By order of Empress Elizabeth I, on 15 July 1759, a stone church was laid in the marine regimental court, on the bank of the Kryukov Canal. It was constructed for naval men to a design by Savva Chevakinsky, the chief architect of the Admiralty Board. Construction of the temple was finished in 1760, and immediately it became a peculiar ornament to the city. According to legend, the temple was built after Astrakhan Cathedral, which was so attractive to Peter I, that he wished to have the same in St. Petersburg.
It was decided to erect the temple in the south-western outskirts of the city, where naval barracks of Life Guards, an elite part of the Russian fleet, was located. Navy officials lived in the same place, between Fontanka and Moyka Streets.
Being situated in a wide square right in the middle of a public garden, the Cathedral looks smart and grand. It has a shape of Greek cross and is decorated with 68 Corinthian columns grouped by three.
The blue building is richly adorned with white stucco and crowned with five domed towers glittering with gilt. This is one of the smartest temples in St. Petersburg. In Kryukov Canal Embankment, a few dozens metres from the Cathedral, a four-tier bell tower with a pointed spire soars up. It was built from 1756 to 1758.
The Cathedral has two churches: the lower and the upper one. The upper church is dedicated to the Epiphany (the Baptism of the Saviour in the Jordan). The lower one was consecrated in dedication to St. Nicholas the Wonerworker, who is honoured by the Russians as a patron of seafarers and travellers. Hence the full name St. Nicholas's Epiphany Cathedral derived.
The spacious and light Epiphany Church is separated by pylons into seven naves. An iconstand carved by I. Kanayev amazes by its beauty, carving decoration and richness of floral ornaments. It holds Byzantine icons painted by Mina and Fedot Kolokolnikovs.
The Cathedral was not built in memory of any specific naval victory. However it became the one after Catherine II donated it with ten icons in memory of victories won by Russian sailors over Turkish ans Swedish fleets in 1770, 1789, and 1790. These are the Fyodor Ushakov's victory, who was consecrated a saint, over the Turkish fleet near Cape Kaliakra on July 31 (August 11 acc. to New Style), the Admiral Vasily Chichagov's victory over the Swedish fleet near Revel on May 2 (May 13 acc. to New Style), 1790 (SS. Boris and Gleb Memorial Day), his victory over the Swedes in the Vyborg Bay on June 22, 1790 (Martyr Eusebius Memorial Day), and somve others. Of special note is St. John the Baptist. The famous sea battle with the Turks in the Chios Strait happened on his birthday, June 24, 1770. The battle, which finished on June 26 (July 7 acc. to New Style) in the Cesme Bay, was the most prominent one in the history of Russian flleet. The Greek icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, which is dated back to the 17th century, is the main sacred object of the lower St. Nicholas Church.
The Cathedral was completely devastated in the 1920s. However it is one of the St. Petersburg temples that has never been closed. It was a metropolitan cathedral since 1941 till 1999. During the siege of Leningrad, Metropolitan Alexy, the future Holy Patriarch of All Russia Alexy I, lived in its gallery.
Every year since 1770, the Day of St. John the Baptist, the Cathedral holds ceremonial services in memory of the Cesme Battle. In memory of the Battle of Tsushima, which was fought on May 14–15, 1906, the tragic event in the history of the Russian Navy and the whole nation, the Cathedral held funeral service for the fallen in the battle. The service was always attended by officers and Life Guards sailors of the naval depot with their chief, Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich of Russia, who was nearly killed in the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War while being on the battleship "Petropavlovsk" together with Admiral Stepan Makarov. In memory of the fallen in Tsushima, an obelisk, designed by naval officer Duke Putyatin, was opened in front of the Cathedral in 1908. Despite the fact that the obelisk was dedicated to the sailors killed on the battleship "Alexander III", it is still a monument to all heroes of Tsushima. A wonderful church of the Saviour of the Water, built in memory of all sailors killed during the Russo-Japanese War, was cruelly demolished in 1932.
The Cathedral had many remarkable things associated with the Russian Fleet history. They included the icon of Saint Great Martyr and Healer Panteleon, which was donated by the guard crew of the cruiser "Rynda", and the icon of St. Nicholas, patron of navy men, with relics, which was brought from saint Mount Athos after a long passage.
Plaques with sailors' names, who died on the battleship "Petropavlovsk" on March 31, 1904 in Port Arthur, on the nuclear-powered attack submarine "Komsomolets" on April 7, 1989 in Norwegian Sea, and others hang on the Cathedral's walls.
Today, the Cathedral remembers Navy men who died out at sea including those who evacuated the Baltic Fleet from Tallinn to Kronstadt in August 1941, sailors of the motor ship "Mekhanik Tarasov" wrecked in the Northern Atlantic, crew members of the submarine K-19 and the nuclear-powered submarine "Kursk", which sank in 2000, and many others.
As a rule, a priest says something after the service to remind prayers about the event. Once, the dean said that sailors, who died out at sea, do not have graves. Their relatives do not have a place to come to remember the dead and honour their memory. The church is the only place for them. God will hear their words there, for sure.
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