St. Sofia Cathedral and Ensemble of the Vologda Kremlin

Vologda Kremlin with St.Sophia Cathedral

The Vologda Kremlin complex had been built for several centuries, its constructions of different periods are not similar in their form.

The Vologda Kremlin complex traditionally includes the former Archbishop’s yard with its high fortifications, inseparably linked with the walls of the Resurrection cathedral and the Sofia belltower. The monumental St. Sofia cathedral which stands on a high bank of the Vologda river is the first stone temple of the city. It is outside the Kremlin walls, but its severe, majestic beauty most of all draws the attention of the Kremlin visitors.

The St. Sofia cathedral is specially marked for the laconic architectural style. The construction of the temple is closely connected with the name of Ivan the Terrible. In 1568, during his third arrival to Vologda, tsar Ivan the Terrible ordered to begin the construction of the cathedral church of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin inside the city near the Archbishop’s yard. Chronicles testify, that the tsar attached great importance to the idea of the cathedral construction: stone-work of the cathedral was quite often conducted under the supervision of the sovereign.

In 1571 Ivan the Terrible abandoned Vologda and returned to the capital. With his departure all the construction was stopped. By then the St. Sofia cathedral was almost ready in rough, but had neither face-work, nor internal finishing. The local legend connects such an urgent departure of Ivan the Terrible and the subsequent desolation of the construction with one incident that could probably have happened with the tsar in the St. Sofia cathedral. When the cathedral was almost finished, Ivan the Terrible, according to the legend, began to examine its interior, and at that very time something came off the arch and fell down to the head of the sovereign. The angry tsar ordered to break the temple, but later, conceding to the requests of the associates, canceled the order and left the city.

The cathedral had remained uncompleted for 17 years, and was completed only under tsar Fyodor Ioannovich. In 1685 – 1687 the Yaroslavl masters under the direction of Dimitry Plekhanov painted the walls of the temple.

Throughout its history the St. Sofia cathedral had been repeatedly updated and decorated; it took its final form only in XX century. Now the cathedral dominates the whole ensemble of the Vologda Kremlin.

The cathedral belfry as if being built into the east wall, stands opposite to the cathedral. In the southeast corner of the fencing there’s another, smaller cathedral of the Resurrection.

A little bit to the west near the St. Sofia cathedral there is an enclosed by high stone walls former Archbishop’s house – a complex of constructions of the court yard of the Vologda archbishops.

Up to the middle of XVII century all the constructions of clergyman residences were wooden. At the end of 1650s in the Archbishop’s yard there appeared the first stone construction – a building of the State order, or the Steward’s house where state and exchequer cells were located.

The second stone building of the Archbishop’s yard is a tall three-storeyed Simon block (or the Bishop’s chambers) with the house church of the Nativity of Christ, named after Archbishop Simon under whom it was constructed in 1669 – 1671. In XVII and first half of XVIII century it was the most magnificent building not only of the Episcopal residence, but also in all Vologda. The Simon block can serve as a fine sample of secular architecture of the second half of XVII century.

The high walls with their loopholes, with covered transitions on the internal side, constructed according to the rules of fortification of XVII century, reminds us of a fortress though it has never been attacked by the enemy. These external attributes of Old Russian architecture have only symbolic meaning. The building of such strong walls of the Vologda court yard was caused by the ideological tasks of glorification of the church and the bishop.

Especially intensive construction at the territory of the present day Kremlin, i. e. in the Archbishop’s yard and in the St. Sofia cathedral, was conducted in 60-70s of XVIII century under Vologda bishop Joseph Zolotoy (Golden). The main result of this construction work is the building of his private residence – magnificent three-storeyed stone apartments. The Joseph block was constructed between 1764 and 1769 and it differed from all other constructions of the Archbishop’s house not only due to the elegance, but also due to the new, still unusual to Vologda baroque style. Under the same bishop Joseph Zolotoy, on the place of the southeast Kremlin tower another baroque style building – the cathedral of the Resurrection has been erected.

Thus, the constructions which constitute the architectural ensemble of the Vologda Kremlin can be an example of harmonious blending of architectural styles of the three centuries.