Church on the Spilled Blood

The Church of the Resurrection on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg was erected to commemorate the assassination of Alexander II.

Its nine domes are resplendent with enamel,—green, gold and white pre-dominating. The interior is gorgeous with mosaics, the walls and pillars are adorned with gilded banners and priceless icons. But there is one spot in the church that renders it more precious to the Russian people than all its splendid adornments. It is near the entrance and is marked by a simple canopy borne on four jasper columns.

Within this enclosure one sees what appears to be a section of the pavement of a street. It is the identical spot where Emperor Alexander II - who had abolished serfdom twenty years earlier - stood when he was felled by the anarchist bomb on March 1, 1881. The new Emperor Alexander III resolved to build a memorial church on the spot where his father was killed.

Pseudo-medieval Russian style

The first competition for a design was held at the end of 1881, but the emperor rejected all the entries. He wanted the type of ornate, colorful church built in the late 17th century. The pseudo-medieval Russian style became the official style of architecture at this time. Eventually a design by Ignaty Malyshev and Alfred Parland was approved in 1883.

It is wiser to abolish serfdom from the top than wait for the day when it starts to abolish itself from the bottom.

Alexander II, in a public speech.

In the Museum of Imperial Carriages nearby one may see the very carriage— its back still shattered, in which he rode on the fateful day.

A marble iconostasis

Back of the choir is the marble iconostasis, a closed screen, completely cutting off the Holy of Holies from the observation of the congregation. It is gilded and adorned with mosaics of saints. In it there are three doors, the middle one opening into the inner sanctuary, the other two into adjacent chapels. At intervals on either side of the central door are beautiful columns of blue lapis lazuli and green malachite, with intervening paintings of the Virgin, St. Isaac, and the Evangelists

After the Parade, the Emperor drove with his brother Michael to the Michael Palace, the abode of their cousin, the widowed Grand-Duchess Catherine; and, leaving his brother there, he set off about two oclock by the shortest way to the Winter Palace, along the side of the Catherine Canal. There, in the part where the road runs between the Summer Garden and the Canal, a bombshell was hurled under the Imperial carriage, and exploded in a shower of snow, throwing down two of the horses of the escort, tearing off the back of the carriage, and breaking the glass, upsetting two lamp-posts, and wounding one of the Cossacks, and a bakers boy who was passing with a basket on his head. As soon as he saw the two victims lying on the pavement, the Emperor called to the coachman to stop, but the last only drove on faster, having received private orders from the Emperors family to waive all ceremony, and to prevent his master from going into dangerous situations, or among crowds. However, the Emperor pulled the cord round the coachmans arm till he stopped ; and then, in spite of the mans request to let himself be driven straight home, got out to speak to the sufferers, and to give orders for their prompt removal to the hospital, as the thermometer was below zero… Several men had been placed at different points of the road with explosive bombs, and hearing the first explosion, two of these hurried up to see the effect. One of them flung a bomb at the Emperors feet when he had gone a few paces towards his carriage, and it exploded, blowing off one leg, and shattering the other to the top of the thigh, besides mortally wounding the assassin himself, who fell with a shriek to the ground, and injuring twenty foot passengers.

Life of Alexander II, Emperor of All the Russias, F. R. Grahame


In color, form, magni?cence, and singular beauty of ensemble—made up of repetitions of ungraceful details and groupings of awkward shapes—this creation is unrivaled, save by the Church of Basil, near the Kremlin walls in Moscow. It is so strangely festive in design that we almost forget the tragedy it commemorates. The great Emancipator, Alexander II, grandfather of the present Tsar, was passing along the quay in 1881, in one of the simplest carriages from the imperial stables. A Nihilist with two infernal shells stood upon the curb, waiting with murderous intent for the man who twenty years before had given liberty to twenty-?ve millions of Russian serfs, and who had ever since devoted all his energies to the uplifting of his people. It is said that at that very moment there lay upon his desk a paper as yet unread and unsigned, but rich in promises for the Russian people. It was a draft of the constitution that Alexander was prepared voluntarily to be stow upon his people. But all this did not stay the hand that held the bomb. 

