Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist
One of the most successful constructions of the Neo-Gothic architecture is the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist on Stone Island.
It was built to the design of architect Yuri Felten in 1776 — 1777 near the Invalids’ House organized for the seamen of the Baltic Navy.
Altough orthodox Christians are often bewildered and confused by its New-Gothic style. it was quite a natural choice for this church, considering that is was designed for Paul I who was very much into West-European cultural heritage. Paul I was the son of Catherine II, and the whole of Stone Island was presented to him as a gift from the Empress in the autumn of 1765. Paul I was known as the "Russian Hamlet" and was very much in awe with the Western ideal of knightship - he himself became a knight and a member of the Order of Malta.
After the creation in Russia of the Maltese Order of St. John of Jerusalem, there was founded a cemetery by the church for the Knights of the Order; but with the advent of the Emperor Alexander I , the cemetery was closed down and on 18 August 1807, the bodies of all buried knights were moved to other cemeteries. Among those who were buried in 1798, we must mention the captain of artillery and Chevalier Eugene, and in June of 1800, the Vice - Chancellor and Commander of the Order of Malta of the cover , belonging to the Catholic religion. Although all the knights of the order had to be buried according to the same rules in the same cemetery, it was however maintained for each worship a separate ground to avoid mixing of the various Christian denominations.
St Petersburg Guide, Jean Bastin, 1874
The church is a single-story, non-plastered brick building, over the central part of which there slightly elevates a little pointed cupola. The elongated bell-tower tent harmonizes with it. The Gothic appearance the building is heightened by narrow pointed windows. At this time, very little is left of the church’s inner decor.
Among the notable icons in this church is that of the Holy prophet Elisha and the Holy Martyrs Adrian and Natalie. It is with this icon that the Empress Catherine II blessed the Great Duchess Natalia, the day of her marriage to the Emperor Paul on September 29, 1773. It is covered with solid gold. On the other side of the icon is a silver plate covered with velvet with the following inscription: With this icon, Her Majesty the Empress Catherine II, sovereign of all Russias, blesses Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Natalia, and wishes her happiness on her wedding day in the year of God’ grace 1773 September 29.
Church of St John the Baptist. Watercolors by Carl Coleman, 1834
Paul I was a frequent visitor to the Church and often joined the chorus in singing. He donated many icons to the Church.
It was here in this church that Alexander I learned of the Borodino battle, and it was also here that the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and his wife baptized their children.