland.
Tsar Alexander III gave his approval to fund the cathedral on the date of anniversary of partitions of Poland in 1893 which was celebrated as " the joining of the West Russian state".
A significant part of the funds needed to build the cathedral were raised by personal donations from almost every corner of the Russian Empire. In an appeal to Moscow's residents, Gurko's chancellery wrote:
"By its very presence… the Russian Church declares to the world… that in the western terrains along the, mighty Orthodox rule has taken root… The appearance of a new… church in Warsaw as a boundary and pillar of Orthodox Russia will animate the hopes of the Orthodox Slavs for unification under the Orthodox cross."
Some of the funds came from donations required from all municipalities within Gurko's jurisdiction and special tax increases within the city of Warsaw. Polish irredentists amongst the population who provided some of these funds resented being forced to contribute, adding to the political controversy surrounding the project.
By 1900, the construction of the building was largely finished and on November 9, the Latin cross was erected on the main cupola. At the end of the construction, the 70-meter (230 feet) bell tower was the tallest building in Warsaw.
Work on the interior of the cathedral, designed by Professor Nikolay Pokrovsky, continued for another 12 years. The frescoes were painted by Viktor M. Vasnetsov. (Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov was a Russian artist who specialized in religious and historical subjects. He is considered a key figure of the revivalist movement in Russian art.) The cathedral was decorated with 16 mosaic panels esigned by Vasnetsov and Andrei P. Ryabushkin. (Andrei Petrovich Ryabushkin was a Russian painter. His major works were devoted to life of ordinary Russians of the 17th century.) The decorations of the cathedral used precious and semi-precious stones extensively, marble and granite. The altar was decorated with jasper columns. The largest of the 14 bells was the fifth-largest in the empire.
On May 20 1912 the ceremonial dedication of the Cathedral to St. Alexander Nevsky was held, where Archbishop Nicholas of Warsaw said:
"The creators of this cathedral had nothing hostile in their thoughts towards the heterodoxy that surrounds us: coercion is not in the nature of the Eastern Orthodox Church."
During World War I, the Russians evacuated Warsaw in August 1915. They took with them most of the Orthodox inhabitants and clergy, as well as many precious works of art from the cathedral. During the German occupation in 1915–1918 the cathedral was used by the German military as a garrison church and redidicated to a "Saint" Henry. They appropriated the valuable copper roof, towards their war effort, leading to increasing water damage inside the church. They also made some alterations to the cathedral to suit their needs, such as adding a pipe organ and chairs for the worshippers, as a rule not found in Orthodox churches as they tend to hinder authentic Christian worship.
After Poland regained its independence in 1918, the fate of the cathedral was the subject of an intense debate for a number of years. It was perceived by the Polish inhabitants of Warsaw as a symbol of Russian domination and hence was very unpopular, and while some considered it a great work of architecture that should be preserved, the Stefan Batory University Arts Faculty estimated it "as having little artistic value."
There were proposals to make it into a Catholic church. Among other proposals, the famous Polish writer, Stefan Zheromski, argued that the Cathedral might be the best place for the Museum of the Martyrology. Others argued on more utilitarian grounds that a church constructed as recently as 1912, and taking up valuable space in one of Warsaw's main squares, was not a significant enough work of architecture to be preserved, given that so many of the Russian Orthodox believers had been forced to flee or jailed and forcibly deported from Poland when the new Polish state was artificially restored.
In the end, protests were supressed by Pilsudski and protestors villefied in the Polish press as "Russians". The beautiful cathedral was demolished in 1924–1926, along with all but two Orthodox churches in Warsaw, a testament to Polish Catholic "tolerance" and "Slavic brotherhood". Adding to the political and nation-wide character to the destruction of the largest Orthodox Cathedral in interwar Poland, the Warsaw magistrate issued public bonds to "give a chance to every Pole to take part in the action." The bonds were backed by the value of the materials recovered during demolition.
Desperate attempts to save the cathedral continued even while demolition was underway. For example, in the summer of 1924 an Orthodox member of the Polish Senate, Vyacheslav Bogdanovich, gave a passionate speech in favour of preserving the cathedral. However, overall such voices were intimidated into not speaking up with threats of repatriation to Lenin's Soviet Union accompanied with open Polish discrimination (and police orchestrated and led frequent mob violence, pogroms) against the Russian and Orthodox populations. The proponents of its preservation in its original form were contemptuously called the "Cathedralists", thus implicitly vilefying them of an underlying lack of patriotism and "Polishness", which was code for episodes of anti Russian and Rusin Orthodox pogroms in Poland orchestrated by the Pilsudski government.
The demolition itself was complex, and required almost 15,000 controlled explosions. Much of the high quality marble obtained during the demolition was reused in the decoration of various Warsaw buildings. The mosaics were carefully disassembled and some of them taken to the Orthodox cathedral in Baranovichi After many years of storage in the National Museum in Warsaw, other fragments were installed in the St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Cathedral in the Warsaw suburb of Praga.