Unfortunately, as it always happens during turbulent times, the mutinous masses took to physical destruction of everything church-related: buildings, statues, artifacts, even culinary recipes perfected by monks over hundreds of years. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, together with the Kremlin monasteries and other numerous parish churches, fell victim to the communists' use of dynamite on objects of beauty. Russian Orthodox clergy refused to pledge loyalty to the Soviet regime. Many bishops and priests immigrated to Yugoslavia to set up a Russian Orthodox Church in exile. Most of those who stayed met their deaths in Stalin's labor camps where even Jesus was unable to save them. More than one generation was raised “godless,” snubbing all things religious. For them, the desecrated and ravaged church edifices were nothing but a bunch of broken old shacks.
Encircling Moscow like a necklace, the twelve ancient cities form an open air museum boasting their recently restored monuments of Russian architecture, including kremlins, monasteries, churches and the famous Tzar Bell, the traditional Russian orthodox structures differ in design from their Greek counterparts and European cathedrals – they feature unique onion-shaped domes that usually come in fives: a larger bulbous form in the center and four smaller ones around it. The theories of the onion origin range from the artistic, “the Mongolian influence,” to the utilitarian, “a shape that prevents snow from piling on the roof.” Often churches were surrounded by massive walls inside which the villagers would hide from potential enemies.
While the divinity aspect permanently fails on me, the beauty of the ancient Russian places of worship is unforgettable. A few years ago, we, as a family, took a four-day bus tour visiting the golden dozen one by one. We learned a lot about architecture, history, and the art of painting icons. We savored the hearty monastery food and drank medovuha (honey wine) in a local brewery. We also took about a thousand pictures. I hope you enjoy them. There is a reason why Jeffrey Tayler of the Atlantic Monthly once called The Golden Ring “a respite from the capital and an immersion in the past.” It is a rich and artful past, which for many transforms into a mystifying and heavenly present.