Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul
The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul rises up in the middle of the namesake fortress. The cathedral was built by the architect Domenico Trezzini, with the construction starting in 1712. The golden spire of the bell tower, rising high above the Neva and marking Russia’s exit to the Baltic sea, dominates architectural ensembles on the banks of the Neva.
The cathedral, 121.8 meters high, was the tallest building in the city until the television tower was constructed. Interesting pages in the history of Russian building techniques are connected with the spire of the cathedral.
During a storm in 1830, the spire was struck by lightning. The cross crowning it and the angel weather-vane tilted and threatened to fall. It would have required tremendous expense to set up scaffolding up to the very top of the spire.
The roof-builder Pyotr Telyushkin offered his services. The main difficulty was to climb up to the foot of the weather-vane and attach a rope-ladder to it so that the materials needed for the repairs could be taken up. Telyushkin solved the problem brilliantly.
He took into consideration that the spire of the bell tower was faced with sheets of gilded copper. The horizontal seams between these sheets were smooth, but the vertical edges were bent out slightly, forming ridges that protruded about 9 cm from the surface of the spire. With a rope round his waist and the other end attached to the internal framework of the spire, Telyushkin climbed out through an opening cut 20 meters from the base of the spire.
Clutching the vertical bends in the facing solely with his fingers, Telyushkin moved around the steeple spirally, towing the rope behind him. Enduring the pain and mustering all his strength, he was able to make a loop around the spire. But, when the brave man reached the golden ball forming the base of the weather-vane, it became clear that he would not be able to throw a rope around the globe – 284.5 cm in diameter – to the foot of the cross. Telyushkin, tying his legs right underneath the ball leaned back so that he was suspended in the air almost horizontal to the ground. In this position he threw the rope round the base of the cross and climbed up onto the top of the ball to the foot of the weather-vane. Telyushkin was rewarded with money and a medal for his brave feat.
The bell-towerThe bell-tower crowned with the spire and the main building were not constructed at the same time. Peter the Great ordered that the bell-tower should be built first and then, after the ground had settled under its enormous weight, the cathedral should be constructed. If this had not been done, cracks would have appeared in the places where the walls of the cathedral were joined to the bell-tower.
Iconostasis of gilded wood
Especially noteworthy in the cathedral’s interior decoration is the iconostasis of gilded wood carved in the 1720s.
Burial place for the Romanov dynasty
Almost all the Russian tsars, from Peter the Great to Alexander III, are buried in the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. The gravestones marking the graves of Alexander II and his wife are particularly remarkable. These sarcophagi took 17 years to carve from whole slabs at the Peterhof lapidary workshop – the first from Altai jasper (weighing approx. five tons), the second from rhodonite from the Urals (weighing more than 6.5 tons).
The place where Peter is buried, to the right of the cathedral’s southern entrance, was chosen by him personally. In the grave-side oration over the body of Peter the Great, his eminent associate the Archbishop Theophanes Prokopovich said on March 1, 1725: “Russia will be just the way he made it; he made it loved by good people, and it will be loved; he made it fearful for his enemies, and it will be feared; famed throughout the world, it shall not cease to be famed”.
The restoration work carried out in the cathedral has returned the walls to their original color and renovated the paintings above the windows (18th century), which were concealed by soot and dust for many decades.