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The Extraordinary 12th Century Cathedral in Vladimir, Russia

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This article appeared on a new site about the Christian renaissance in Russia, called Russian Faith. Their introductory video is at end of this article.


Vladimir. Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Northwest view. May 16, 1995.

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Vladimir. Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Northwest view. May 16, 1995.

William Brumfield


Editors Note: This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.


At the beginning of the 20th century the Russian chemist and photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky invented a complex process for vivid, detailed color photography (see box text below).

His vision of photography as a form of education and enlightenment was demonstrated with special clarity through his photographs of medieval architecture in historic settlements northeast of Moscow, including Suzdal and Vladimir, which he visited in the summer of 1911. 

Among his several views of the town are two photographs of the monumental Dormition Cathedral: a distant view from the east and a view from the northwest. My photographic work in Vladimir, including the Dormition Cathedral, spans a period from 1972 to 2009. 

Dormition Cathedral. West view across Erofeev Descent. May 25, 1998.

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Dormition Cathedral. West view across Erofeev Descent. May 25, 1998.

William Brumfield


The fortress of Vladimir was established in 1108 on the Klyazma River by Vladimir Monomakh, who ruled as Grand Prince in Kiev from 1113 to 1125. Under his guidance, Vladimir and the surrounding settlements became a center of political and economic power in the lands of the eastern Slavs. Under Monomakh’s descendants in the second half of the 12th century, the Vladimir area witnessed a surge in church construction with a form of limestone known as white stone.   

Medieval Masterpiece

The most important of these temples was the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God (Assumption), begun in 1158 by Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky. The plan of the Dormition Cathedral conformed to the elongated plan with a dome in the center typical of large churches in Kiev and Novgorod during the same period. The stone facades displayed a few high-relief carvings.

The source of such skilled technical work remains unclear. The Laurentian chronicle mentions the bringing of masters from “all lands,” and there are later references to Nemtsi, or “Germans”— a term broadly used for foreigners. It has been proposed that the artisans were sent to Bogoliubsky by Frederick Barbarossa. If certain features of the Vladimir churches — such as the portals and decorative stonework — suggest a Western Romanesque presence, the basic plan remained in the tradition of Byzantine church architecture as adapted in early medieval Rus. 

Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). 1911.

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Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). 1911.

Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky


The Dormition Cathedral was soon rebuilt in a larger and more complex form during the reign of Andrei Bogoliubsky’s half-brother, Vsevolod III (Yurevich). The impetus for the expansion came from a fire in 1185 that destroyed much of Vladimir and severely damaged the Dormition Cathedral.

In rebuilding the cathedral (1185-90), Vsevolod’s builders dismantled the attached galleries,but retained the walls of the original structure, weakened by fire, as the core of the new cathedral. The space was expanded by adding aisles to the north, west and south sides. The walls of the addition were raised two stories, but not to the full height of the original structure. Thus the relation between the old and the new was ingeniously defined in the rebuilt structure. 

Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

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Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

William Brumfield


The cathedral was crowned by four secondary domes placed diagonally to the main dome. On the east, the three-part apse, visible in Prokudin-Gorsky’s color photograph, was rebuilt with an increase in depth.

The new facades were marked at mid-level by an arcade frieze with accents of carved ornamentation. Some of the decorative stonework on the north and south walls was transferred from the original cathedral. The new Dormition Cathedral provided a model for the revival of architecture in Muscovy at the end of the 15th century, exemplified by the Dormition Cathedral (1470s) at the center of the Moscow Kremlin. 

Mongol conquest

Less than a half century after the completion of the Dormition Cathedral, the Vladimir principality was overwhelmed by the Mongol invasion of Rus. In late February 1238, the city was captured and sacked with great loss of life. The grand prince at that time, Vsevolod’s son Yury, was killed a few days later in a final battle with the Mongol armies. When Yury’s wife, Agafya, along with other members of the family, took refuge in the cathedral, the Mongols placed burning timber against the thick walls, and those inside were asphyxiated.

Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

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Dormition Cathedral. East view with Regional Administration (right). March 6, 1972.

William Brumfield


Despite these cataclysmic events, the Dormition Cathedral survived. Vladimir was sacked again by a large Mongol raid in 1408, during which the cathedral was ransacked and damaged. Two renowned painters, Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chorny, were brought to redo the interior. Rublev’s surviving frescoes are located in the western part of the cathedral and depict the Last Judgement. The two also painted icons for a new icon screen. Although the icon screen was redone in the Baroque style in the late 18th century, some of the Rublev icons were preserved and are now in the collection of Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. 

Dormition Cathedral. Northeast view. June 19, 1994.

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Dormition Cathedral. Northeast view. June 19, 1994.

