S. V. Zagraevsky
Published in Russian: Çàãðàåâñêèé Ñ.Â. Íîâûå èññëåäîâàíèÿ ïàìÿòíèêîâ àðõèòåêòóðû Âëàäèìèðî-Ñóçäàëüñêîãî ìóçåÿ-çàïîâåäíèêà. M.: Àëåâ-Â, 2008. ISBN 5-94025-099-8
Questions of the original view and date of Dmitrievsky Cathedral in Vladimir
Demetrius (Dmitrievsky) cathedral in
The cathedral was built in
The plan of the Cathedral is shown at Fig. 86. It is
somewhat elongated along the axis of east-west (about 15 x
86. Dmitrievsky cathedral in
Despite the fact that the “tchetverik” of the temple
is nearly cubic (the height of the western facade is nearly equal to its
width), its image has certain “tendency upward”. In the literature, parallels
are often made between Dmitrievsky cathedral and the
However, we must note after N.N. Voronin, that
"upward tendency" of these temples is expressed in different ways: of
the Church of Intercession – primarily due to the proportions, of the Cathedral
of St. Demetrius – primarily due to the fact that the vertical pilasters are
effectively “set off” by the horizontal arcature-columnar zone and by "lined"
arrangement of carved reliefs5. Let us add that in the Cathedral of
St. Demetrius middle arched gables are more elevated above the lateral than in
Total design solutions, applied in the cathedral, are typical for pre-Mongolian architecture of Suzdal land: the semicircular apses, cross-like pillars, lisenes, which correspond to the pillars and have profiled pilasters, the choir, which is located approximately at a half of the height of the pillars, the arcature-columnar zone with “porebrik” about the middle of the ledge-narrowing walls, the Attic socle, the corner "claws" in the bases of semi-columns, perspective portals with semicircular archivolts. A unique phenomenon in the ancient architecture is a rich zooantropomorphous decor of the cathedral, which was preserved in almost original view6.
We now turn to the issues of dating of galleries-porches and stair-towers, which are visible at many images of the temple of the first half of XIX century7 (Fig. 87 and 88) and were dismantled during the restoration of the end of 1830s8 (hereinafter we shall collectively refer to them as the galleries).
Dmitrievsky Cathedral was surrounded by the galleries from three sides – north, south and west. There is no doubt that all those galleries were closely connected with the palace complex, and archaeological studies, which are held periodically around the cathedral, provide more and more information about the palace buildings9.
Galleries were closed, probably had vaults10; their divisions coincided with the divisions of the cathedral walls. In the places of junction to the western parts of the northern and southern walls these galleries had two tiers and played the role of stair-towers (see Fig. 87 and 88). Apparently, staircases to the choir inside the towers were wooden11. Galleries were decorated with sculptural reliefs12; judging by the images of XIX century, there was an arcature-columnar zone on the southern gallery.
According to archaeological researches by N.N. Voronin, the foundations of the cathedral and galleries were built at the same time, as there are no traces of later digging of ditches and releasing of soil for the foundations of the galleries13.
This was confirmed by the excavations of 2003-2004:
the temple had a single system of foundations with the northern, western and
southern galleries. The foundations of the cathedral and galleries are arranged
in two zones: the lower level was made from the day surface of XII century in
the foundation trench and was composed of rough white stone blocks; the upper
level was constructed of well-treated white stone blocks to the height of about
It is important to note the fact that the lower zone of the foundation of the eastern wall of the southern gallery was composed in bond with the southern wall of the main volume of Dmitrievsky cathedral15.
Basing on above mentioned findings, N.N. Voronin believed that the galleries were built "simultaneously with the cathedral or shortly after its completion”16. P.L. Zykov wrote that the galleries were erected "in a single building process in the end of XII century and were included in the original concept of the architects”17.
