The church of Christ the Saviour, Moscow

Moscow’s ancient history lives side by side with bustling modern life. An impressive church – built exactly after the drawings of its ancient prototype, yet with all modern comfort – reflects this.

DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR Alex D. Anishyuk

If you buy a typical postcard in those numerous tourist-places in Moscow, guess what’s on it? Right, St. Basil’s cathedral in Red Square, the one with cheerfully coloured domes and tourists eagerly queuing to visit it, the city’s main landmark in a way, but not the only one though. There is a newly reborn masterpiece that certainly deserves your attention.

The church of Christ the Saviour glittering with gold in the centre of Moscow has a dramatic history marking the life of the whole nation throughout the centuries.

On December 25, 1812 Emperor Alexander I signed a manifesto to build the church in the name of those who perished in the Patriotic war of 1812 against the French army of Napoleon. “May the Cathedral stand for many centuries”, – was the monarch’s will. The best architects competed to present their projects for the future church, but the emperor approved that of Alexander Vitberg in 1817.

The cornerstone was laid on the Vorobievi Gori (Sparrow Hills) in the south-west of Moscow, however the sandy soil at the site was too soft to support the heavy building, and the construction was delayed. In 1832 Emperor Nicholas I approved the project of Konstantin Ton, a celebrated architect who had by then built the Armoury Chamber (yet another landmark), and ordered him to build the church on the bank of the Moscow river near the Kremlin. It took more than 40 years to build the church and it was not consecrated until 1883 in the reign of Alexander III.

A sorry fate

However, the government then paid no particular attention to the name and the ill fame of the site on which the church was erected, Chertolie (the devil’s land). Local residents said the place was damned and, in the medieval times, two city fires that completely devastated Moscow started in that very settlement. But no one then believed in ancient legends. Moreover, Novoalekseevsky convent was demolished to build the new “fashionable” church in its place.

The nuns of the convent left without shelter cursed the church of Christ the Saviour as an ungodly place, the legend says, predicting it would be demolished by the “same devil’s hand it was built with”.

Ill fate or coincidence, the cathedral did not last long. In 1931 the Soviet government destroyed the church alleging it had “neither cultural nor historical value”. Its marble was used to pave several metro stations and the gold was removed and stored. A huge government building – the “Palace of the Soviets” – 415 meters high was to be erected in its place with a bronze statue of Lenin pointing his finger up in the sky showing “the right way to follow”.

The mighty project would never see the light. When World War II started, the metallic framework of the future skyscraper was used to produce anti-tank “hedgehogs” in the suburbs of Moscow to withstand the German siege.

For years after the war was over the former church site remained abandoned, and a deep pond with musty water appeared in the round concrete basement. That ugly scenery made Nikita Khrushchev, a Russian communist leader of mid-50s and 60s notorious for unleashing the Caribbean missile crisis and for arguing with his shoe in hand at the UN sessions, build an open-air swimming pool there. The pool was popular among general public, but the nation never forgot the holy church, that was viewed as the symbol of the old Russia.

The same – but better

In 1994 the pool was demolished and Yuri Luzhkov, the Moscow mayor still in power, ordered an exact copy of the church 101 meters high to be rebuilt in the years that followed.

In 2000 the Church of Christ the Saviour was completed and everyone was astounded by the splendour and magnificence of the cathedral. “Here is the Russia we’ve once lost”, people said. Since then the church has become a symbol of the reconstruction period, which is still underway.

“The new building is a work of art of the third millennium”, the church’s leading engineer Valeri Rogozhian says with a satisfied smile. “One can hardly imagine the love and effort Muscovites devoted to this church.” The new church, exactly replicating the former one, is somehow different. It was raised several meters above the ground to rest at the same height, but its basement houses a vast multifunctional complex.

There is an assembly hall for the Holy Synod meetings housing 1,200 people frequently used for classical music concerts and New Year’s celebrations for children. A huge dining hall for 1,500 guests is also an integrated part of the new church. Besides, Patriarch Alexei II has his residence here. Behind the Church of Christ the Saviour there is a smaller Church of the Transfiguration with a museum situated in its gallery.

The new cathedral was designed both as a holy place and as a tourist attraction, made for people’s comfort. All foreign governmental delegations that come to Moscow pay a visit to this place. The church can house as many as 7,000 visitors at a time, and when you attend mass – you have to stand all the time, because no benches are allowed by the Orthodox faith – it’s hard to believe there are so many people around you. The air remains fresh regardless of the number of candles lit and visitors present, which is not surprising at all: the new church was built using the most advanced technologies.

Warm, fresh and comfortable

The sophisticated air conditioning system provides a constant temperature inside the church in summer and winter regardless of the weather.

“The average temperature in the nave is maintained between 19–20°C, which lets people relax and enjoy the excellence and charm of this place”, Valeri Rogozhian says. “A dozen computers monitor warm air circulation in every part of the church. Besides, a specific microclimate is essential for the paintings and frescos, the gem of this holy place.” Not many buildings in Russia have such an efficient heating system like the cathedral does with the key components provided by Alfa Laval.

“I just love this church, because you feel God is somewhere up there in the dome seeing the whole of you,” says Elena, 32, a frequent visitor to the cathedral. “It’s so warm and comfortable in here. Once you’ve come you’ll never forget this place.” Day after day thousands of people come to the hospitable church. Apart from being a modern, fashionably-equipped building, it plays its main role as a holy place open to people of different faiths and lifestyles.

The church of Christ the Saviour is the city’s pride. So when in Moscow, pay a visit to this magic place; you’ll be impressed!

The church’s heating system

The Church of Christ the Saviour is undoubtedly a cultural masterpiece. Besides, the cathedral is a perfect engineering project and the city’s best-designed building.

Hot water from a city heating plant comes to the main heating block where it is processed by six powerful Alfa Laval M-15 plate heat exchangers. These facilities extract heat from the plant water which is returned to the plant.

The heat is then passed to the internal water circulation, which goes to the radiators and air conditioners warming the air. Three Alfa Laval M-9 plate heat exchangers provide instant hot water supply within the building.

Each Alfa Laval unit has the heat emission of 4220 megacalories an hour, while the church’s total energy consumption is 22 gigacalories an hour. In other words the church’s energy consumption is equivalent to that of a small city borough or a mediumsize enterprise.

The main benefit of the Alfa Laval heat exchangers is their relatively small size. If the church had purchased tube heat exchangers, it would have had to build an additional building for them, which would undoubtedly spoil the scenery, according to Valeri Rogozhian.

“The plate heat exchangers are the heart of the system,” he says. “They are energy saving and efficient. We’ve never had any problems with them so far.”

The church started cooperation with Alfa Laval in 1995 by purchasing nine plate heat exchangers. The Swedish company accepted the challenge of this grand scale project and won the tender. Today Alfa Laval continuously provides church facilities maintenance and technical personnel training and, according to Valeri Rogozhian, they are content with the cooperation.

“We highly appreciate the company both as a manufacturer and as a partner,” he says. “Alfa Laval implies high quality and professionalism whatever they do. It is a pleasure to work with them. Their staff are highly professional and motivated and they know the client’s needs even in advance.”