William Brumfield


In 1785-90 the area along a bluff to the east of the Dormition was given to the construction of the Regional Administration Offices, visible in Prokudin-Gorsky’s photograph (on the right) and in mine taken six decades later. Designed in the neoclassical style favored during the reign of Catherine the Great, the long 3-story building has been criticized as a dissonant element situated between the medieval Cathedral of the Dormition and Vsevolod’s palace church, dedicated to St. Demetrius. Nonetheless, the solidly-built structure has endured and continues to serve the town.

Neoclassical revival

During a visit to Vladimir in 1767, Catherine was taken by the Dormition Cathedral and personally supported its renovation, including the creation of the lavish icon screen mentioned above. Although well-intentioned, changes effected in this and subsequent decades had an impact on the cathedral’s appearance. 

Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. 1911.

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Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. 1911.

Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky


In 1810, a large bell tower was erected just to the north, and in 1862 a church dedicated to St. George was designed by Nicholas Artleben in a Gothic Revival style to fill the space between the bell tower and cathedral’s north façade. These additions created a new perspective on the ensemble from the north, facing the town’s main street (Moscow Street). This north perspective is clearly rendered in Prokudin-Gorsky’s contact print. The original negative is lost. 

Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. Left: Regional Administration. March 6, 1972.

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Dormition Cathedral. Northwest view with bell tower & Church of St. George. Left: Regional Administration. March 6, 1972.

William Brumfield


Comprehensive, informed restoration work in the 1880s eliminated most of the distortions made during the preceding century and uncovered a major section of Andrei Rublev’s frescoes. Another prolonged restoration phase concluded in the early 1980s.

Dormition Cathedral. Southwest view. May 26, 1997.

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Dormition Cathedral. Southwest view. May 26, 1997.

William Brumfield


In 1992, the Dormition Cathedral was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Responsibility for this grand cultural and historical monument is now shared between the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum Preserve and the Diocese of Vladimir, for which it serves as the main cathedral. 

Dormition Cathedral. West facade, arcade frieze. July 18, 2009.

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Dormition Cathedral. West facade, arcade frieze. July 18, 2009.

William Brumfield


In the early 20th century the Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky invented a complex process for color photography. Between 1903 and 1916 he traveled through the Russian Empire and took over 2,000 photographs with the new process, which involved three exposures on a glass plate.

In August 1918 he left Russia with a large part of his collection of glass negatives and ultimately resettled in France. After his death in Paris in 1944, his heirs sold his collection to the Library of Congress.

In the early 21st century the Library digitized the Prokudin-Gorsky Collection and made it freely available to the global public. Numerous Russian websites now have versions of the collection.

In 1986 the architectural historian and photographer William Brumfield organized the first exhibit of Prokudin-Gorsky photographs at the Library of Congress. Over a period of work in Russia beginning in 1970, Brumfield has photographed most of the sites visited by Prokudin-Gorsky. 

This series of articles will juxtapose Prokudin-Gorsky’s views of architectural monuments with photographs taken by Brumfield decades later. 


A video introducing Russian Faith:

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Irish Times poll lays bare pandemic’s impact on political landscape

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Sinn Féin is on top again, with its highest-ever rating in an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll of support for the parties. Our latest such poll shows Sinn Féin on 31 per cent (up three points), ahead of Fine Gael, which has slipped three points to 27 per cent.

Fianna Fáil remains some way adrift of Sinn Féin and Fine Gael, although it has closed the gap considerably in this June poll, jumping six points to 20 per cent. The Green Party (on 6 per cent) and Labour (on 3 per cent) are unchanged. Independents and smaller parties combined attract 13 per cent of the vote (down six points). Within this bloc are People Before Profit/Solidarity (on 2 per cent) and Social Democrats (on 2 per cent).

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Delta variant: Is Denmark heading for another Covid surge as seen in the UK?

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Cases involving the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant are cropping up in Denmark with growing frequency, with at least five pupils testing positive at Grønnevang School in Hillerød near Copenhagen on Monday, and a nearby kindergarten also closed after one of the children’s parents tested positive. 

The Hillerød outbreak comes after a similar school cluster in Risskov near Aarhus, which saw one school class and one kindergarten temporarily sent home after two cases were identified. 

The variant, which was first identified in India, now makes up to 90 percent of cases in the UK, forcing the country to delay the so-called “England’s Freedom Day” on June 21st, keeping restrictions in place for another four weeks? 

So, is there a risk of a UK-style outbreak? 

Tyra Grove Krause, acting academic director at the Statens Serum Institute on Tuesday said it was crucial that Denmark health authorities and local municipalities put as much effort as possible into containing any outbreaks. 

“This is a variant that we are concerned about and that we really want to keep it down for as long as we can,” she said. “This is because, according to English authorities, it is up to 50 percent more contagious and possibly more serious than other variants.” 

In a statement last week, her agency said the delta variant was “worrying”. 

The Danish Patient Safety Authority on Tuesday called for all residents in the areas surrounding the schools and kindergarten in Hillerød to get tested, and said that the authorities were increasing test capacity in the area, and also putting out “test ambassadors” on the streets.  

