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The Church of the Ascension was built almost five centuries ago, survived the invasion of the Crimean Khan, Nikon’s reform and two wars. Read the article about the remarkable white-stone pearl of Kolomenskoye, who built it and what does the Ivan the Terrible library and the Copper Riot have to do with it.

The weekend is a great opportunity to go on an excursion. As long as the weather permits, it is better to go to an open-air museum, for example, to “Kolomenskoye”. Perhaps the most interesting exhibit here is the Church of the Ascension of the Lord. It is impossible not to notice the graceful white-stone temple, the tent of which rushes upwards. The church became one of three Moscow monuments included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. We set off to study its history and examine architecture together with the candidate of historical sciences, guide Alexander Dokukin.

The Church of the Ascension of the Lord stands on the high right bank of the Moskva River. It was built by order of the great Tsar Vasily III as a token of gratitude for the birth of the long-awaited heir, the future first Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

The church got its name in honor of the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. It was consecrated on September 3, 1532. A record reminiscent of this date can be seen on the obverse vault. At that time it was a very tall structure: more than 62 meters. Only the famous Ivan the Great Bell Tower in the Kremlin, built at the beginning of the 16th century, could be compared with it.


The Church of the Ascension was built in the traditional pre-Petrine style: the lower part is a quadrangle (construction with four walls), the middle part is an octagon, and all this is crowned with a tent. The temple is considered an unsurpassed masterpiece of Russian architecture. The structure looks airy and flying, but is supported by a very powerful base. Firstly, the wall pylons, and secondly, a huge slab at the base of the building about seven meters thick. The land under the future church was strengthened with oak piles. This material tends to harden in the ground and becomes stronger than iron over time. The structure of the 16th century is still able to keep the ground from slipping.

The walls of the church are very thick – about three meters. Inside, the temple is very small, only 8.5 square meters. On the one hand, this is due to the volume of the walls, on the other hand, it was not designed for many parishioners and was created for the great sovereign, his heir and those close to him.

The building is the same on all sides, inside it resembles an equal-ended Byzantine cross. Consequently, there is no altar part as such, but this does not mean that there was no altar at all. Its function was performed by the royal throne – a monumental throne, which was partly located inside the temple, and partly outside, on the gallery. Only the hind legs and back of this throne have survived to this day. During the holidays, an icon of the Ascension of the Lord was installed on it, and during the procession of the cross, parishioners walked around this throne through the galleries. This is the only church with the altar part removed in this way.

“The Church of the Ascension is not only one of the first tent-roofed churches in our country, but also one of the few that have survived. The fact is that in the middle of the 17th century, Patriarch Nikon carried out church reform and wanted everything to be according to the Greek model, including the architecture of churches. Throughout the Orthodox world, the completion of churches was cross-domed, so the hipped-roof churches began to be rebuilt. But when Nikon came to Kolomenskoye, he considered that the church did not contradict any canons. He was struck by how the church looks from the low bank of the river: standing on the edge of the steep right bank, it seems to float between heaven and earth, ”says the guide.

The church that has stood

It is surprising that over the centuries the temple has not changed, its structure has survived in its original form to this day. Of course, there were losses (for example, shedding of white-stone carvings), there were also attempts to insulate the temple: the arches in the basement were laid with bricks. In the 18th century, the roofs over the galleries were completed, but the structure has not changed, and we can see it as it was in the 16th century.

As Alexander Dokukin notes, the church could have suffered many times. For the first time – during the invasion of the Crimean Khan Devlet-Girey in 1571. Then the complex of the towers of Vasily III and Ivan the Terrible in Kolomenskoye was destroyed, but the Church of the Ascension survived. The next dangerous moment was the aforementioned reform of Patriarch Nikon, during which the building could be rebuilt and turned into a cross-domed one. Then – the invasion of Napoleon. In Kolomenskoye, French soldiers destroyed the palace of Catherine II, but the church survived again.

After the 1917 revolution, the temple was preserved thanks to the famous architect Pyotr Baranovsky. He made sure that the village of Kolomenskoye became an open-air museum of architecture, and the Church of the Ascension received the status of a monument.


The church also survived during the Great Patriotic War. Fascist planes flew over the Kolomenskoye, bombs fell nearby, barges were broken on the banks of the Moskva River, the Vodovzvodnaya Tower, an architectural monument of the 17th century, which is located next to the Church of the Ascension, was damaged. But she herself was not hurt again. The only damage caused during the war was damage to the cross by a balloon cable that was nearby.

“For centuries, nothing has been able to destroy the Church of the Ascension. You can treat this in different ways: a happy accident, the talent of the builders who have created a super-strong structure, or maybe it’s just a miracle, ”the guide believes.

On December 17, 1994, the Church of the Ascension of the Lord was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is one of three monuments in Moscow included in this list, along with the Kremlin and the Novodevichy Convent.

Next year, the Church of the Ascension will celebrate the 490th anniversary of its consecration. In addition, there will be another anniversary in 2022. On July 25, 1662, the church was at the center of events that went down in history as the Copper Riot.

“Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, who was on a pilgrimage inside the church, tried to calm the crowd that came to him to demand the boyars for reprisals. But the people did not calm down, and when things took a serious turn, the tsar ordered the archers to disperse everyone. This event was included in school textbooks, ”says the historian.

Restoration and modern use of the church

The last restoration work was completed in 2007. They touched all the elements of the church. In addition, special markers were made from plaster and concrete, which make it possible to understand if the cracks in the building are widening.

“Now the Church of the Ascension is open as a museum. In the lower part, in the basement, the history of the church is told. There you can see a fragment of a seven-meter slab, evaluate the thickness of the walls. Also, with a guided tour, you can climb the gulbische galleries. In the warm season, you can enter the church with a ticket, and there are also festive services. The church is under a double subordination: it is both a museum and a consecrated temple, ”notes Alexander Dokukin.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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