Kremlin Cathedrals - the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Assumption - have long been part of the "mandatory tour package" of excursions in Moscow. They are interesting in that, along with the sacral function, they serve as museums. In fact, the Cathedral of the Annunciation is a whole complex of buildings, because through the covered walkways and galleries from it you can go to the Duma’s chambers. However, this temple was a "private", intended only for members of the royal family. This explains its small size and luxurious decoration. This temple can be compared to Saint-Chapelle in Paris or the royal chapel in Krakow’s Wawel Castle. What can be seen in this most visited museum-temple of the Moscow Kremlin? Read about this in this article.

What is the Kremlin?

Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin: history, description

Before we consider the exterior and interior of the Cathedral of the Annunciation, let's understand what is the Kremlin? This is a detail of town planning, peculiar to the so-called Germanic type. Once the ancient Slavs completely enclosed their settlements. And it was called "ancient settlement", "Kremlin". In the Ukrainian language, as more archaic, the word “vidokremlyuvati” has been preserved. It means "to separate", "to protect".

Norman princes brought their custom to the urban planning of the ancient Rus. The house of the rulers stood apart from other dwellings and was fenced off from the "posad" wall. This fortress in the city still bore the name of the Kremlin. Residents were forced out of the fence and settled without defense walls. Under German law, the lord of the castle was supposed to provide shelter to his vassals in the event of an enemy attack. But this is not the case of the Moscow princes. They regarded their fortress as a private residence. And decorated it accordingly.

So there were Kremlin cathedrals. The Annunciation Cathedral served as the home church, and the Archangel Cathedral - the burial vault of the royal family. Ordinary Muscovites listened to worship in parish churches posad. And all the luxury of the interior decoration of the Kremlin churches was given only to those chosen, close to the throne.

Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin: history

This monument of architecture is not as ancient as the fortress itself. In the fourteenth century, according to the order of Moscow Prince Ivan Kalita, three stone temples were built inside the Kremlin (at that time fenced with oak walls): the Assumption (1327), the Archangel (1333) cathedrals and the Church of St. John of the Ladder (1329) with a bell tower. Dmitry Donskoy defended his fortress with new walls. It is because of them that Moscow began to be called "white stone".

During the reign of this prince, Metropolitan Alexy founded the Miracles Monastery at the Spassky Gates of the Kremlin (1365). The widow of Dmitry Donskoy, taking monastic vows, founded the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin and the Ascension Convent (1407). Ivan III started a grand restructuring of the Kremlin, as required by European fortification construction. Then the Kremlin cathedrals and acquire a modern look. In the seventies of the fifteenth century, the invited Italian architect Aristotle Fioravanti completely reconstructed the Assumption Church. And in the eighties of the same century, two more sacral buildings appear: the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe. In the years 1505-1508, the Archangel church-tomb and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower were built.


The legend says that in 1291 Prince Andrey, the son of Alexander Nevsky, built the wooden church of the Annunciation in the Kremlin. However, the earliest written sources reporting on the palace temple refer only to 1397. Then from Byzantium was brought the icon "Savior in a white robe", placed in the prince's courtyard. Perhaps the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin was previously called the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady and was the sacral building that was erected in 1395 by order of Evdokia, the widow of Dmitry Donskoy?

One thing is clear: the church was rebuilt and decorated several times. The chronicle of 1405 reports: "Masters Theophanes, Grechin, Prokhor from Gorodets and Andrei Rublev began to paint the stone church of the Holy Annunciation." And the document from 1416 says that on July 18 the “stone church in the courtyard of the grand duke - the Annunciation” was completed. But this reconstruction was not the last. In 1482, together with the restructuring of the entire Kremlin, the “Rushiti Church of the Annunciation” began. The first stone of the new cathedral was laid on May 6, 1484 during the reign of Ivan III. And on August 9, 1489, five years later, the church was consecrated by Metropolitan Geronti.


Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich himself chose builders. This was influenced by the unsuccessful attempt of architects Myshkin and Krivtsov to build the Assumption Cathedral. When the walls of the temple collapsed, the king decided to turn to the experience of the Pskov school. About this we know from the annals of 1474. It reads: “The Grand Duke sent to Pskov in order to bring the church masters. They praised the case (the architects of the Assumption Cathedral), but blamed the theft of lime, because it did not glue. Then the prince of great commissioned to make them the Annunciation in his court and the Rizopolozheniya on the Metropolitan. ”

The place of erection of the new church, as we see, is the old one - the socle of the ancient church that existed under the widow of Dmitry Donskoy, and possibly earlier, under Ivan Kalita. From the chronicle it is quite obvious that the architects of the Pskov school built the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. The basement tier, which served as the foundation for the late temple, archeologists refer to the end of the fourteenth or early fifteenth century. But ongoing excavations reveal traces of even earlier structures. It is known that initially it was a small four-column and three-headed cross-dome church. From all sides the church was surrounded by covered porch galleries. Who erected this unsaved white-stone Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin? The architect remained unknown.

