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The Kremlin’s Dormition Cathedral: Russia’s Sacred Crown

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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.  

<figcaption>Photographs by William Brumfield</figcaption>
Photographs by William Brumfield

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.  You can find some of his other articles on RI here.


Russia has many sacred sites, but none is more important to the country’s identity than the golden-domed Dormition (Uspensky) Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. For centuries, this cathedral was Russia’s most elevated monument — at the center of its history, its politics, its culture and its Orthodox faith. Even after the founding of St. Petersburg, the coronation ceremony of each ruler of Russia occurred in this cathedral, including the coronation of the last emperor, Nicholas II on May 26, 1896. As of 1991, it is once again the Patriarchal Cathedral of Russia.

The Dormition Cathedral is dedicated to one of the most venerated and complex mysteries in Orthodox theology, the Dormition of the Mother of God, which refers to the transposition of Mary from this world to the heavenly sphere. Orthodox iconography portrays the recumbent Mother of God, surrounded by apostles, as falling asleep — hence the term “dormition” (in Russian “uspenie”) from the Latin verb dormire, “to sleep.” At this moment — in effect, Mary’s death — Christ accepts Mary’s soul into heaven three days before her “assumption,” in which her resurrected body is miraculously taken to heaven.

The origins of the Kremlin Dormition Cathedral are closely connected with the rise of Moscow’s power. In 1326, the leading Russian church prelate, Metropolitan Peter of Vladimir, made the Moscow Kremlin his de facto residence. The prelate’s health was in decline, and it was felt that the Moscow court could provide better care. This move, carefully cultivated by Grand Prince Ivan I (Kalita), was fraught with significance not only for the political and religious status of Moscow, but also for its architectural development.

In 1326 Ivan, with the participation of Peter, laid the foundation stone for the Dormition Cathedral. Later in 1326, Peter was buried within the cathedral walls in a tomb that he had himself prepared, thus endowing the site with added religious significance when Peter was canonized in 1339. The cathedral’s dedication to the Feast of the Dormition symbolized the continuity with the great Dormition Cathedral in the town of Vladimir, political center of early Russia.

In 1448, the Russian church elected its own metropolitan, becoming official independent of the Orthodox patriarch in Constantinople. When Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, Moscow saw itself as the sole defender of the Orthodox faith. To enhance Moscow’s new authority, Ivan III (1463-1505) launched a major rebuilding of the Kremlin, including its walls and towers. A central part of the project was the reconstruction of the antiquated Dormition Cathedral with the support of the leader of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Philip.

Moscow lacked the technical expertise for such ambitious projects, and Ivan therefore hired a number of Italian architects, of whom the most notable was Aristotele Fioravanti. The accomplished architect arrived in Moscow in 1475 and promptly undertook the rebuilding of the cathedral.

Fioravanti was instructed to model his structure on the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir, which he visited. Although his design incorporates features of the Russo-Byzantine style (particularly the large central cupola, with lesser cupolas at the corners), the architect also introduced a number of innovations: stout oak piles for the foundation, solid masonry bonding for the walls, iron tie rods for the vaulting, and strong bricks (instead of stone) for the vaults and cupola drums. The limestone exterior reflects the perfect proportions of the square segments of the plan, and the interior — with round columns instead of massive piers — is lighter and more spacious than any previous Muscovite church.

The unity of the sculpted form is especially evident in the design of the south wall, the main facade opening onto Cathedral Square. The richly painted arches of the south portal are framed by iconic wall paintings, including the portrayal of saints within the blind arcade — a technique similar to that applied on the surface of the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir.

The Dormition Cathedral displays in grand form the Russian Orthodox practice of painting the walls and ceiling vaults with scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints.

Work on the painting of the interior began soon after the completion of construction work in 1479, and by 1515 the entire space was covered with frescoes. In addition an iconostasis of three rows was painted in 1481 by the renowned artist Dionisy and his assistants, who may also have been involved in the painting of the original frescoes.

The interior of the main dome traditionally has an image of Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All), while above the altar, the apse is devoted to an image of Mary Mother of God standing in a pose that indicates a blessing extended to the worshippers. This array of images integrated the structure with the sacred teachings of Orthodoxy.

Over the south portal is a monumental fresco of the Vladimir Mother of God, Russia’s most revered iconic image. The icon is currently displayed in the cathedral part of the year. The sacred image (and the portal) are guarded by representations of the primary archangels, Michael and Gabriel.

Below the Vladimir image is a majestic blind arcade with paintings of four Muscovite prelates as well as bishops Nikita and John of Novgorod. On either side of the portal are two angels with quills recording the names of those entering the cathedral. Immediately above the portal arches is the Miraculous Image of the Savior. The door is crowned with a representation of Christ, Mary and John the Baptist.

