Russia. Yaropolec. Spring. The manor of Chernyshev. The church of the family of Admiral Chernyshev, one of the favorites of the Empress Catherine the Great. This stunningly beautiful church is the only one in Russia having two domes.
The condition of the building is terrible. No wonder, because it is guarded by the state as an architectural monument. Nevertheless, the church makes an indelible impression. The entrance is shut—as if it is under reconstruction—but sure enough there is a hole. We penetrate it. It is calm and noble inside despite the breakdown. The aura is awesome.
Do you think these are white-stone columns? No. This is a log—the original Russian construction material—faced with bricks and plastered with some unknown sand grout. From the distance, there is a complete illusion of white-stone columns. Their surface is ideally smooth—the work of masters. Yes, in Russia, they always knew how to build churches. Rich ceiling molding in the church is made of the same “plaster.”
There is a hole in the floor right in the middle of the hall. This is a vault of the admiral himself, or more truly, it used to be many years ago. Nothing has been there for a long time except the remnants of the former bas-reliefs and modern garbage. Here are the consequences of the Russian Revolution. Getting out of that hole, you feel as if you are coming out of a time machine.
Beautiful and majestic place no matter what. Mysterious. It seems as if time itself is looking at us. This stella is located right above the admiral’s tomb. We are standing there as if we are at the altar.
I strongly recommend visiting this desolate and neglected ancient Russian town, Yaropolec, located in the vicinity of Volokolamsk near Moscow. A small town with a vivid history and great owners; a remote village now.
What kind of history could such a desolate place have? However, it is remarkable.
Yaropolec was first mentioned in the historical annals in 1135 as a fortified point of the Tsar Vladimir Monomakh’s son Tsarevich Yaropolk. Obviously, hence the name. Yaropolec remained a king’s territory for a long time, but in 1717, these rich lands were split between two owners as a reward for good service. The northeast part of Yaropolec came into the possession of Count Grigory Petrovich Chernyshev, and the southwest part went to Alexander Doroshenko.
The neighboring estate also has its own history. It devolved to the owner’s daughter, Goncharova, by marriage. Does not this Russian surname sound familiar to you? In two generations, there would be six children in the family of Alexander Doroshenko’s granddaughter and one of them would be a beautiful girl by the name of Natalia—future wife of Alexander Pushkin. Yes, the great Russian poet visited Yaropolec too, but for the Goncharov’s estate.
Two halves of the formerly single estate had such a different destiny. A modest (according to all historical and architectural measures) Yaropolec of Goncharovy survived through the times; nowadays it is a small resort. The majestic Yaropolec of Chernyshev which looks much more like a king’s residence rather than a provincial manor estate, stands in shambles. So, how and by whom was the only Russian double-domed church named Kazan Theotokos Church built?
The most famous owner of Yaropolec was Zakhar Chernyshev (1722-1784). He was a son of General Grigory Chernyshev who had an authority with Peter I and his daughter, Empress Elizabeth. At the age of 13, the boy was assigned to the military service and later sent to the Russian embassy in Vienna where he did not waste his time, and learned the subtleties of the diplomatic service and polished his knowledge of foreign languages. Zakhar Chernyshev’s return to Russia occurred simultaneously with the marriage of Peter Fedorovich—successor to the Russian throne—with the princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, the future Empress Catherine the Great.
The young and educated military man got into the retinue of the Grand Duke right away and gained an opportunity to meet and communicate with the Grand Duchess who obviously surpassed her husband in intellect and shrewdness. Zakhar Grigoryevich Chernyshev was a supreme marshal on Catherine the Great’s coronation day which is a reflection of a special degree of trust. During the reign of Catherine II, Zakhar served until getting the rank of general and received the highest reward of the Russian Empire—the Order of the St. Andrew with a diamond star—but the career of the talented military man at the imperial court was short. Zakhar Chernyshev was too serious and modest to become a real favorite.
