Who would have thought that governments across the globe would order churches, synagogues and mosques to be closed to the public for worship and prayers? And did you ever think you’d see the day when cities were like ghost towns with barely any vehicles on the roads? It’s almost certain that places of worship will remain closed on Easter Sunday.
In just a short time, 196 countries have been affected by COVID-19 since it began late last fall. For those who have not been through the Second World War years, this is a pretty dramatic change to our free and easy lifestyle.
Seeing news photos of city highways that have almost no traffic reminds me of when I toured the great Russian city of St. Petersburg on a Sunday. We walked along St. Isaac’s Square snapping photos of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Photos show me wearing a red jacket and standing on the sidewalk and no traffic going by. There is very little traffic on the streets on a Sunday there. People stay home or walk.
I have always been fascinated with Russian history. Peter and Catherine the Great, the Czars, the Revolution, Lenin, the Bolsheviks, the vast country and the people make for an incredible history. A few years ago, I spent two days in that Russian city where so much of that history played out.
I’ve been inside great churches, huge cathedrals, giant palaces and unbelievably-sized castles. It fascinates me how they were constructed so many years ago.
It was in St. Petersburg, in northern Russia, that I was mesmerized at the sight of several pictorial cathedrals. I stood inside huge Russian Orthodox cathedrals, memories of which I’ll cherish forever. I say stood because there are no pews inside these magnificent structures. People stand.
St. Petersburg, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, was the capital of the Russian Empire for a little over two centuries (1712-1918).
One of the tours we took while in the city was of the Cathedrals of St. Petersburg. We visited the St. Nicholas Cathedral, which was started in 1753. The Peter and Paul Cathedral was built in the 1700s. The height of the spire is an amazing 123 metres.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest church in the city with a capacity of 12,000 standing worshippers. Started in 1818, the cathedral took 40 years to build. The interior is awesome. It took 200 artists 16 years to complete the inside after the church was built.
The Kazan Cathedral glistens at a height of 64 metres. This huge cathedral was built in the early 1800s.
But nothing compares to the nine-domed Cathedral of the Resurrection, which is 81 metres high. It was put up on the bank of the Griboyedov Canal — on the site where 63-year-old Emperor Alexander II was mortally wounded by a terrorist who exploded a hand-made bomb. This very unique cathedral is commonly known as “Our Saviour-on-the-Spilt-Blood.” It’s the most beautiful stone building I have ever seen.
The 24 years of construction work (1883-1907) resulted in the creation of a masterpiece of architecture. We toured the famous structure on a Saturday afternoon and saw a wedding taking place. The groom was dressed in a black suit; the bride was in white. People took an incense stick as they entered the cathedral, lit it from a candle and put the burning stick in a pot or holder.
The Russian Orthodox priests with their long beards and long robes look like they are from another century.
I have also been inside incredible cathedrals in other European countries. Old simple churches can be interesting too. The pews in a Lutheran church in Finland I visited have little doors on each side of the pews. I sat in the back pew to get a feel of what the church was like during worship services.
Old churches in Norway are different and weird looking wooden structures. The stave church of timber is the typical Norwegian church architecture of the Middle Ages. The one we were in was perched in a mountainous valley. The roofs of the stave church have layers of roof going up quite high. It’s picturesque!
I’ll always cherish the memories and the photos I have of those magnificent cathedrals and of those simple old wooden and stone churches.
Have a Blessed Easter with your family as churches remain closed until it’s safe to gather in crowds again.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and newspaper columnist.