This happened long time ago, when the young tzar, Peter I, ascended to the Russian throne. It was a time of troubles for Russia since many struggled for the throne. Dubrovitsy, a small estate near Moscow, was owned by Prince Golitsyn, a tutor of Peter I. Court intrigues forced Boris Golitsyn to leave Moscow for his estate, but after a year, news of his forgiveness reached Dubrovitsy. To mark the reconciliation with Peter I, Golitsyn decided to build an unbelievably beautiful temple, Baroque Church of the Sign of Our Lady, fairly unusual for Russia.
Peter I approved this decision and even recommended an Italian architect. In 1690, he and his entourage took part in the groundbreaking ceremony.
Along with the Italian architect, foreign masters (Swedish, German, Italian, and French) were invited to Dubrovitsy, but Russian stonecutters also worked with them. The local white stone was used for building the church. The men worked only during summer. In winter,the masters made stone decorations.
When the construction in Dubrovitsy was finished in 1697, the local population was shocked to see that the new church had a distinctly Catholic appearance. A Baroque church in Russia? No way! Patriarch Andrian, a man of conservative views, did not give his blessing to the new church despite Golitsyn’s royal connections and authority.
This story sparked our interest. My wife and I had seen many European churches, famous and not, but we had never seen a Russian Baroque church. Our cameras, a thermos full of coffee, rented car–let’s hit the road! Just fifty kilometers from Moscow, and we are in the town of Podolsk. Here is the local attraction–the Church of the Sign of Our Lady. Let’s have a walk around it before entering. What is so strange about this building?
It’s true, the church is very unusual for Russia: the foundation is in the form of a cross, the facade is decorated with sculptures and carvings, and the church doesn’t have the traditional domes with crosses and topped by a gilded crown. Many historians consider the construction of this Baroque church a milestone of the new epoch, the epoch of strengthening centralized power in Russia. Well, that was exactly what Peter I did in those times. Golitsyn’s Baroque church was forced to wait seven years for blessing.
Only at the end of winter of 1704, was the Baroque church in Dubrovitsy consecrated in the presence of Peter I, his son Alexey, and the tsar’s entourage. This event was celebrated for seven days, and people of different ranks and classes from 50 miles around were invited to the feast.
And what about the interior of the church? It is full of statues and bas-reliefs which Russian Orthodox churches never had. Twenty years after the construction of the church in Dubrovitsy, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church officially banned statues and bas-reliefs in the churches. Perhaps, this church was the reason for such a decision and became the unique structure for Russia. Taking photos inside is not permitted, but … well, you know.
After Golitsyn, ownership of the manorial estate in Dubrovitsy changed to the favorite of Catherine the Great, then to Prince Grigoriy Potemkin, and later to another favorite, Alexander Mamonov. Catherine II came to look at “Golitsyn’s pearl” made in the style of European Baroque, and to pray there.
You might expect the estate to be a museum today. But no. It was an orphanage, an agricultural college, an institute of animal husbandry, and after a fire in 1964, a wedding palace. Services resumed in the church only in 1990, along with with wedding ceremonies. The unique Baroque church in Dubrovitsy near Moscow is included into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Some more photographs, coffee in a small cafe under the same ancient oaks that Peter the Great may have seen, and we went back to Moscow.