The Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Riga.
The need to build a new cathedral in Riga was discussed at the end of the 18th century. But the practical realization of this idea began to be realized only after a hundred years. With the blessing of the bishop of Riga and Mitavsky Veniamin (Karelin) in the seventies of the XIX century, collection of donations for the future church was started. Six months later, Prince Bagration, as Governor-General of the Baltic region, sent a petition to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia to build a worthy cathedral in Riga.
Nature itself has joined the petition. On September 1, 1873, a hurricane storm broke over Riga. One of the thunderbolts struck at the Petro-Pavlovsky cathedral. The upper cornice of the bell tower collapsed. Fire destroyed part of the painting. In many places gilding has disappeared. Without the glass there were the upper windows. The cathedral, already very tight and modest in decoration, began to demand considerable repairs.
This circumstance hastened the solution of the problem. April 17, 1874, at the behest of Alexander II, the Riga diocese is allocated 900 thousand rubles.
And at this time, three famous Riga architects Ya.-F. Bauman, G. Shel and R. Pflug have already completed work on their projects of the future cathedral.
Each project took place in Riga, St. Petersburg and Moscow, a competent expert evaluation. As a result, in December 1875, on the project of Academician Pflug, the resolution of Alexander II was inscribed: “To begin construction …”
Construction was given in a row on a competitive basis. Preference was given to the Vilnius provincial architect Academician Chagin.
The consecration of the cathedral’s bookmark took place on July 3, 1876. The first stone to the future building was laid by the Bishop of Riga and Mitavsky Serafim (Protopopov).
By the beginning of the eighties of the XIX century the construction of the building was almost completed. But at that time Alexander III sent 12 bells to the church. The largest, in the name of Alexander Nevsky, weighed more than 800 poods. Each bell was an outstanding work of art casting. They emptied at the factory of the Moscow merchant Nikolai Dmitrievich of Finland. One of the outstanding masters of the end of the XIX century Xenophon Verevkin cast the bells.
This ensemble of bells required a special architectural solution for their placement. R. Pflugu ordered additional design. The architect’s project proved to be very successful. The bell tower above the main entrance to the church created a special perspective. Performed in a single architectural style with the cathedral, it gave a large volume to a very high overall building.
In eight years the construction of the temple was completely completed. On April 24, 1884, it was transferred to the authority of the spiritual department. And on Saturday, October 27, 1884, the ring of all 12 bells of Christ the Savior Cathedral was first heard over Riga.
Soon the Riga cathedral becomes the universally recognized spiritual center not only of Riga, but of the whole region. Many prominent representatives of the clergy take part in its activities. A number of sources have preserved information that in September 1894 the church service was performed here by Protopriest John of Kronstadt, now ranked as a saint.
At the head of the multilateral activities of the cathedral were his abbots. The first of them is Archpriest V. S. Knyazev. Professor of church and biblical history, canon law and church archeology, he contributed in every possible way to enrich the spiritual, moral and aesthetic level of the temple’s activity, to broadly familiarize the Orthodox Rigans with the history of culture and ancient traditions.
In the first decade of the 20th century Archpriest VI Plis, a teacher of the Riga Theological Seminary, was appointed head of the cathedral. Thanks to the outstanding representatives of the clergy and highly educated Riga residents, the prestige of the cathedral was exceptionally high, especially since the services were performed here in four languages: Church Slavonic, Latvian, Estonian and German.
According to the testimony of contemporaries, every visit to the cathedral brought people a spiritual rest, the joy of a highly spiritual state. This in no small measure contributed to the special internal atmosphere of the temple, its decoration, the overall harmony of everything around.
A single artistic solution was carved iconostasis and choir. They were decorated with patterned columns, a gilt ornament made of cast zinc, a unique woodcarving. A special artistic value was represented by openwork gilded gates of the main side-chapel. In the general style of the cathedral, church utensils fit in. All its items were made of silver of the 84th test by the skillful masters of Moscow manufacturer Hlebnikov.
For several years, the vestry of the cathedral was created. Vestments of the clergy sewed the best gold embroidered workshop of the brocade products of the St. Petersburg merchant Zheverzheyev. Unfortunately, the authors and performers of these unique products remained unknown.
A truly precious treasure of Christ the Savior’s Nativity Cathedral was his collection of icons. They were performed on canvas and zinc, white metal and a cypress board. They were written on a golden background, focusing on samples of ancient church painting. Many people donated icons to the cathedral and personally participated in the enrichment of this outstanding icon collection, some of which were preserved from the foundation of the Riga diocese (1850).
