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The Third Rome

April 2, 2009 at 11:48 am
By Laura Roberts, Jennifer Hightower, Megan Milligan, Brian Kilgour

Russia considers itself the inheritor of the Roman Empire by means of the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 with the siege of Constantinople.  As a result, Moscow is the center of this holy entity and is home to many churches, cathedrals, convents, and monasteries.  On our excursion this past Sunday, we visited several of these sacred places, including Saint Basil's Cathedral, the Kazan Cathedral, the Church of Christ the Savior, the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary, and the Andronikov Monastery.  Each of these places have histories both famous and infamous, and we'll elaborate on a few of the aforementioned sites.

First, we'll focus on the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary.  It was founded in 1908 with the funds of Elizaveta Fedorovna, sister of the tsarina, Alexandra Fedorovna.  Elizaveta became a nun after the death of her husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, and proceeded to become the abbess of the convent she had founded with the money acquired from the sale of her worldly possessions.  Elizaveta was well-known for her good works and kindness, but that didn't save her from being arrested in 1918 when Lenin sought to eliminate the royal family.

On July 17, she was arrested and soon joined by other members of high society.  The group was taken to an abandoned mine in Siniachikha, thrown into a pit, and chased by two grenades.  No one died in the fall and only one died from the grenades.  The victims could be heard singing from the top of the mine shaft, and Elizaveta spent her final days caring for the other injured members of the group.  She died from the wounds sustained from the fall and her body was discovered five months later. 

The government shut down her convent in 1926, but was reestablished in 1996.  A monument on the premises was erected in her honor in 1990 and she was canonized by the Orthodox Church in 1992.

Convent of Saints Martha and Mary 

Our next place of holy significance is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.  Like many Russian churches, the cathedral was built after a military victory.  After defeating Napoleon’s army in 1812, Alexander I declared that the cathedral be built to thank God for saving the Russian people and to thank those who gave their lives in the fight for the motherland.  The location was moved several times and construction finally started in 1839, but was not finished until the coronation of Alexander III in 1883.

The cathedral did not have long to live, for the revolution had other plans.  In 1931, Stalin had the building demolished to make way for the Palace of the Soviets, seen below.

 Palace of Soviets

Due to lack of funds and flooding from the river, this awe-inspiring project was never realized and replaced by an enormous swimming pool under Nikita Khrushchev.  In 1990, when Soviet power was eliminated, the Orthodox Church received permission to rebuild the Cathedral.  Money was raised from ordinary citizens and the building was completely finished and consecrated in 2000.

Christ the Savior 

The majesty of the buildings is only matched by the profundity of their respective histories.


  • April 4 2009 at 7:25 am
    Frances M. Belcher

    Love these updates.  Keep 'em coming! 

    And, say hi to Ben Tyler for me.

    Fran B.

  • April 7 2009 at 9:44 am
    Katy Milligan

    I'm enjoying all the photos and all the history attached with them. Sounds like you are having a great trip. Katy Milligan