St. Basil Cathedral (Moscow, Russia)


St. Basil's Cathedral,


Location: Moscow, Russia in the Red Square next to the Kremlin

Architects: Barma and Postrik (believed to be one person)

Style: Byzantine/Mosque/Russian Orthodox

Dates: aprx. 1554-1560

Built for Czar Ivan IV the Terrible

Basil the Blessed

  • Saint Basil the Blessed was a “holy fool”.
  • Began displaying “Yurodivy” or foolishness of Christ at age 16
  • Marketplace Incident
    • He went into the marketplace and toppled over kalachi and kvas stands.
    • Angry merchants beat him up, but he welcomed it with joy and thanked God for it.
    • It was soon discovered that the kalachi was poorly cooked and the kvas were badly prepared.
  • Dedicated to helping the poor
  • Condemned those who helped the poor out of selfish reasons rather than compassion
  • Died in 1557 and was buried on the site of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

Why was it built?

Commemorates victory of Tzar Ivan, or Ivan the Terrible over the Kazan Khanate

Battle of Russo-Kazan Wars, Sept. 2, 1552 – October 13, 1552

8 battles over 8 days

Each cathedral is to worship a name-day saint, as each of the cathedrals are for a day of the battle

Trinity Cathedral used to stand on the site, few years before St. Basil’s

During restoration work in 70’s, wooden spiral staircase discovered within one of
the walls


The St. Basil Cathedral is striking. Not only is it so brightly colored, it has onion shaped domes.

  • 8 interconnecting small chapels, built on on one foundation, each dedicated to one of the saints
  • Domes covered with onion shaped shells to protect
  • Hand painted in bright stripes that contrast with the dark red brick exterior
  • Has some Eastern design- Reflects Russia’s location between Europe and Asia
  • The empire captured the Tartars so some elements from the Kazan Qolsharif Mosque are incorporated to symbolize victory
  • Construction system: bearing masonry 

    St. Basil's Cathedral floor plan,

  • Representing medieval symbol of eight-pointed star
  • When built, Cathedral was all white to match the white-stone Kremlin;
    onion domes were gold rather than present-day multicolored
  • 1860: Cathedral repainted w/ more complex and integrated design; unchanged since
  • Route goes into central church –> soaring tented roof, fine 16th century
    iconostasis (wall of icons and religious paintings, separates nave from sanctuary)
  • Eight Pointed Star: meant to be an architectural representation of New Jerusalem–Heavenly Kingdom described in Book of Revelation of St. John the Divine
  • 64 meters high
    * 8-point star: #8 carries great religious significance
    * Denotes day of Christ’s Resurrection (8th day by the ancient Jewish calendar) and the promised Heavenly Kingdom (kingdom of the 8th century, which will begin after 2nd coming of Christ)
    * Eight-point star symbolizes Christian Church as guiding light to mankind, showing us way to Heavenly Jerusalem
    * Represents Virgin Mary, depicted in Orthodox iconography with veil decorated with three 8-point stars
    * Cathedral’s star-like pattern consists of two superimposed squares, which represent stability of faith, 4 corners of the earth, 4 Evangelists and 4 equal-sided walls of the Heavenly City


Interior ceiling, photo courtesy of


  • Walls painted with floral and geometric patterns
  • The inside consists of a maze of narrow and dimly lit corridors connecting the different chapels


St. Basil's Cathedral,


9th pillar,


  • 9th Chapel added in 1588 on the east side as a tomb for Basil, is said to detract from symmetry.
  • Both Napoleon and Stalin tried to destroy it.
  • For a time Soviet Union considered demolishing St. Basil’s because it hindered Stalin’s plans for massed parades on Red Square
  • Saved thanks to architect Pyotr Baranovsky; when ordered to prepare
    building for demolition, he refused categorically and sent Kremlin an extremely
    blunt telegram OR threatened to slit his throat; got five years in prison, but Cathedral remained standing
  • Present day: now a museum
  • Statue moved to St. Basil’s Cathedral of 2 patriots: Kuzma Minin, Dmitry Pozharsky


  • Reaches toward heaven
  • Orderly and symmetrical
  • Colorful, full of life
  • Filled with floral and geometric patterns
  • Overall, a sense of order and lifelike color
  • Represents 8 pointed star
  • Reason to be built is sacred: Used to commemorate victory over heathens

By: Asa, Alina, Oliva, and Jenny


* sources:
floor plan:
pictures showing asymmetrical ninth pillar:

(Sources and

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