The important role of the cathedral

This temple has its own difference even from other churches of the Kremlin. It is actually part of the entire palace complex. From the church it was possible, without going outside, to reach the sovereign's chambers. The covered gallery of the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin sometimes even served as the entrance to the palace for foreign delegations. Immediately behind the temple were the duma chambers of the boyars. It was the Annunciation Cathedral of all the churches of the Kremlin that was the first in importance, since it was the “home temple” of the Russian tsars. It was said about him that he was placed "in the hallway of the Grand Duke." The archpriest of the Annunciation Cathedral automatically became the clergyman of the king. He not only accepted the confession of the Moscow ruler, but also baptized, crowned and funeral his family members. He taught his children literacy and helped make a will. Moreover, the court status of the protopresbyter of the church was preserved even when the capital was transferred to St. Petersburg.

In the Cathedral of the Annunciation there was also the sacristy of the king, in which especially revered icons and relics were kept. Among the latter, the relics of the heavenly hundreds — the saints of the Russian and Greek Churches — were considered the most valuable. Once a year, on Lent, the relics were washed. Silver crayfish with relics were transferred from Blagoveshchensky to the Assumption Cathedral and sprinkled with holy water. The important role of the temple and became the reason that for its decoration attracted the best masters of the time.

Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin: Description

The temple was built by Pskov architects, who traditionally worked with white stone. However, they built this cathedral of brick. Later, the Church of the Annunciation was repeatedly rebuilt. So, in 1547, the temple, which had not yet stood a hundred years old, was badly damaged in a fire. It was completely restored only fourteen years later, in 1564, and two more chapters were added to it on the western side.

When Ivan the Terrible was excommunicated after his fourth marriage, the king ordered a covered porch to be built on the south side of the church. From there he listened to the divine liturgies. Subsequently, this porch became known as Grozny. The present appearance of the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin acquired in the sixties of the sixteenth century. Then at the ends of the porch were established chapels, crowned with gilded heads. Then the temple acquired two more domes. The cathedral became nine-headed with a beautiful pyramidal silhouette. In terms of the structure is made in the traditions of the Pskov masters. The main dome rests on raised arches. But there are also elements of Moscow architecture: keeled portals, patterned belts that adorn the walls, kokoshniks of the main drum. From all sides the temple was surrounded by galleries. They led to the Treasury Chamber (dismantled in the eighteenth century). In the second half of the sixteenth century, all the domes were covered with gilded copper. So the Annunciation Cathedral received the second name: nine-headed golden-domed.

The interior of the temple

Since the building was erected as a family chapel, its original dimensions were small. Later, the space slightly expanded due to the side chapels. But despite this, the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin seems somewhat cramped. This impression is created by massive choirs located in the western part. But the architects skillfully used a small space to give it the appearance of airiness. The vertical proportions of the central nave — stepped arches, central drum, and box walls — create the illusion of striving upwards. This is further enhanced by the light: the darkened lower part and the brightly illuminated upper one from the numerous windows.

Some dissonance look wide choirs, which are based on the low vaults. What explains such archaic architecture for the sixteenth century? According to art historians, the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, to some extent, repeated the layout of the previous building. There are also suggestions that the choirs played the role of Babin — that is, the women of the royal family listened to the liturgy. Two stairs lead to them: one is hidden in the thickness of the wall in the southwest corner of the cathedral. And the second comes directly from the royal chambers. It is impossible not to draw attention to the floor of jasper honey-colored. Legend claims that Ivan the Terrible brought him to the Kremlin from Rostov the Great.

Cathedral Paintings

Only the chronicles mention how beautiful the old, white-stone church was. According to a preserved estimate of the beginning of the 16th century, the paintings of the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin were made by master Dionysius "with brethren". However, all this splendor perished in the great fire of 1547. Only one fresco, made by the son of Dionysius, Theodosius, was partially preserved.

After the fire, the cathedral was painted anew by artists of the times of Ivan the Terrible. All murals are quite canonical, and their subjects are predictable. On the domes we see God the Father, Christ the Almighty and the Virgin of the Sign. The walls of the temple cover scenes from the Gospels. As the tradition demands, the western part is set aside to illustrate the horrors of the Last Judgment. However, it should be borne in mind that the church played the role of the palace chapel. Therefore, the frescoes of the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin also demonstrate the continuity of the royal family from the ancient princes. On the pillars that support the arches, we can see the images of Ivan Kalita and Dmitry Donskoy. Particularly original look porch paintings. On its arch is depicted "The Tree of Jesse." The Virgin and Child Christ crowns his crown. However, an interesting point is that among the branches we can see "portraits" of the pagan sages - Homer, Virgil, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Menander, Anaxagoras, and Ptolemy. In the Byzantine tradition, the Greek philosophers were revered as the forerunners of the New Testament, as evidenced by the scrolls with their quotations.

The performance of the canonical paintings and icons couldn't trust the Gentiles. But the interior design and decoration could be fashionable charge at the time of the Italian masters. Cutters from Lombardy and Tuscany was decorated with white-stone portals dolphins, flowers, fruits and lamps. This decor is typical of the art of the High Renaissance.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the portals of the Blagoveshchensk cathedral were adorned with double brass gates. Their sashes are covered with images of the prophets Cybill, the wise men and prophets. The technique itself is interesting. This is a gold tip using amalgam.

It should also be mentioned that it was from the Palace Church of the Annunciation that Muscovites first began to learn the time. A monk from Athos, Lazar Serbin set the masses with a wooden human figure. She beat the clock round the clock. It was still in the fourteenth century. And in 1624, the English master Christopher Galloway installed the main chimes of Russia on the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower. The museum, which is now operating in the temple, stores the frescoes of Andrei Rublev. You should also pay attention to the picture "About you rejoices," the sixteenth century.