On this day in 1933 the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo was closed

PHOTO: Early 20th century view of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral at Tsarskoye Selo

On this day – 27th December 1933, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral[1] at Tsarskoye Selo was officially closed by a resolution of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee[2].

The Cathedra’s Upper Church became a cinema hall, where a screen was placed right in the altar, while the Lower Cave Church[3] was turned into a warehouse and archive for film and film documents.

The Decree on the Separation of Church and State had been proclaimed by the Bolsheviks in January 1918. It declared all Church property to be the property of the state. Sanctioned by this license, squads of Bolshevik thugs went around the country desecrating and looting churches and monasteries, mocking religion and religious people unmercifully, even murdering priests, monks, nuns and other believers by the thousands.

The years between 1929-1939, the Russian Orthodox Church was subject to further rabid anti-church persecution. Thousands of cathedrals, churches and monasteries were desecrated and pillaged by the Bolsheviks, by order of Joseph Stalin.

PHOTO: watercolour of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral (1917) by Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna

At first, during the collectivization process, many rural parishes were dissolved by local Soviet authorities, and on 9th August 1931, the Leningrad [St. Petersburg] City Council raised the question of closing all of the city’s churches.

The Bolsheviks anti-church campaign spread from parish to parish throughout the former Russian Empire. In Pushkin[4] the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral[4] was desecrated and pillaged before it was finally closed in 1933.

In 1934, the Bolsheviks conducted an Anti-Easter campaign, which included Detskoye Selo[4]: “… in an attempt to distract parishioners from the churches, a carnival with music and dancing was arranged on the streets of the city… Against the backdrop of the Catherine Cathedral a screen was arranged on the wall of the City Council on which a film was shown.”

Between 1934 to 1935, a total of 361 churches were closed in the diocese, and many more churches could not function due to the absence of the repressed clergy.

PHOTO: the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in 1945

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was badly damaged during the Nazi occupation of Pushkin (1941-44). During the Soviet years, the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was left in a terrible state of disrepair and neglect.

PHOTO: the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral in 1977

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. The entire complex of buildings closely connected with the life of the last Russian Emperor was taken over by the Moscow Patriarchate, who allocated funds for the reconstruction and restoration work carried out over a 20 year period.

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral was reconsecrated on 29 February 1992. Regular liturgies are today carried out in the Upper Church, and the Lower Cave Church. In addition, Divine Liturgies are regularly conducted in memory of the murdered Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia Nikolaevna, and Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich.

The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral has become a popular pilgrimage site for Orthodox Christians from across Russia and around the world. In addition are monarchists, modern-day Cossacks and adherents of the Holy Royal Martyrs.

On 17th July 1993, Russia’s first monument to Emperor Nicholas II by the Russian sculptor V.V. Zaiko was established in the garden located in behind the Cathedral.

On 4th May (O.S. 21st April) 1913, Emperor Nicholas II and his family planted a group of oak trees on the grounds of the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral. A total of seven trees were planted that day, with each member of the Imperial Family, beginning with the Tsar, planting a single oak tree. Of the seven trees planted, only four have survived to the present day, the other three were cut down during the Nazi occupation of Pushkin.

PHOTO: the Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral as it looks today. The blue tent-roof of the Royal or Tsar’s Porch – used by the Emperor and his family – can be seen to the right


[1] The Feodorovsky Sovereign Cathedral served as the regimental church of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy. In addition, the cathedral served as the house church for the Imperial family, while they were in residence in the Alexander Palace. Construction of the Cathedral was financed by Nicholas II, who contributed 150,000 gold rubles from his own personal funds.

[2] The All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) was the highest legislative, administrative and revising body of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Russian SFSR) from 1917 until 1937. Although the All-Russian Congress of Soviets had supreme authority, in periods between its sessions its powers were passed to VTsIK.

[3] Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was particularly fond of the Cave Church. A special room was arranged for her, which allowed her to retire in prayer. The chapel, a small room less than a meter wide, was installed to the right of the altar. It contained a mosaic icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov. The Cave Church has been fully restored and open to worshippers.

[4] On 7th November 1918 Tsarskoye Selo was renamed Detskoye Selo (Children’s Village). On 10th February 1937, it was renamed Pushkin, in honour of the great Russian poet, playright and novelist Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837). On 10th June 1939, the Catherine Cathedral was demolished by the Soviet authorities.

© Paul Gilbert. 27 December 2022