St. Petersburg and Moscow, Burton Holmens, 1910

Exterior lavishly decorated with mosaic insertions

The church is striking in its bright and rich finish and in the variety of materials used. The outside walls are faced with coloured Zigersdorf bricks and glazed patterned tiles. They are lavishly decorated with mosaic insertions depicting the emblems of provinces and regions of the Russian Empire. Mosaic icons are fixed on pediments and consoles above the entrances. On the western facade, a mosaic crucifix is installed. The gilded cupolas of the bell tower and altar apses gleam brightly; of the ornate enamelled domes of the central part of the church, no two are alike; the entrances are embellished with bronze inlaid with silver. The rather simple and unpretentious outside stone decoration is overshadowed by this multicolour visual feast.

Very richly decorated interior with great quantities of varied colored rocks

The interior of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ is extremely richly decorated with great quantities of varied colored rocks: marbles, jaspers, porphyries and other rare semiprecious stones. Sixteen different types of rock were used for marble works carried out in Italy. The inside walls are lined with green serpentinite (snake stone) 2.5 metres in height. It was traditionally known as verde di Calabria, which means green Calabrian marble. This so-called marble was frequently used for decoration of stately building, for instance, in the famous Mosque Haya - Sophia in Istanbul. Marbles of this type are usually named verde antico, or green antique. Calabrian marble is made of dark-green serpentine penetrated by numerous criss-cros veinlets of white calcite. Besides, there are green talc and actinolite, grey montmorillonite, black hematite and magnetite in the rock. This rock is therefore heterogeneous and not very stable. Under pressure, it breaks easily along the thickest calcite veinlets, especially if soft and slippery talc is present. During the years of neglect, the walls have sustained rather extensive damages, most of them hitherto skilfully repaired.

Alexander III played in important role in the design of the cathedral's decorations

An important role in designing the cathedral’s decorations was played by the main customer, Alexander III. The Emperor regarded the details of this work as an important state business. He not only approved the project and all the sketches but supervised the construction. One could often see his strong imposing figure followed by the clergy and builders at the construction site and even on a scaffolding put up around the cathedrals. As the sketches and details of the mosaic and murals were prepared by artists, they were brought to the Winter Palace or summer residences, or Alexander III examined them at the artists’ studios. As one of his biographers wrote: Alexander III had his own views on church painting. He thought that it should not be Italian or Western but Byzantine. Victor Vasnetsov understood the tsar’s idea and showed the way to be followed by contemporary church artists in his murals for the St. Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev. The walls of the Cathedral built in St. Petersburg on the place of the death of the Tsar-Liberator were painted in the same style by the same artist Vasnetsov in accordance with the order of His Majesty. First the Emperor had met him in Paris where Vasnetsov had painted pictures on subjects of the Russian legends.” Besides Vasnetsov a number of artists painting in the Russian national manner mostly on subjects from Russian history worked on sketches for the mosaics. There were also several famous masters of church painting, such as A. Ryabushkin, V. Savinsky, F. Bruni, V. Belyayev and others. Most part of the mosaics were done in studios of a famous mosaic-maker B. Frolov. Alfred Parland wrote: “There is no other example of such a wide use of mosaic decorations like at the Resurrection Cathedral. In St. Mark’s in Venice, famous for its mosaics, mosaic decorations cover only the upper hall of the interiors, the height of which is not great according the requirements of the Byzantine style. In the Resurrection Cathedral where the walls are rather high and reach 21 sazhens (a sazhen is equal to 2.13 m), mosaic decorations begin right over a low basement made of green marble (Verde de Calabria) with its plinth made of dark-red marble called Rosso di Levanto. Alfred Parland described also an arrangement of the mosaic decorations including those showing the Old Testament scenes against the blue background and illustrating twelve main church festivals agmst the gold background to be found in passages leading from the porches to the cathedral. He also wrote about big mosaic panels showing episodes from the Savior’s life in the main part of the building and mosaics depicting the Savior’s passions, Crucifixion and Resurrection which were placed on the site of the assassination. According to the tradition the five domes had the following plafonds: Christ the Pantocra-tor in the main one and the Mother of God, Jesus Emmanuel, John the Baptist and the Silent Savior in smaller ones. “Icons of saints depicted in full length were placed on pOlars and pilasters, icons of Apostles and prophets on the lower parts of the walls, and those of martyrs above them, and icons of holy monks in the upper tier.”

Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербург) is the second largest city in Russia. It is located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. St Petersburg is often described as the most westernized city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital.It is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over one million.

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