Catholic Churches in St. Petersburg
“You write that the most important thing is to achieve a condition under which our poor Catholics might live quietly. I should answer that foreign Catholics who live here are in no way hindered in confessing their religion. On the contrary, they are allowed to enjoy the greatest freedom.”
Duke de Liria, Ambassador of Spain to Russia, 1729
"The ideas of religious tolerance in Nevsky Prospekt are realized in the most liberal way. You can hardly think of a confession which does not represent its shrine on this broad avenue. To the left, in the direction which I so far have been following, is the Dutch church, the Lutheran church of St. Peter, the catholic church of St. Catherine and the Armenian church, not to mention the Finnish chapel and churches of other Reformed sects in the adjacent streets."
Theophile Gautier, 1858
The street of religious tolerance, famously said Alexander Dumas of Nevsky Prospect. Swedish, Dutch, Armenian, German, Roman Catholic and many other churches are close neighbors there. Peter the great allowed religious freedom in an official manifesto in 1702, and Saint Petersburg is the prime example of religious tolerance unheard of Europe in the 18th century.
A significant number of catholic churches were built in the second half of the 18th century. It was a direct consequence of the growing number of foreigners coming to the northern capital of Russia on various affairs. Many of them built houses, bought estate property, founded industrial and trading companies, promoted the foundation and activities of research centers and educational establishments.
It is an interesting fact bespeaking the religious toleration of the government, that in the street in which the Greek church of the Virgin of Kazan is situated, Catholics, Armenians, Lutherans, and three other sects of Protestants, have their respective places of worship.
Charles Elliott, Letters from the North of Europe, 1832
The Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria raised on the northern side of Nevsky Prospect was among the largest church buildings. Its construction started in 1762 to the project of Vallin de la Moth. The architect designed the main facade as a triumphal arch resting on easily standing columns. After Vallin de la Moth’s departure from Russia in 1775 the construction was finished by Antonio Rinaldi. The sanctification of the temple took place in October 1783. Some years later the Polish king Ponyatovsky and the French General J.-B. Maurot were buried in it.
The Roman Catholic Church is a complex building of a cruciform base, crowned with a large dome on an impressive drum. Spacious and light, it was particularly magnificent inside. Fine artistic paintings, stained glass windows, the combination of complicated pilons and sculptures created a wonderful artistic effect. In 1828 — 1830 the walls and the Corinthian columns supporting the vaults were faced with artificial marble. Also, a rich marble communion-table decorated the central nave. The pride of the temple was an excellent organ made to a special order by German masters. Today nothing of the splendor is left.
Unlike, also, the persecuting tenets and practice of the Roman Catholics, all religions are tolerated, and permitted the free and unmolested exercise of their rites. Many of the different christian sects have handsome places for public worship in some of the principal streets, instead of resorting to holes and corners, or being hunted like wild beasts, as in the bigoted countries of Spain, Portugal, and Italy. A difference of religion forms no ground here for exclusion from offices of trust and emolument. It is said, that a Bishop, in the confidence of Peter the Great, once proposed the contrary of this to his master, who, too wise to be guilty of such an absurdity in an infant kingdom, only replied, by the question, " Do you wish me to cut off my right arm ?"
A Voyage to St. Petersburg in 1814, Surgeon in the British Navy
On the same side of Nevsky Prospect, opposite the 272 A. Pavlov Merchants’ Arcades, there is St. Catherine’s Armenian Church. It was built to the design of Yuri Felten in 1771 — 1780. The small building of the church stands in the recess of a gap between the houses. Its little light cupola elegantly elevates over the four-column Corinthian portico supporting a triangle pediment semi-circle. The same elegant cupola as that of the Armenian Church elevates over it. Decorated with twinned columns, it serves as a belfry. In 1939 a cinema was housed in the temple.
The Nevski has been dubbed "Toleration Street", for here in friendly neighbourhood are found churches of the Dissident Russian sects, of Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Armenians, and even a Mohammedan mosque.
John Geddie, The Russian Empire, 1920
Somewhat earlier, in 1768 — 1771, St. Catherine’s Lutheran Church was built to the design of Yuri Felten in Vasilyevsky Island. Different from St. Anne’s, its main facade is the southern one, executed as a four-column Doric portico. In 1902 — 1903 the facade underwent reconstruction, as a result of it the portico was turned into a loggia. For many years it housed the ’Melodia’ city record studio. What resembles many of Felten’s temples is St. Mary’s Finnish Reformation Church, constructed to the design of architect H.-K. Paulsen in Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street. Its main, western, facade, basically quadrangular, is emphasized with a monumental portico of four Toscana columns. Pilasters decorate the side walls. The temple is crowned with a little spheric dome decorated with twinned columns. In 1920ies the building underwent full inside reconstruction. Many of its premises were occupied by the House of Nature.
Just off the Nevsky Prospekt, near the Dutch and German churches, are Finnish and Swedish Lutheran churches. The main thoroughfare of the capital thus presents visible symbols of the principal types of Christian civilisation in European Russia.
Harold Williams, Russia of the Russians, 1910
Architect Quarenghi also displayed his brilliant talent in temple construction. In 1798 — 1800 the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Chapel were erected to his design in Vorontsov Palace granted to the Maltese Knights’ Order.
The Maltese Chapel is one of the architect’s most perfect creations. Thanks to its small dimensions, its facade made up as a four-column portal surprises with its noble simplicity. As perfect as that one is the hall enclosed with a Corinthian colonnade on both sides.