But we can not accept the positions of mentioned researchers because of the same problems as we have faced when considering the Churches of Nativity of the Virgin in Bogolyubovo (Chap. 7) and Intercession on the Nerl (Chap. 8):
– there is no bond of the walls of the galleries with the walls of the cathedral18;
– the arcature-columnar zone in the junction of the galleries to the cathedral walls is fully completed.
The first problem is solved quite simply – as
P.L. Zykov thought, the walls of the galleries were erected after the
completion of the main volume of the temple19. But on the second
problem, we again see only the assumption that "it was the system of
In fact, probably the situation, which we have seen while studying the process of building of the extensions to the Church of Nativity of the Virgin in Suzdal (Chapter 3) and of the galleries of the Church of Intercession on the Nerl (Chapter 8), took place: as it often happened with buildings, to which the close attention of rulers was attracted, the design of the Cathedral of St. Demetrius was changed several times during the implementation.
Most likely, there were approximately the following steps:
1. The builders initially conceived the temple with galleries, which were to connect the temple to the palace complex.
2. Having laid the foundations, the builders abandoned the construction of the galleries. Perhaps they realized that the temple with galleries would lose "tendency upward”, which, as we have shown in the beginning of this chapter, had great importance. Moreover, as we have seen above, a part of palace buildings was demolished in connection with construction of the cathedral.
3. The construction of galleries, respectively, was stopped, and the building of the cathedral continued.
4. Since the temple was erected as a detached building, it was decorated with sculptures and arcature-columnar zones at all sides. In this regard, we must recognize that the modern view of the temple adequately reflects its original appearance, and the logic of ancient craftsmen did not differ from the modern: making the decor, they had not yet known whether the temple would have galleries.
6. Later the galleries were still elevated on the previously constructed foundations. A certain time period between the erection of the cathedral and the galleries is proved by the fact, which was noted in XIX century by the “Provincial construction commission” and was one of the reasons for the demolition of galleries as "late"21: charred stones were found the northern wall of the cathedral under the staircase. Probably when the cathedral stood in its original form – without the galleries – there was a large urban fire not far from it.
How long that period was and the traces of what fire were visible on the walls, we shall discuss in details just below, and now we should only note that for some time St. Demetrius Cathedral was a detached building and had no extensions. To date its galleries, it will be necessary to consider the issues of dating of the cathedral itself.
N.N. Voronin quoted the message of the “Chronicler of Vladimir Assumption Cathedral" about the construction of the temple in 1191: "In year 6699 the Grand Prince Vsevolod-Demetrius erected a stone church in his courtyard, in the name of the Holy martyr Demetrius, and goldened its top”22. However, the researcher inexplicably did not consider this message as a basis for dating and attracted after S.G. Stroganov only indirect arguments:
– there is no mentioning of the cathedral in the chronicle message about a fire in 1193, when the Prince’s courtyard was rescued from the fire23;
– there is a reference to the cathedral as existing in 1197 (a relic, brought from Thessalonica, was placed there)24;
– hypothetical connection between the beginning of the construction of the temple with the birth of prince Dmitry in 119425.
Accordingly, the researcher dated the temple by 1994-1197, and this date entrenched in scientific and popular literature.
However, all the arguments for dating the Cathedral of St. Demetrius by 1194-1197 are very uncertain:
– if the Prince's court had been burnt in 1193, the mentioning of a burnt cathedral by the chronicler would have been very likely. But the courtyard remained intact, and the enumeration of intact buildings would have been totally unjustified;
– It is hardly
possible to bind the foundation of the cathedral with the birth of Prince
Dmitry, since Vsevolod the Big Nest was also called Dmitry in baptism, and the
practice of consecration of temples in honor of the namesake of churchwardens
in Ancient Russia was distributed far more widely than in honor of newborn sons.
In this case, it is confirmed by the message of First Novgorod Chronicle, to
which T.P. Timofeeva drew attention: "Erected the stone
– if a relic of Thessalonica was placed in the Cathedral of St. Demetrius in 1197, that does not mean that the church was completed that year: it could be built much earlier.
