The official religion in Russia is Russian Orthodox. However, during the Soviet times (after the Revolution of 1917 until 1990’s) religion was not very widely spread in our country, though before the Revolution the country was very religious, with hundreds of churches all around St Petersburg, the capital city. It is unbelievable how communism could succeed in one of the most religious countries and then fall in one the most communistic countries in the world.
During the times of the Soviet Union, churches were destroyed, pulled down or adjusted to some utilitarian use – for storerooms, museums and so on. St Isaac’s Cathedral was turned into a museum, and the most famous church of St Petersburg the Church on Spilt Blood was supposed to be blown up. Fortunately, it never happened. However, the Church of Our Christ the Savior in Moscow (it became famous worldwide after the Russian band Pussy Riot performed there in 2012) was destroyed in 1931 and its basement from 1960 until 1994 was used as a swimming pool.
The situation in the country changed in 1988 when we celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the Christianization of Russia, which took place in 988. Starting from 1990s old churches started to be restored and new ones were constructed. More and more people started practicing religion. That is why during your visit to Russia you will definitely see numerous Russian Orthodox churches.
One of the churches, which we strongly recommend to visit when you are in St Petersburg, is the Chesme Church; its full name is the Church of Saint John the Baptist at Chesme Palace, also called the Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. It was constructed in the times of Catherine the Great to commemorate the victory of Russian fleet in 1770 over Turkish forces in Chesme Bay in the Aegean Sea. According to the legend on the spot where the church is situated now, Catherine the Great received the news of the victory in the Chesme Bay. The construction started in 1777. The church was to be a part of the Chesme palace complex built on the way from St Petersburg to Tsarskoye Selo (the Tsarist Village, today Pushkin), which was Catherine’s favorite residence. The church was designed by Yury Felten in the Neo-Gothic style.
During the World War II since the complex (both the palace and the church) is located in the southern part of the city, it was severely damaged. The palace was restored soon after the war and the building started to house one of the institutes of Leningrad (this is how St Petersburg was named from 1924 to 1991). The church was restored in 1960s and a branch of the Central Naval museum was opened there. In 1991, first religious service took place in the Chesme Church. Nowadays it is a functioning Russian Orthodox church, where services take place every day, and the admittance is free.
The church is remarkable because of its unusual appearance, for it is one of the not so many Neo-Gothic buildings in St Petersburg and it is convenient to visit on the way to the Catherine Palace. For more details, please contact us!