Archangel's Cathedral, Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel (Nizhny Novgorod)
2A The Kremlin, Nizhny Novgorod (tel.: +7 831 439-10-94), Metro station: "Moskovskaya".
The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel is one of the most ancient Kremlin's architectural monuments, out of those that have survived. When the city was founded in 1221, a wooden church was constructed on the site of the Cathedral; as early as 1227–1229, the church was replaced with a stone building.
The white-stone church also featured animal- and human-like shaped decorations. In 1359, it was thoroughly rebuilt to function as a church at the grand prince's palace. This is why the church was for a long time used to bury grand princes. Their presumable burial places are marked with writings on niches in the western side of the church.
The fragments that date back to that time, discovered under the floor and near the Archangel's Cathedral during the 1960 archaeological excavations, do not provide a full picture of the earlier building. The archaeologists have discovered a floor plan of the ancient cathedral, constructed in the 13th or 14th centuries; the configuration of its walls and its dimensions exactly correspond to the plan of the now-existing building. A later structure was moved to the west, thereby pushing the foundations of the altar of the ancient 13th century church outside the walls of the 17th century building. For better preservation, the old rubble masonry around the entire former perimeter was covered with a new masonry, protruding from the ground. The remnants of old foundations that have been found inside are partially covered with the 17th century brick floor covering. In the hollows (intentionally left open), which correspond to the level of the older, 14th century, floor, one may see parts of excavated sections. The floor was paved with square ceramic tiles covered with a design made up of six-pointed stars; the stars were painted with white plaster against the red terracotta background. In terms of material and design, this kind of floor is unparalleled either in Russian architecture, or in any other medieval architecture.
The original stone church was much lower than the contemporary one. It had one spire supported with four square pillars. The foundations of there pillars may be seen inside the Cathedral; floor sections are paved around them. The hypothesis that the walls of the 13th century church used to be richly decorated is confirmed with a valuable archaeological find, a lion's head carved out of stone.
When Nizhny Novgorod was being looted by tatars in 1377 and 1378, the Cathedral burned down and partially collapsed, remaining a ruin for a long time after this.
It is most probable that by the early 17th century the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel survived only partially and was not used. This is what a scrivener's book tells us about it: "The stone Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel is old and in ruins; church service hasn't been celebrated there for a long time now."
Only as late as by 1628–1631, when the country was being rebuilt after the grave events of the early 17th century Time of Trouble, Patriarch Philaret, having come back from his Polish captivity, took Nizhny Novgorod under his personal patronage in 1625. By Tsar's order and at the expense of the state treasury, the Cathedral was soon after revived by the apprentice stonemasons Lavrenty (son of Semyon) Vozoulin and his stepson Antipa. On 23 April 1628, the works started. In the course of the works, Lavrenty died (buried in the graveyard of the Pechersky Monastery). The construction was completed by Antipa alone, who after his stepfather's death derived his patronymic nickname from the name of his real father, becoming Antipa, son of Konstantin.
While adhering to the dimensions and the plan of the old building, the stonemasons made however changes to its structure and appearance, having essentially build an absolutely new church, featuring a tented roof, three narthexes and a bell tower over the south entrance.
In the early 17th century, Russia was experiencing a difficult time of foreign military intervention. It was during that period (in 1612) that Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky organised a militia, which drove the invaders out. And it was to commemorate this victory that the Cathedral was rebuilt from ruin: the Cathedral is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel who is considered to be a patron saint of soldiers. In accordance with its memorial function as a monument to the victory of the Nizhny Novrogod militia, the Cathedral was now crowned with a soaring and magnificent tented roof, which spanned the united space of the Cathedral.
In 1672, a side altar was added to the Cathedral from the south side; the altar would be subsequently distorted with modifications, and, after deemed breaking the integrity of the original composition and having lost historical value, it is now disassembled.
The building suffered a lot during the 1704 and 1715 fires: the Cathedral lost its ancient icon-stand. For a number of years, the building remained abandoned, and only as late as 1732 it was again repaired, followed by finishing works.
Large repair works were done in 1795, 1845 and 1909–1910.
In 1962–1963, the Cathedral was restored, and Minin's ashes were transferred to it; shaded by the banners of the Nizhny Novrogod militias, the ashes now rest under a modest tombstone in the Cathedral's north-western corner. Besides that, 15th century Nizhny Novrogod's grand princes are buried in the Cathedral: Vasily Kirdyapa, who died in 1404; Ivan (died in 1416); Vasily, the last grand prince of Nizhny Novgorod still holding this title (died in 1450); and members of their families. Their burial places are not known; their names are only commemorated with writings in the arcosoliums of the Cathedral's western side. By the southern wall, there survived the tombstone of one of the children of Drutsky, the 18th century governor of Nizhny Novgorod.
From an architectural point of view, the Archangel's Cathedral has several interesting distinctive features. Being a two-tent asymmetric composition, its prayer room is united with the bell tower with a shared space. The Cathedral's plan is archaic: a rectangle, with three church porches, each at a cardinal point, and a three-part altar. The back porch is shifted to the north, displacing the entrance's main portal from the central axis; the northern porch is given a trapezoid-like plan, which allows balancing the bell-tower superstructure and making its interior entrance slighter sloping.
On 3 November 2005, the Cathedral was visited by Alexius II, the Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. This event is commemorated with a plaque on a wall of the Cathedral.
On 16 March 2009, nine bells were donated to the Archangel's Cathedral by the members of Nizhny Novgorod Region Legislative Assembly (the regional parliament). On 26 March 2009, the Cathedral's largest bell, Zakonnik, was mounted to the belfry; the bell's weight is 530 kilogrammes (1,170 pounds).
In September 2009, the Cathedral was visited by Cyril I, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The patriarch honoured the memory of the patriot Kuzma Minin, whose ashes rest in the Cathedral, and performed a memorial service. In the memory of his visit, he donated to the Cathedral an icon of Our Lady of Kazan.