The 7 Strangest Churches of Russia and Their Tales (Photo Essay)

Sometimes, you can just tell that a church has a story...

Sometimes, especially in Russia, we grow accustomed to gorgeous, or simple, churches on every block...they all begin to look alike, stop stunning us with awe and wonder.

Sometimes, we forget that each church has its own unique story. It must, because the construction of a house of prayer is always an intensely personal, intensely symbolic and intensely creative process for believers…

Why was it built here? When? By whom? Why? 

Those questions always reveal fascinating tales of struggle, sacrifice, triumph, joy or pain.   

When you see the following churches, however, you don’t have to look far to search for a story. You can tell that they themselves are living stories, strange or beautiful, built by rich or poor, ancient or modern, but all ultimately all inspired by the living faith in God.

They are truly testaments to the immeasurable magnitude, diversity and imaginativeness of the believer’s heart. (This article is adapted from this Russian article)

Church #1. Temple of the Sign of the Blessed Virgin. Dubrovitsy Estate, Russia

This foundation of this church was laid in 1690, by Prince Boris Godunov, Peter the Great’s foster child. He had married the daughter of Boyar Morozov, and thus inherited the Dubrovitsy Estate. 

Peter the Great himself attended the consecration of the church with his son in 1704.

Hewn from stone

The celebrations continued for a week. All people in the near lying regions, peasants, nobles and pilgrims, were invited to partake of the week-long festivities.

Most likely, the church’s creators were Italians. However, unlike the Italians that built the Moscow Kremlin, these Italian architects made no attempt at all to adapt this church to the Russian style.

Thus, Russia was gifted a monument in pure early Italian baroque style.

It was the first church in Russia that was crowned with a gilded metal crown and had a white stone sculpture both outside and inside the temple. Statues, especially, are rather frowned upon in the Orthodox tradition, so they were a risque move on the part of the architects. 

Yet services were served in this rather unusual (for Russia) church until the Soviet times when the church was badly damaged. In 1990, it was returned to the Orthodox Church and services resumed. 

Sure, this church would look at home in Rome or Neapolis, but when one sees it in the midst of Russian snow winters,  it adds a haunting, but beautiful, dissonance to the landscape. 

#2. Church of the Holy Trinity. Waterloo Island in Antarctica

This quaint Russian Orthodox church in Antarctica is located near to the Russian (formerly Soviet) research station called Bellingshausen.

It is 15 meters tall and can fit 30 people.

It is also the southernmost Orthodox church in the world.

#3. Church of the Three Horsemen. Eski-Kermen, Crimea

This cave church is etched into the eastern slope of the cave city of Eski-Kermen (Crimea) in a huge limestone boulder and has two entrances and one tiny window.

No one really knows who the three horsemen in floating cloaks pictured on a fresco on the southern wall are.

Some believe that this is Fyodor Tiron, George the Victorious and Fyodor Stratilat.

But there is also an opinion that the icon is a triune, in other words, that it shows three scenes from St. George’s life.

Under the image are traces of a Greek inscription, which reads approximately like this:

"This church is carved and the holy martyrs of Christ were painted here for the salvation of the soul and the remission of sins.

The temple dates back to the 12th century. Nearby, tombs are found carved into the stone.

4. Church of Our Lady of Vladimir. Manor of Bykovo, Moscow Region

A unique example of Russian Gothic, (sometimes sarcastically called pseudo-Gothic) in 1789.

Rich and lover of the lavish life, Count Vorontsov, the owner of the estate, invited famous Russian architect Vasily Bazhenov after a visit from Empress Catherine II to Bykovo (1775).

The Queen, herself (in)famous for her taste for luxury, had complained to him that the estate was too ‘modest’ or ‘humble’ for her tastes or for his prestige. 

And the architect definitely did everything he could to fix the 'humbleness.'

5.The Church of the Crucifixion. G. Leninsk-Kuznetsky

This unique church of honor of the Crucifixion of the Lord is made out of stone.

It forms, which reminds the shape of a hill, is reminiscent of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (built on the place of Christ’s tomb).

On the roof, there is a special platform or ceiling balcony. At its center is a huge, oak cross, called in Russian ‘a cross before which people bow.’

The platform can hold up to 30 people and can be reached by the two external staircases made out of stone.

The church itself accommodates about 120 parishioners. It was consecrated in 2009.

6.Kostomarovsky Spassky Women's Monastery. Kostomarovo

The Holy Savior’s Convent is one of the oldest Russian monasteries, thought to date back to before the Baptism of Russia (988).

All of Russia knew about this monastery’s Cave of Repentance, where, before the Revolution, the Sacrament of Confession was performed.

The large underground Spassky temple holds up to 2000 (!) People.

Its arches rest on 12 huge chalk columns. It underwent three major periods of construction in the 6th-7th, 8th-9th and 12th centuries. 

Before the Revolution, the cave monastery had a well-fortified entrance, a secret exit and the resources to withstand a long siege. In the walls, there were carved cells for monks-hermits who led a reclusive life, communicating with pilgrims and monks only through small windows - to take food and notes with requests to pray.

Before the Revolution, the Spassky monastery was sent to the confession of the most desperate sinners.

After 1917, the hermitage was closed, but pilgrims secretly kept coming. Today, the narrow vaults of the Cave of Repentance, the low ceilings and a long cave corridor, in the niches of which stood icons and candles burn, continue helping pilgrims to reach the place of confession, having subdued pride and leaving behind all worldly things.

With each step, the ceiling becomes lower. Thus, by the time he reaches the priest in the Repentance Cave,  the sinner fell crouched in a deep bow.

#7 Orthodox church-car. Nizhny Novgorod

Believers in this area had longed for a church for a long time, and when, a few years ago, the local transportation body gifted the Church with a train compartment, they had a daring idea: to convert it to a church. They quickly built up steps, raised up a cupola and cross, and soon, church services commenced, 

Though it's a temporary construction--parishioners are hoping to build a stone church soon--aphoto of this remarkable structure went viral recently on the Internet. Western sources referred to it as the"Soul Train."

Actually, in the NizhGorodsky Region, train-churches are not new. There were many of them in the 1990s when a massive return to Christianity occurred. Train compartments were used as temporary houses of prayer until churches could be built to accommodate the believers.  

They say it's a strange feeling, to walk into a train compartment that stands still, to hear, instead of the wheels crunching, carrying you forward, prayers being chanted and carrying you not forward, but upward.

The fact that such an everyday object becomes so sacred, that such a small, trivial object can encapsulate grand ideas of mobility and immobility, life and sacredness, tends to make people feel joy and awe.

The address of the Russian church built in the form of a blue car is Nizhny Novgorod, St. Medical, just before the turn on the Schelokovsky farm.

Have an interesting church story? Let us know in the comments!