Built in honor of the miracle-working icon of Kazan Mother of God, Kazansky Cathedral is one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in St. Petersburg and a wonderful testament to the beauty of Russian architecture.
At first glance, this single-cupola cathedral is out of place with the Russian Orthodox tradition and more akin to a Roman Coliseum or a Greek Parthenon. It is true - the Kazansky Cathedral, completed in 1811, one year before the Napoleon invasion, does indeed look like an edifice from the ancient world.
The walls and ninety six external columns are faced with stone from Pudost quarries - a small village near Saint Petersburg. This stone has some impressive features: its soft malleable structure allows to imprint any lines, including vertical, thus creating the impression of the cathedral being levitated into the sky.
Exposed to elements, the stone from Pudost hardens up to become as hard as granite, while its porous fabric adds to the illusion of age - no wonder the casual eye will find the cathedral to be hundreds of years old.
The look and feel of an ancient temple is no coincidence. In his European trips, Paul I was struck by the beauty of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. Having ascended the throne, Paul I decided to have a similar cathedral in St. Petersburg, and a design contest was announced in 1799. A number of famous architects participated in the competition, but the winner was a young surf by the name of Andrei Voronikhin.
Kazan Church, or the great metropolitan temple, situated on the right hand in proceeding up the Grand Perspective, is the most magnificent edifice of the kind in Europe, after St. Peter's at Rome, and St. Paul's in London. It is on the site of an old church of the same name, and held in high veneration, on account of containing a sacred figure of the Virgin. Here the Emperor and Imperial Family frequently bowed the knee, in humble submission to divine power. Here also, each passing native paid his obeisance to the patron Saint within, by taking off his hat, bowing, and crossing the hand on the breast. It was begun in 1802. At present, it may be called all but finished; after the expenditure of an immense sum, though in some parts, I understand, contracted from the original design, which was grounded upon that of St. Peter's.
A Voyage to St. Petersburg in 1814, Surgeon in the British Navy
The Cathedral was sanctified in 1811, after Paul's death and during the reign of Alexander I.
According to the legend, the icon was painted by Luke, the Apostle. It was discovered in 1579 in the city of Kazan (hence the name). A devastating fire burned down most of the city in the summer of 1579. Two weeks after the fire, the Mother of God appeared to a girl by the name of Matrona Onukhina in her dream and instructed her to go to the archbishop of Kazan and tell him that her icon was in the burned down house of the Onukhins'. The girl's announcement was met with disbelief, but they tried digging nevertheless and found the icon buried at one meter's depth.
The day of the icon's discovery became to be celebrated annually in Kazan first and then all over Russia.