Moscow’s Trinity Church, later renamed Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat and better known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, was consecrated.

Ivan the Terrible had originally constructed a series of small wooden memorial chapels as a way to commemorate his numerous military successes against the Tatars. These were built next to the original Trinity Church in the centre of the marketplace near the Moscow Kremlin. Ivan ordered the construction of the new stone church in 1555 to commemorate his capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.

What later became Saint Basil’s Cathedral is therefore a more lavish replacement of an earlier building. Little is known of its construction, with even the identity of the architect a mystery. Tradition dictates that two architects, Barma and Postnik, built the church although later writers have suggested that these are simply different names for the same person.

The building itself consists of eight outer churches arranged around a ninth central one, and is constructed on top of a white stone foundation that matches the nearby Kremlin. A series of later developments led to the nine separate structures becoming joined into a single building, and the bright colours that decorate the walls of the cathedral were added from the late 17th until the middle of the 19th century. These are said to reflect the colours of Heaven described in the Book of Revelation. Before they were repainted, the domes were uniformly decorated with gilded tin.

The Cathedral was confiscated from the Russian Orthodox Church as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution and introduction of state atheism. It continues to function as a public museum.

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© Scott Allsop