So how is it going in Denmark right now? 

Pretty well.

Despite the lifting of most restrictions, the number of cases registered daily remains low, even if the 353 reported on Wednesday is above the recent trend of under 200 cases a day, the share of positive tests is also slightly up at 0.37 percent. 

Just 93 people are now being treated in hospital for coronavirus, the lowest since September 23rd last year.

And how’s it going in the UK? 

Not so good, but not terrible either. Overall case numberS remain low, but they are starting to climb again despite the UK’s impressive vaccination rate.

The worry is the Delta variant – first discovered in India – which now makes up 90 percent of new cases in the UK and which experts agree is around 40 percent more transmissible than other variants.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty told a press conference on Monday that cases are rising across the country.

It is concerns over this variant that has lead the British government to delay the latest phase of lockdown easing – initially scheduled for June 21st – for another four weeks.

So will Denmark follow the UK’s trend? 

Probably. Christian Wejse, an epidemiologist at Aarhus University, told The Local that he believes it is inevitable that the Delta variant will eventually become dominant in Denmark too. 

“If it’s true that delta variant is 50 percent or 70 percent more contagious than the B117 (Alpha or UK variant), then I think, in the long run, we’ll see that it takes over because that’s what more contagious viruses do.,” he said. “I think that’s also what the health authorities assume it’s going to happen.” 

How much of a problem would that be? 

Not necessarily too much of a problem, according to Wejse.

For a start, he predicts that the end of the school term and the good summer weather should stop the virus spreading too rapidly for the next two months or so, meaning it will take longer to take over than the British variant did. 

B117 came at a time where the epidemic was rolling in Denmark at a very high level, back in December and January. Now the epidemic is growing much, much slower. That means it’s probably going to take more time,” he said. 

And by the time it does take over, in September perhaps, vaccination levels should be high enough to blunt its impact. 

“I seriously think and hope that, that when we get to the next fall, we’ll be in a different situation. There will be small outbreaks, but not really any big time spread, like we had last fall.” 

“At least with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, there’s data indicating the difference in terms of protection [from the delta variant] is quite small. So, there will be very good protective effects of the vaccines, so I’m certainly confident that it will be much less of a problem when we have a high vaccination coverage, which I assume we will have when we get into September.” 



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Art restoration in Spain: Spain’s latest ‘Ecce Homo’: how a botched restoration made global headlines | Culture

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Several days ago, the Spanish painter Antonio Capel was chatting with the owners of Vivaldi, a florist’s shop in the northern city of Palencia, when they remarked that something was amiss with the façade of a historic building that now houses a branch of the Unicaja bank. Capel was surprised so they suggested he take a look at what was once the delicate face of a shepherdess.

The artist went up to his studio and, using his camera’s zoom, saw that the familiar features were now nothing short of an eyesore. The statue’s eyes were in the wrong place and her nose and mouth had been clumsily crafted. As Capel jokes, whoever was responsible for the restoration was no fine artist – an observation backed by the Spanish Association of Conservators and Restorer’s rapid clarification that it was not a professional job. The botched restoration has already drawn comparisons to the infamous Ecce Homo painting which was disfigured beyond recognition by an amateur artist in Borja in 2012.

The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.
The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.

The florists in Palencia, who preferred to remain anonymous, recall that heavy rains several years back caused a fall of debris from the building, which was inaugurated in 1923. They later realized that the face of the shepherdess was missing. “The strange thing is that no one noticed” how badly it had been restored, they say.

Capal, meanwhile, says it is beyond his comprehension that such slapdash workmanship should be allowed on such a beautiful building, which is located in the heart of the city on Mayor street. In his opinion, the workers simply used a tracing technique to fashion the face out of plaster in the hope that it would be too high up for anyone to notice.

Unicaja denies any responsibility for the sloppy result. Spokespeople from the bank insist that they only own the premises of the branch office and the second floor. Years ago, Caja Duero, which later became part of Unicaja, owned the entire building. However, they sold the upper floors during the takeover to private homeowners. The spokespeople maintain that the building’s administrator informed the homeowners in 2017 that pieces from the façade had fallen off, including the face of the shepherdess. Palencia City Council confirms that they called on the owners to repair the damage that could pose a threat to public safety. They explain the building is under “structural, not integral protection,” meaning that any restoration work must protect the structure of the building, but no special consideration needs to be given to its exterior decorations.

Unicaja’s staff laugh when asked about the ham-handed job. Like other botched restorations in Spain, including the cartoonish facelift of a 16th-century sculpture of Saint George in Navarre, the changes went unnoticed until someone with a keen eye spotted them. Even the journalists at the Cadena Ser radio network, which has its newsroom in the building, admit to being oblivious.

But now Spain’s latest Ecce Homo is making international headlines, with even with the British newspaper, The Guardian, flagging up the statue’s perceived resemblance to the incumbent president of the United States, Donald Trump.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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