The Cathedral of the Annunciation (Russian: Благовещенский собор, or Cathedral Church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, which is at the top of the “Great Sovereign” or “in the hallway”) is an Orthodox church in Moscow, located on the Cathedral Square of the Moscow Kremlin. Consecrated in honour of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, it was the first home church of the Moscow Grand Dukes and Tsars of the 16th century until the Verkhospassky Cathedral was constructed.
According to legend, in 1291 Vladimir Prince Andrei Alexandrovich built the wooden Cathedral of the Annunciation on the site of Kuchkov Field. The first written mention of a stone church dates to the end of the 14th century when the son of Grand Duke Dmitry Donskoy – Grand Duke Vasily Dmitrievich – laid the foundation of the church around 1393.
It was a single-domed, pillarless house church of the grand-ducal family, made of white stone blocks on a basement that has survived to this day. Presumably, frescoes depicting saints decorated the altar barrier of the church. Then the temple was called the Annunciation “on the Tsar’s entrance hall” and “on the Grand Duke’s Court.” On the western side, it connected with the chambers of the sovereign through the passage.
In 1404-1405, as the chronicle said, artists Theophanes the Greek, Prokhor from Gorodets and Andrei Rublev decorated the temple with frescoes and wall paintings. The chronicler wrote that near the newly built temple, the Grand Duke set up the first clock in Moscow.
In 1416, the building was dismantled and a new, four-pillar, three-apse building was erected and expanded to the size of a modern one. The cathedral became three-domed with a large central and two small eastern domes. In style, it was close to the monuments of early Moscow architecture: the Assumption Cathedral in Zvenigorod, and the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin on Senya.
In 1484, the construction of a new stone church building began under the supervision of the Pskov masters Krivtsov and Myshkin. The construction was completed five years later, after which, on August 9, 1489, Metropolitan Gerontius consecrated it.
The temple was rebuilt in 1564-1566 under Ivan the Terrible. On the vaults of the galleries, single-domed chapel churches were built and dedicated to the Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael, St. George and the Entrance to Jerusalem. Their decoration is reminiscent of the decor of the pillars of the church of John the Baptist in Dyakovo. At this time, two western domes were also built on the main volume of the temple, making it nine-domed. The roofs were covered with gilded copper, giving the cathedral the name”golden-domed.” The aisles, built of undersized bricks, were covered with vaults with demouldings. Icon painters from Novgorod, Pskov gathered to make interior decorations with icons.
During the October Revolution of 1917, heavy artillery attacked the Kremlin – a shell hit the cathedral and destroyed its porch. In 1918, along with other churches of the Kremlin, it was closed for worship. In May of the same year, a committee that Igor Grabar headed was established for the preservation and disclosure of monuments of ancient paintings. On his initiative, a restoration group began to work in the Kremlin cathedrals. They managed to clear icons from the deesis and festal rows of the iconostasis, which Andrey Rublev and Theophanes the Greek presumably made. Among them were “The Savior on the Throne”, “John the Baptist”, “Archangel Gabriel”, “Basil the Great”, and “John Chrysostom”. In 1950, the southern portal was restored using fragments of a 15th-century structure found under a layer of plaster. Five years later, the cathedral was turned into a museum. In the 1970s, it was renovated and the domes were gilded.
Artists-restorers of the All-Union Association “Soyuzrestavratsiya” under the leadership of Leonid Sergeevich Muravyov-Moiseenko conducted large-scale restoration work between 1980 and 1984. After cleaning the walls of late records, they managed to discover a previously unidentified author’s layer of painting from the middle of the 16th century. However, part of the compositions was irretrievably lost because of the works of the XIX century.
By the 500th anniversary of the cathedral in 1989, an exhibition of icons was opened, which the house of the royal temple had in ancient times. Since 1993, on the patronal feast of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, patriarchal services have been performed in the church. On this day, from the steps of the cathedral, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’ releases white doves.
The aisles of the cathedral were restored between 2008 and 2010.
Compared with the other two major Kremlin cathedrals, the Annunciation Cathedral has slightly smaller dimensions. It is also built in a more traditional style since local architects from Pskov, rather than Italian expatriate architects, created it. The most characteristic feature of the building is its nine golden domes, and roof with rich kokoshnik ornamentation in an ogive form.
The cathedral was built of brick and had facades of white limestone that were dressed and decorated. There are entrances to the cathedral on the eastern and southern sides of the building, with fretwork influenced by Italian Renaissance architecture. The bronze doors are decorated with gold foil. Tourists enter the cathedral via the eastern staircase, while the southern staircase is the one added in 1570 by Ivan the Terrible. The entrance is high because the building was built on the raised base of its predecessor.
The interior of the cathedral consists of the central prayer area and several surrounding galleries, with the addition of side altars in the 16th century. The northern (facing towards the Palace of Facets) is the first gallery space, which is entered through the visitor entrance. This contains a famous Image of the Edessa icon, which is attributed to the famous Russian icon painter, Simon Ushakov. A doorway from the main room separates the gallery; Italian architects created it in the 16th century using a striking azure blue color with gilt floral ornaments.
The door wings are decorated with figures of ancient poets and philosophers like Diogenes, Euripides, Plato and Homer.
The main vault of the cathedral has a large iconostasis, which includes icons of the 14th to 17th centuries, including the ones painted by Andrei Rublev, Theophanes the Greek and Prokhor, and 19th century, as well, particularly on the middle tiers. A silver door pierces the fifth (lowest) row behind which is the old staircase to the Tsar’s chambers.
Throughout the interior, there are fragments of murals painted by Theodosius (1508) and by others (second half of the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries). These include various biblical themes and heroic figures among other Russian princes and grand dukes.
Working hours: Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun: 09:30 – 18:00; winter period: Mon-Wed, Fri-Sun 10:00-17:00.
Other places to visit inside the Kremlin ensemble