With Saint Basil the Blessed

Franck Fernandez Estrada – Translator, interpreter and philologist

Sydney Opera House we immediately recognize that city, when we see the Statue of Liberty we recognize New York and when we see the Eiffel Tower we recognize Paris. Decidedly, the monument that best represents Moscow is the Saint Basil’s Cathedral. This well-known cathedral is located on the south side of Moscow’s Red Square. On the north side of the Square is the History Museum, on the east side, the very elegant GUM shopping center and on the west side the Kremlin.

It is known as Red Square (Krásnaya Plóshchad) not because of the color of the flag of the former communist regime that dominated Russia for 72 years nor because of the color of the Kremlin walls. It turns out that in Old Russian the word red and beautiful were the same, just as the word peace and world are also the same word in contemporary Russian. Over time, the concept of “red” prevailed over that of “beautiful” and was thus translated into different languages.

One of the old czars, when Russia was not yet an empire, but was known as the Principality of Muscovy, was Ivan IV the Terrible, in Russian Ivan Grózny. As a small Principality that was Muscovy, it was frequently invaded by the Crimean khanate (khanate is a territory governed by a khan) and by the khanate of Kazan, land of the Tatars. So, in 1552 Tsar Ivan the Terrible decided to make the war to the Tatars, also called the Golden Horde, and managed to defeat them in a battle that lasted 7 days.

Upon returning to Moscow, he wanted to build a monument to commemorate his victory, so he decided to build a first wooden cathedral that was dismantled shortly afterwards to make one of stone. At that time, the cathedral was called the Cathedral of the intercession of the Holy Virgin in the Moat and was covered by golden domes. In 1583, and due to a fire, the domes were replaced by the bulbs that we know today and in 1670, they were given the colors with which we recognize them today.

The construction of the cathedral was the work of the architect Postnik Yakolev. Legend has it that when Ivan saw his cathedral finished before such beauty, and so that Postnik could never build something similar, he emptied his eyes. This is just a legend, because this architect later participated in the construction of the Kazan City Kremlin.

It had a main chapel and another seven that are named after the Saints of the days that the battle lasted. It should be noted that all the chapels are incredibly small, the whole set is. Later, in a neighboring piece of land, a simple man with an extremely pious spirit, named Basil, was buried. He walked the streets of Moscow practically naked, whatever the time of year (and God knows how cold it is in Moscow in winter), and that alerted the population about the sin of lies and hypocrisy. Before this holy man even Ivan the Terrible trembled. It was very natural that at his death, he was canonized and on his tomb (next to the cathedral), a ninth chapel was built, so now there are nine on which there is a large tower and the eight multicolored bulbs and on them nine large golden Greek crosses.

Ivan the Terrible always hated boyars, the nobles of ancient Russia, because they did not want a tsar to have all power in his hands. When his first wife, Anastasia Romanova, died, Ivan believed that the boyars had poisoned her. This further embittered his character and increased his cruelty, due to a certain psychological disorder. His only heir was killed by his own hands, struck by the royal scepter in the temple in a family dispute.

During the communist era, the cathedral narrowly escaped destruction. The dean of the Cathedral himself was shot in 1918 like many other religious persons. Immediately afterwards, the cathedral was placed under the protection of the State which confiscated the goods and bells and turned it into a museum in 1923. By 1929, it was completely prohibited to enter it. At that time, it passed under the tutelage of the State Historical Museum, of which it is still a subsidiary today.

Stalin, to demonstrate his power, every November 7, the anniversary date of the October Revolution, loved to do great military parades and in 1930, to facilitate the circulation of military vehicles through Red Square, he destroyed the Resurrection Gate, dated back to 1534, and the Church of Our Lady of Kazan from the same period. The first was rebuilt in 1995 and the second in 1993 as they were in other times.

Also in the Red Square is the Lenin Mausoleum, which has restricted opening hours, and before which the crowds no longer crowd together as before.

Moscow is a great capital, beautiful, with splendid axes and gardens, restaurants for all tastes, abundant museums with unimaginable treasures. It is an expensive destination and not speaking the language is an important handicap but, despite everything, it is a strongly recommended visit.

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