Ten years later, Chernyshev became the first governor of the Moscow region. This was an exile for him. He dreamt of coming back to St. Petersburg and winning back the favour of his Empress. Looking at the portrait of this severe man who never accepted bribes, it’s hard to believe he could write sensitive poetry striving for young Catherine’s affection. The Empress Catherine wrote in her memoirs, “With a thousand mad things he lets the people understand what—I swear—has never happened.” Whether it happened or not, but one such “mad thing” of a man in love was the construction of a magnificent country residence in Yaropolec.
The scales of the building started here in 1760 impressed with its scope: new roads were laid among fourteen neighborhood villages; a two-story palace was connected with multiple outbuildings, and a regular park was laid out there. Also they built the Kazan Theotokos Church in such a unique-for-Russia architectural style.
A spacious square between the palace and the church become the center of the new composition. Several avenues diverged from the square in every direction. The original gates in the form of two towers made the estate similar to a fairy castle. Chernyshev’s flags were waving on the towers and the family coat of arms was placed at the gate’s arch. There is almost nothing left of that grandeur today.
Unlike Yaropolec of Goncharov, the palace of Chernyshev was at once acknowledged as an architectural creation of high artistic level. The estate was constructed in the manner of French neo-classicism which is so unusual for Moscow manors. Small wonder. An architect of the project was the famous Jean-Baptiste Michel Vallin de la Mothe, the author of such notable buildings as the Russian Academy of Fine Arts Museum and Gostiny Dvor in St. Petersburg.
In 1775, when he was already middle-aged, Zakhar Chernyshev’s dream of seeing his Empress again, came true. The celebration of the victory in the Russian-Turkish war, which gave Russia access to the Black Sea, made possible their meeting. The Empress wanted a grandiose celebration and chose Yaropolec as a venue. Catherine the Great along with the whole court arrived at the estate of her truly devoted nobleman to celebrate the Kuchuk Kainarji Peace Treaty.
Today, you can find a granite obelisk in the old neglected park at the intersection of the main avenues. Although the text on its base is almost completely gone, you can still see the name of Catherine the Great. By the way, the local elders say that yet in the 60s of the last century the park was recognizable and still could have been saved. Nowadays, it’s impossible to recognize its structure. Obviously there was a lower park with a system of overflowing lakes and artificial islands, but today there is no way to discern the concept.
The Chernyshovs’ majorat was held by the family until October, 1917, after which time it followed the destiny of the vast majority of the other Russian churches and noble estates. Revolutions and wars are horrible! Initially, the Bolsheviks adapted the palace for use as a rural hospital. In the first months of World War II, the estate was occupied by the fascists, and after the end of the war there was literally nothing left to reconstruct. The estate could not be used for the communist needs and officials simply confined their efforts to placing a sign on the church’s wall “The architectural monument preserved by the state.”
Nowadays, the territory of the manor is enclosed in a two-meter-high fence and you cannot access most of the former palace buildings; doors and windows are closed with iron bars. Probably it is done for safety reasons. You can catch a glimpse of what is left in the building through the bars: lion masks at the pilasters, Masonic crosses and laurel wreaths on the walls.
Recently in the Czech Republic, we saw a huge neglected monastery in a similar condition. There was also a fence around it, the entrances were boarded up, and video cameras were hanging on the walls. Therefore we could not investigate that place, but the impressions were the same. Majestic ruins, neglected garden, and a darkened-by-time stony angel mourning the former splendor.
I have always felt that in spite of the destruction brought about by time and history, old houses kept the remnants of their former beauty and grandeur. The two-domed Kazan Theotokos Church and the palace in Yaropolec are abandoned, and it’s a pity that they had never become a place where Chernyshev’s family found peace. The church attracts vandals like a magnet.
Farewell, the majestic ruin with a collapsed rotunda inside and trees growing through the roof. We will never see each other again. Now, your only owners are pigeons whose cries, often so similar to the human ones, reinforce a creepy impression from the broken floors and the smashed headstone of the former owner.
More about Russia:
Russian Castle Muromtsevo. Almost Buried Wonder
Kizhi: The Church Built Without a Single Nail 300 Years Ago!
Abandoned Estate, Bazhenov’s Church, and Abandoned Aircraft: All in One Place