Among the icons of the earliest letter were those that were transferred by the procession from the Petro-Pavlovsky church on the day of the consecration of the new cathedral. A significant part of the icons was made on the special order of the construction committee. Their authors are outstanding artists. Brushes of V.Vereshchagin belonged to the church icons “Nativity of Christ”, “Nativity of the Blessed Virgin” and “St. Alexander Nevskiy”. He was also the author of the icons of the first tier of the main iconostasis and the Royal Gates.
Icons of the second and third tiers of the main iconostasis were painted by the artist Vasilyev. Among the works of K. Shamshin, the icons “Our Lady with the Child” and “John the Baptist” are known.
Among donors of icons there were not only рижане, but also inhabitants of many other places, in particular Petersburg and Moscow.
It is known that 850 items were listed in the main and additional church and figurative descriptions. All of them had church, historical, artistic and material value. These included church painting, liturgical books, vestments, miter, carpets and much more. A significant part of these unique values was donated by the citizens of Riga. Riga’s benefactors were so numerous that it was impossible to name them all. Gifts came from the Riga merchant class, high society circles, various societies.
In general, more than half a million rubles were spent on the construction of the cathedral. The internal arrangement cost 140,212 rubles 87 kopecks. This at a time when the pound (400 g) of bread cost 2 kopecks, and meat – 15, a thousand times cheaper than now, silver.
The tragic turn in the fate of the temple began in the First World War. In 1918 the Riga municipality actually closed the cathedral. Worship was forbidden in him. And when Archbishop John Pommer arrived in Latvia at the invitation of the All-Slavic Council of Orthodox parishes, he found the church in a catastrophic state.
Windows without glasses. The belfry without its own unique bells. The furniture is desecrated. Dear, the artwork of the iconostasis is perekorezheny, dumped in a heap. The painting is crushed, the crucifix is thrown into the garbage. All that was of value disappeared. About who is to blame for this and where the most valuable monuments of Orthodox church art, centuries-old culture have disappeared, are still arguing. There are many versions, but there was not much to return.
The difficult path to resurrection began with the fact that His Eminence Archbishop John (Pommer), in order to prevent the further destruction of the temple, to collect everything that was still left and which could be put in order, restored, settled in the cellar of the cathedral. A stove was added for heating. Gradually, at the cost of considerable effort and a difficult struggle, the restoration of the temple began. Rigans also helped those Russians who suddenly became emigrants, lost everything, lost their roof over their heads.
The work of the cathedral was resuming with difficulty. Initially, each divine service required a special permission from the authorities. And only since Christmas 1922 the cathedral began its daily service. Divine services were performed in the Church Slavonic and Latvian languages.
By the mid 30-ies the cathedral was put in order, the painting was renewed. There was a stubborn struggle for the return of the former property of the cathedral, including icons, church utensils. The temple once again became the spiritual center of Riga.
A new blow was struck by the Second World War. Again the devastation and resurrection of the cathedral again. After the war, there was a normal spiritual life. The cathedral continued to be a spiritual support for many and many people who knew the horrors and troubles of this monstrous war.
But what did not destroy the two world wars and the revolution was ruined in the 60s. By an order of the Council of Ministers on October 5, 1963, the cathedral was closed. This time, everything was destroyed and rastasknano. From the cathedral there were only walls. But they are disfigured, they are blocked with reinforced concrete, floor coverings are made. Build up and reshape the internal space, destroying the painting. People from “knowledge” turn the temple into a profitable place and exploit it for thirty years.
Only from July 1991 began a difficult path to resurrection. Almost five years there was a dismantling. The difficulty was that the ceiling ceilings, unknown as laid, created a threat to the walls of the building itself. Not only considerable funds were required, but also extreme caution. A special difficulty was the restoration work of the central dome.
The spiritual life of the cathedral began in the hardest conditions on January 6, 1992, when His Eminence Vladyka Alexander performed the first divine service. Since then, regular worship services have been started. Simultaneously, with incredible difficulties, but continuously, day after day, restoration work was carried out. Every step in this direction from year to year is given with great difficulty. Now the Cathedral is beautifully painted. Covered with copper all the domes, made a new roof. The cross on the central dome is gilded. But much remains to be done.
Families of philanthropists Vladimir Ivanovich Malyshkov and Igor Vladimirovich Malyshkov donated a beautiful iconostasis.
Through the efforts of many people, the “Rizhsky”, three times resurrected, as it is called by the people, the Nativity Cathedral, has already found its worthy place in the spiritual and cultural life of Latvia.
The information is taken from the official site of the Riga Cathedral – http://sobor.lv