The north wall faced the residence of the head of the church — now known as the Patriarch’s Chambers — and therefore displays an ecclesiastical emphasis. The arched frieze above the north portal contains paintings of six venerated prelates: St. Pafnuty of Borovsk, bishops Isaiah, Leonty and Ignaty (all from Rostov), and Saints Dmitry Prilutsky and Sergius of Radonezh. These figures represent the far reaches of Muscovite territory, with special emphasis on Rostov, whose Archbishop Vassian was the confessor of Ivan the Great. Above the frieze is a painting of the Assembly of the Apostles — Christ, the Blessed Virgin, John the Baptist and the 12 Disciples.

The intricate east façade consists of a five-part apse containing the cathedral altars. Extending slightly from the central block of the temple, the five curved structures are screened by massive pylons at either corner. The complex structure is unified by large attached columns and plinth molding to create a monumental form facing the main passage to the Cathedral Square.

As befitting the space containing the altar, the images on the east wall are the most august from a theological perspective. Over the central apse is a fresco of the “New Testament Trinity” (God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove). The space to the left is devoted to the Orthodox holiday “The Praise of the Mother of God.” And on the right is a depiction of the Divine Sophia, or Heavenly Wisdom. The main cathedral of Novgorod was dedicated to Sophia, and thus the fresco can be interpreted as another symbol of the joining of Novgorod to Muscovy.

The west façade — which in the Russian tradition was the “front” of the church with the main entrance — was constricted by nearby Kremlin buildings and is less imposing. The façade originally contained a depiction of the Dormition and scenes from the Apocalypse. The large porch was damaged by the Moscow fire of 1547 and modified in the 19th century.

The culmination of the cathedral’s exterior is the ensemble of five gilded cupolas over the central and east bays. It is thought that the original domes were made of plates of “German” iron, prepared in Novgorod and polished to a high gloss. After a fire in 1547, the domes were reconstructed and covered with gilded copper sheets, which give a particularly rich hue to the gold surface.

On the interior, the sense of spaciousness created by Fioravanti’s design and technical innovations was enhanced by the decision to eliminate a significant and traditional element in the design of Russian masonry churches: the choir gallery. Thus the entire interior, from the iconostasis to the west facade, was washed in a natural light that illuminated the vibrant colors of the frescoes and icons.

Conceived as a grand and solemn space for the crowning of Russian rulers and the investiture of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, Fioravanti’s Cathedral of the Dormition represents the felicitous meeting of two cultures: Russian — including its Byzantine heritage — and western European, as expressed in the architectural genius of the Italian Renaissance.

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Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen

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After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.

Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.

The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.

Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.

Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.

Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”

Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.

Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.

When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.

With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.

Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.

The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.

Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.

Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.

It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”

Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian

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Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force

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New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.

The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.

On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

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Divock Origi delivers late delight as Liverpool see off Wolves

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Wolves 0 Liverpool 1

Divock Origi’s last-gasp strike sent Liverpool top of the Premier League with a dramatic 1-0 win at Wolves.

The substitute fired in from close range in stoppage time just as it looked like the Reds would fail to score for the first time in eight months.

He spared Diogo Jota’s blushes after the forward hit Conor Coady on the line following Jose Sa’s second-half mistake.

Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham gave the Reds a path to the summit and they went top thanks to Origi’s late show. Resilient Wolves were left with nothing despite another battling display and sit eighth.

Liverpool had blown away the majority of their rivals this season, having scored four in each of their last three Premier League games before arriving at Molineux.

They had, simply, been too good but found Wolves at their resolute best until the death.

Only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Bruno Lage’s side prior to the game and there was strong resistance to Liverpool’s threat.

The visitors failed to find any early rhythm, thanks largely to the hosts’ determination. Aside from Leander Dendoncker slicing a clearance from Jota’s header the Reds made few first-half inroads.

Three straight clean sheets had given Wolves’ defence renewed confidence and they continued to keep it tight as Liverpool slowly began to turn the screw.

Trent Alexander-Arnold volleyed over after 28 minutes and then turned provider for Jota, who headed his far post cross wide.

Liverpool had control but only managed to open their hosts up once and, even then, Romain Saiss’s presence ensured Mohamed Salah just failed to make contact with Andrew Robertson’s low centre.

As an attacking force Wolves were non-existent. Having scored just five league goals at Molineux that was no surprise but Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez and Hwang Hee-chan carried little threat.

Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk were on cruise control and apart from Rayan Ait-Nouri’s sharp run – before he wasted his cross – there was little for Liverpool to fear.

Yet, they were still searching for a goal. Having scored in every Premier League game since a 1-0 defeat to Fulham in March more was expected after the break.

Salah’s knockdown caused some penalty box pinball which saw Thiago Alcantara twice denied but Jürgen Klopp’s men lacked the fluidity and precision to break Wolves down.

They needed a mistake from Sa to create their best opening on the hour and even then Jota missed it.

The goalkeeper raced out to the left after Jordan Henderson’s searching pass for Jota but collided with Saiss to give the forward a clear run to goal.

He advanced but from just six yards belted the ball at the covering Coady on the line.

Alexander-Arnold drove over as Liverpool’s frustrations grew and Sa denied Sadio Mane late on.

But Origi had the final say deep into added time when he collected Salah’s pass, turned and fired in from four yards.

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