St Petersburg, Russia under Tsar Alexander II, had lost many wars; the economy was in tatters and people were revolting against him in St.Petersburg. The Tsar had survived an assassination attempt in his own winter palace and also survived another , when the train he had travelled on was derailed. On the 13th of March 1881, people of St. Petersburg were lined along the cobble stone streets on the banks of the Griboyedov Channel and were cheering the Tsar for his reforms. Some were protesting as well , jeering the Tsar as his twelve horse driven carriage was escorted by his soldiers.
The Tsar was going to address the house on his signing a declaration, that set up two houses of people nominated representatives, to advise the government in its policies. Many young men, mostly peasants belonging to a revolutionary group, known as the “Peoples Will” mingled with the crowd. Today, they had planned to assassinate the Tsar, making use of the commotion. They jumped the barricade and wrestled with the soldiers protecting the Tsar. Thus, they managed to stop the carriage and rushed towards the Tsar, raising slogans against him and his policy. Unwary of their motives the Tsar, bravely got down from his carriage to challenge the claims of the revolutionaries. It was then that a young man hurled a grenade, followed by some more, that mortally wounded the Tsar. He fell down on the streets, in a pool of blood to breathe his last.
The Tsar was succeeded by his son Alexander III who thereafter crushed the revolutionary group and hanged the conspirators. The royal family and many philanthropists intending to put up an extravagant memorial, ultimately built an imposing church over the site of the assassination and called it the Church of Resurrection of Jesus Christ or the Church of Spilled Blood.
The scene of the assassination kept rewinding before me, as I walked along the cobble stone street , along the banks of the channel towards the Church.It is an elaborate and intrinsically designed superstructure. The outer walls, domes and steeples were multi-colored but very artistically painted. The wall above the entrances were adorned with religious paintings and were distinct from the other European churches belonging to the middle ages.
Built by a Russian architect it was very native and I was given to understand that it took 24 years to be completed. Not that it was such a huge monument, that it took that much time, but it took that long for the finery of the rich mosaic art and paintings that decorated the entire church to be created.
Awed by the colorful paint and intricate mosaic on the exterior, I entered the church. I was awestruck by the amazing paintings that adorned the entire wall of the interior including the floor. The richly decorated Ciborium constructed at the spot of the assassination placed just opposite the altar attracted large crowds. I could read from their faces that they were pensive. Turning around I looked at the altar. It was spellbinding and was said to have been studded with gemstones. I stood motionless in breathtaking bewilderment at the richness, that was plundered and now replaced by artificial stones.
To chronicle the paintings, not an inch of space was left untouched by the strokes of the artists brush and colors.The ceilings too were not spared and for one to merely take a casual look at them was impossible. Scenes from the New Testament in the Holy Bible, beginning from the Angelus, Nativity, the many miracles performed, the passion, crucifixion, resurrection, till the ascension of Christ into heaven, kept me drunk in admiration at the skills of the artists.
Being a Christian , I did easily understand the paintings and the gospels portrayed. The supporting pillars were decorated by murals bearing images of the Apostles and Evangelists. Mary the mother of Christ finds a place in most of the paintings and I did understand her role in the Russian Orthodox Church.The 7500 square feet of mosaic tiles were so well placed ,to make up great pictures. To the poor peasantry and workers among the Russians, it was an extravagant wonder. As such, one of the most beautiful and commendable artistic churches came to be despised by the revolutionaries during their fight against Tsardom.
The church and its religion gave way to the early Communist regime from 1907 to 1930 and it came to be closed and the memorial, worship service was banned. It was used as a morgue by the German army during the World War and later as a vegetable warehouse. Sadly it also then came to be called the Church of the Saviour of Potatoes.
The profound, rich art and the contrasting history left me pensive. The conduct of men who had amassed wealth gained from the labour of the “havenots” had brought about a historic monument of art, but the poverty of the people had blinded their appreciation and propelled a historic revolution known as communism.
I looked up once again, musing over the paintings, murals and mosaics depicting the life of Christ ,as it struck me that I was reading a picture book of the Gospel.
Walking out of the church I glanced back. A strange sedate feeling or emotion, that at this church upon spilled blood, I had witnessed the power of art, politics as well as religion took over me. I kept on replaying the events, at the back of my mind until my tight, night cap put my musing mind to rest.
A must visit site. I tell you! Once you happen to witness it, you might have your own reasons to tell others ,or may be tell them that you had an occasion to relive the gospel of Christ, in its art form.