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St. Sophia Cathedral

St. Sophia Cathedral

St. Sophia Cathedral is the main temple of the Kievan Rus founded by Yaroslav the Wise in 1037, which had outstayed through centuries and remained till our time. Today the complex is included into the UNESCO World Heritage list.

According to legend, the temple was erected at the place where the Prince defeated pagans the Pechenegs. It took more than 10 years to build and decorate the temple. And in 1049 it was consecrated by the Kyiv Metropolitan Pheopempt. St. Sophia Cathedral became the main temple of Rus, where Yaroslav the Wise founded the 1st in Kievan Rus library where the chronicles were kept, many books were rewritten and translated, princes were enthroned and many ambassadors received. In those times Kievan Rus was one of the largest civilized states in Europe and had extensive trade and diplomatic ties with the West and the East, and many European Kings revered to intermarry with the Grand Prince of Kyiv.

During XI-XIII centuries the cathedral was badly damaged and plundered by pagans the Pechenegs and in 1240 by Mongol –Tatar Horde. The temple was ruined, but still not destroyed — the Tatars took mercy on its marvelous beauty. The threat of destruction has hung above an ancient temple complex in XX century. In the early 1930’s, the Soviet authorities decided to destroy St. Sophia, and only the intervention of France that remembered that Queen Anne (wife of Henry I) was the daughter of Yaroslav the Wise - the founder of the Temple, did not allow to destroy the relic. The Communists feared an international scandal so in 1934 they established St. Sophia Museum-Reserve, and begun researches and restorations.

Mosaics and frescoes of St. Sophia Cathedral were created in the mid of the XI century by Byzantine masters invited by Yaroslav the Wise from Constantinople. Christian scenes developed at the cathedral walls had been called up to educate illiterate pagan people, who could neither to read, nor to write. The walls of the temple depict scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, her parents, Joachim and Anne, Peter and Paul, St. George the Victorious, the old coat of arms of Kyiv – Archistrategos Michael, and many other Orthodox saints. St. Sophia had repeatedly burned, than it was rebuilt in the XIII th century, suffered from invasions of the hordes of Batu Khan, in the XV-XVI centuries there was simply no roof — all these events affected the frescoes. At the end of XVII century the ancient frescoes had been whitewashed with lime and were re-discovered by chance in 1843 when the piece of plaster with oil painting had fallen off so in this way the mural of XI century was opened again. Primarily mosaics had occupied a huge area, however only the third part of them remained till our days. Mosaics of the main altar, sanctuary towers and the main dome are considered masterpieces. The Virgin Orans, the protectress of Kyiv and Kyivites is the most noteworthy of all the mosaics. And a very popular legend says that until the Virgin Orans stands in St. Sophia Cathedral Kyiv is imperishable.

About 100 of burial places are located in the cathedral, as well as in its territory. Worthy of note are the sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise and his wife Ingegerda. The other burial places including Volodymyr Monomakh were lost. There is also information about caves which are situated under the cathedral, the excavations were conducted only once, in 1916, but have not been completed. And according to one version, these caves can store the legendary library of Yaroslav the Wise. In 1990 St. Sophia Cathedral became the first historical monument included to the World Heritage List.

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