The history of the Archangel Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin dates back to 1333, when Grand Duke Ivan I ordered the foundation of a white-stone church devoted to the Archangel Michael. This church was to serve as the burial place for the royal family. Between 1505 and 1508, a majestic new cathedral was erected here by Italian architect Aleviz Novy, as part of the reconstruction of the Moscow Kremlin under Ivan III.
The Archangel Cathedral played an important role in state life. As Archangel Michael was the patron saint of wartime victories, Grand Dukes came to the cathedral before a wartime campaign to pray. Up until the 18th century the Archangel Cathedral remained the burial place of Russia’s royal family (following the foundation of St Petersburg, they were buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral). After their coronations and weddings, Russia’s rulers would proceed to the Archangel Cathedral to honour their ancestors.
Did you know? Following the suspicious death of Ivan the Terrible’s eight-year-old son Dmitry, a series of imposters posed as the Tsarevich, pretending that he had escaped his murder. In 1606, after the assassination of False Dmitry I, Tsar Vasily ordered the transfer of the remains of the true Dmitry to the Archangel Cathedral to prove the boy’s death. According to legend, miracles soon began to occur from the prince’s tomb, and Dmitry was canonized as a holy martyr.
The cathedral was first adorned with paintings during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, but these fell into disrepair and were faithfully recreated in the mid-1600s by a team of 92 Russian masters (including distinguished painter Simon Ushakov). In the 1700s, Tsarina Elizaveta Petrovna and later Catherine the Great ordered further restoration work on the frescoes and icons. The ancient murals have not survived except for small fragments on pillars, the altar and the Tsars’ shrine, though the newer paintings completed in the 17th and 18th centuries are a true sight to behold.
Did you know? During the 1812 invasion of Moscow, Napoleon’s army desecrated the Archangel Cathedral and even installed a kitchen on the altar. Before retreating from the Kremlin, the French smashed barrels of wine which flooded the cathedral’s floor.
Like the Kremlin’s other cathedrals, the Archangel Cathedral became a museum during the Soviet period. It underwent significant restoration work to preserve its precious interior, and was the subject of archaeological and architectural research. Services finally resumed on 28th May 1991.
Did you know? The first post-Soviet service was dedicated to Saint Dmitry.
The Archangel Cathedral was modelled on the Kremlin’s nearby Assumption Cathedral. It merges Russian and Italian Renaissance architectural features, with unusual elements reminiscent of Italian palazzos. The façade is divided into two tiers decorated with pilasters and arches; the top tiers are crowned with ornate shell-like semi-circular niches, and the doors are embellished with finely-carved floral motifs. Five domes stand atop the white-stone cathedral: the four smaller domes are silver, and the larger central dome is gold.
56 members of the royal family from the 14th to the 18th centuries are laid to rest in the Archangel Cathedral. Their white stone sarcophagi are adorned with elegant carvings and epitaphs, and of particular interest are the sacred portraits of the Russian princes painted above their tombs, which depict the unification of all the lands of North-Eastern Russia around the principality of Moscow.
The tombs of the Grand Dukes of the Rurikid Dynasty are located along the cathedral’s southern wall, and their relatives along the western wall. Princes who fell from grace and died a violent death are buried along the northern wall. The tombs of the Romanov Dynasty are situated near the south-eastern and north-eastern pillars, and include the burial place of the first Romanov Tsar, Mikhail Fyodorovich.
Ivan the Terrible and his two older sons are buried in a special shrine set in the altar section of the cathedral. Saint Dmitry, Ivan’s youngest son, lies under a special canopy in front of the iconostasis; if you look closely at the canopy’s bronze latticework, you’ll see the emblem of a unicorn, representing Dmitry’s purity and innocence. Also present are the relics of Saint Mikhail Chernigovsky, a 13th century prince who refused to bow before the Mongols and was executed, and whose remains were ordered to Moscow by Ivan the Terrible.
The surviving frescos of the Archangel Cathedral are simple yet beautiful. The central dome depicts Jesus Christ, and two other domes portray Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The frescoes of the southern and northern walls of the cathedral are dedicated to the Archangel Michael and the wonders he performed on Earth, and the western wall chronicles the universe from Creation to the Judgement Day. The central pillars display more than sixty mural portraits of the Rurikid Dynasty.
The cathedral’s iconostasis was created between 1679 and 1681. The colourful iconostasis is elegantly carved and crowned with the scene of the Crucifixion, and its icons depict the Old Testament Prophets, the Apostles, scenes from the Gospels, and the patron saints of Russia’s royal family.
Two small exhibitions are housed in the Archangel Cathedral. In the southern extension is an exposition about the Voznesensky Convent, which was founded by Grand Duchess Evdokia in the early 1400s and demolished by the Soviets. It displays icons, photographs, liturgical objects, and gifts from the royal family to the convent. In the north-eastern side chapel is an exhibition of rare icons dedicated to 4th century martyr Saint Huar (some of which are believed to grant miracles), and the relics of Grand Duchess Evdokia.
Discover the Archangel Cathedral for yourself on one of our Kremlin tours. We carefully tailor our excursions and hand-pick our tour guides so that your visit to the Kremlin is both fascinating and stress-free.
Essential information for visitors
Address and contact details
Sobornaya Ploshchad, Moscow Kremlin, Moscow, 103132
Tel: +7 (495) 695-46-31 (ticket bureau)
Nearest metro: Biblioteka Imeni Lenina/Alexandrovsky Sad/Borovitskaya (550m)
From 15th May to 30th September - 9:30 to 18:00, from 1st October to 14th May - 10:00 to 17:00. Closed on Thursdays.
Ticket price to visit the Cathedral Square ensemble, including the Archangel Cathedral, is 700 roubles.
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