Thus, the only possible date for the Cathedral by
S.G. Stroganov and N.N. Voronin may be “not later than
T.P. Timofeeva drew attention to the ignored by N.N. Voronin consistent evidence of the “Chronicler of Vladimir Assumption Cathedral” (relatively late, but still a chronicle source), that St. Demetrius cathedral was built in 119127, and we follow T.P. Timofeeva and accept this year as the basic date of Dmitrievsky cathedral.
T.P. Timofeeva believed that the construction of the cathedral was completed in 1191 and started a little earlier – in 1188 or 118928.
P.L. Zykov noted that the Cathedral of Nativity monastery, in many respects close to Dmitrievsky, was built within 6 years29, and doubted in such relatively short duration of construction of St. Demetrius temple. The researcher also drew attention to the traces of a large fire behind the walls of the galleries, and since he believed that the galleries were built immediately after the temple, then the logical consequence of this position was the assumption that the traces of fire show us the date of the completion of the temple, or, at least, of its walls30.
In the reviewed period three large fires are known in
Consequently, the researcher believed that construction of the Cathedral of St. Demetrius started before 118535, and such a long period of building the temple he explained by the hypothesis that the work was suspended after the fire of 1185, when it was needed to rebuild Assumption cathedral36.
Thus, according to P.L. Zykov, the first white stone building of Vsevolod actually was not Assumption, but Demetrius cathedral. This position claims to be a substantial correction of established views at the development of pre-Mongolian architecture of North-Eastern Russia, but we doubt whether it is valid.
Firstly, the “Chronicler of Vladimir Assumption Cathedral" says that the temple in 1191 was "erected"– and we have shown in Chapter 4, that the chronicles usually understood under the term “to erect” the construction within one year, and that many temples of this scale were built in one construction season.
Secondly, it is very doubtful that St. Demetrius Cathedral could be built as long as the Cathedral of Nativity monastery. It is one thing – the palace temple of the Grand Prince, and quite another – a cathedral of a monastery. There is no doubt that the funds, allotted for the construction of the latter, were much smaller (the irregularly laid out plan of Nativity cathedral37 is an indirect confirmation of this position).
Thus, we date the construction of the main volume of the Cathedral of St. Demetrius by 1191 (taking into consideration that the construction could start a little earlier, as T.P. Timofeeva believed38).
So, we are obliged to attribute the traces of fire on the walls of the Cathedral of St. Demetrius either to 1193 or to 1199.
After one of those fires the temple was built up by the galleries, which were very useful in order to expand and insulate the cathedral. We believe that this construction began not after 1193, but after 1199, as in the fire of 1193 the palace of the Grand Prince remained intact. It is also unlikely that the "parade" image of the Cathedral of St. Demetrius became so “familiar” in only two years that it was built up by the galleries.
And after the fire of 1199 the construction of galleries could begin. This situation – a gradual "accretion" of temples by utilitarian extensions – is seen absolutely typical for ancient Russian architecture.
Consequently, we are obliged to date the galleries by
the time after 1199 and consider that the modern view of a masterpiece of
Ancient Russian architecture – the Cathedral of St. Demetrius in
The only significant clarification, which it is necessary to make, concerns the form of the dome of the temple. Currently, we see the helmet-like dome39 on the Cathedral of St. Demetrius (as on Vladimir Cathedral of Assumption, and on most of the "paper" and nature reconstructions of temples of XII-XVI centuries), but in fact, according to the latest research of the forms of temple domes40, pre-Mongolian churches of ancient Russia had simple cupola covers of "Byzantine" type, with small crosses and under-cross stones. Such covers were kept on the temples until the end of XIII century, when onion domes began to be erected in large quantities (in particular, Moscow Cathedral of Assumption of 1326-1327 probably had an onion dome, which is reflected at our reconstruction, shown at Fig. 25). Helmet-like domes appeared only in XVI-XVII centuries as "antique stylization" – as something between onion domes and simple cupola covers41.
© Sergey Zagraevsky