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On 1 March 1881, Ignaty Grinevitsky, a member of the People's Will terrorist organization, let off a bomb in Yekaterininsky Canal Embankment and gravely wound Emperor Alexander II, who was on his way back from the parade in Mikhailovsky Manege. As early as in 15 days after the assassination, a temporary mobile chapel, designed by Leon Benois, was consecrated at this place. Soon, a design contest for a memorial church was announced.
The second round of the competition was won by Alfred Parland and archimandrite Ignaty (Malyshev), rector of the Coastal Monastery of St. Sergius, who graduated from the Academy of Arts. When improving and simplifying the design, the architect used "primordial Russian principles" as a base and, by the customer's request, made the design look even more like Moscow architectural monuments, and above all, Saint Basil's Cathedral.
The foundation stone of the nine-dome, one-altar church, intended for 1,600 people, was laid on 6 October 1883 in the Emperor's presence. The design was not finally approved yet, but during the first three years, the ground had to be strengthened and the foundations had to be constructed.
In 1888, construction of a granite basement and walls was started. The walls were covered with Siegersdorf bricks of ten colours. Small columns, cornices, fillets, and platbands were made of Estonian marble. All key events and doctrines by Alexander II were graven in twenty dark-red boards fixed on the basement.
In 1894, vaults and pendentives were finished. Next year, domes were constructed in Moscow Metal Factory; five of them were covered with special enamel of different colours in Andrey Postnikov's Factory.
On 6 July 1897, a cross was erected on the main canopy 81 meters (266 feet) high.
Even before that, in 1895, famous Workshops of the Frolovs began to decorate the Church with mosaics, first on the outside and then inside. This cost 500,000 roubles. Mikhail Nesterov sketched the Saviour Not Made by Hands for the western and the Resurrection for the northern facades; Nikolay Koshelev created the image of Christ in Glory for the southern facade; Alfred Parland painted the Benedictory Saviour for the eastern facade; Viktor Vasnetsov was the author of mosaics above the entrances. Doors leading to the Church were covered with red copper with silver images of royal saints by Kostroma master Saveliev.
Outside, under the bell tower, where the Tsar was wound to death, raises "The Crucifixion with Mourners" with a marble and granite cross, in front of which eternal light was burning. On both sides, there are icons of Saints celebrated on the killed Emperor's birth and death days, as well as copper arms of Russian provinces and regions made on designs by Academician P. Cherkasov. Under the gilded dome of the bell tower, a fragment of the St. Basil the Great's prayer was written in the mosaic. It embodied the Church's penitential idea.
The Church's interior is almost completely covered with mosaics, which make it a world unique example of this art in new time. Mosaic works delayed the consecration for ten long years. It was held by Metropolitan Anthony in the Emperor's presence on 19 August 1907. In honour of the event, the Mint issued a special medal. The construction of the church cost 4.6 million roubles.
The interior mosaics were painted by Vladimir Belyaev, Nikolay Kharlamov, Andrei Ryabushkin, Nikolay Koshelev, Nikolay Shakhovskoy, Alexander Novoskoltsev, and others. According to the canons, the Lord's earthly life is represented in the main nave; the Passions, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are in the western part; the after-Resurrection scenes are given in the eastern part. All mosaics are of very high quality and strike with their artistic unity.
The Workshops of J. Novi in Genoa made a small icon stand of many-coloured marble in accordance with a design by Alfred Parland. The icon stand was crowned with three rock-crystal crosses. Four of its icons were painted by Mikhail Nesterov. Viktor Vasnetsov created local icons. The holy door's icons, silver coined in Khlebnikov's Factory, were inlaid by the Workshops of the Frolovs in accordance with the sketches by Nikolay Bruni.
Very rich utensils were supplied by Khlebnikov's and Frolovs' Factories. They used pictures by S. Komarov. Famous jeweller P. Ovchinnikov made two-pood (33 kg or 73 lb) silver case with enamel inlays for the communion table Gospel. A silver tabernacle, a small copy of the Church, was brought from Kostroma. The other one, made of jasper and rhodonite, came from Yekaterinburg Cutting Factory.
The next important object after the altar was the great canopy supported by columns of grey-purple jasper, crowned with a topaz cross, and rounded by lacy forged lattice. It stood above the preserved fragment of the cobblestone pavement, where the regicide took place. Near the canopy, eternal lights of different colours hung down and created a special atmosphere of sadness and appeasement. Every year, on the assassination date, a requiem was held. Every day, there was a lite.
Famous connoisseur Archpriest Aristarchus Izrailev supervised the manufacturing process in Finland and tuning of the Church's bells, the main of which weighted 1,100 poods (18 tons). The Church's area is separated from Mikhailovsky Garden with an elegant fence made by the Winkler's Factory.
On 27 April 1908, the Metropolitan consecrated the neighbouring Chapel of Iviron, where icons, donated in memory of the Alexander II's death, including the Crucifixion, ascribed to Vladimir Borovikovsky, were collected.
In 1888, the Church was gifted a cross with stone pieces of the tomb of Jesus, Calvary, Bethlehem and Gethsemane Caves.
Since the consecration, Archpriest Pyotr Leporsky, Professor of Dogmatics of the Ecclesiastical Academy, had been a rector of the cathedral with a parish.
In 1923, the Church was awarded a title of diocesan cathedral. In four years, it became a stronghold of the Josephites. By the decision of the Praesidium of All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the Church was shut down on 17 November 1930 and used "for cultural and educational purposes".
In 1934, the Society of Political Convicts arranged an exhibition devoted to the People's Will in the Cathedral. However, it was closed a year later. The Church was not protected by the State any longer. There were appeals to destroy this masterpiece of Russian architecture. A respective plan was worked out right before World War II.
As late as 1956, the building was declared the architectural monument again. Though, it was still violated. Workshops, a potato storage, a decorations storage occupied the Church. It was again decided to demolish the Cathedral.
In 1970, the Church was handed over to the Museum of St. Isaac's Cathedral as its branch.
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