St Sophia Cathedral (Kiev)

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St Sophia Cathedral (Kiev) (Ukrainian: Собор Святої Софії, Sobor Sviatoyi Sofiyi or Софійський собор, Sofiys’kyi sobor, Russian: Собор Святой Софии, Sobor Svyatoi Sofii or Софийский собор, Sofiyskiy sobor) is a major and the best known church in the city of Kiev, Ukraine. The cathedral is a part of the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kiev” a Ukrainian State institution responsible for preservation of the cathedral complex. The cathedral dates from the eleventh century. This church is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Construction of the cathedral began in 1037 by Yaroslav I the Wise and took two decades to complete. In its original form the cathedral had five naves, five apses, and was surrounded by two encircling galleries. The cathedral was surmounted by thirteen cupolas. The St Sophia was built in honor of the victory over the Pechenegs and showed a desire by Yaroslav to pattern Kiev as the Russian capital after Constantinople and its great cathedral Hagia Sophia. The name Hagia Sophia is from the Greek, meaning ‘’’Holy Wisdom’’’.

The cathedral is famous for the mosaics and frescos produced by the Byzantine masters of the eleventh century. The mosaics and frescos are unique in that secular as well as religious subjects are shown. In addition to a large image of the Theotokos and Biblical subjects, the cathedral displays portraits of Yaroslav’s family. The belfry displays paintings of scenes of games arranged in Constantinople in honor of the Princess Olga that include representations of clowns, jugglers, dancers, musicians, and other secular subjects. The cathedral is the burial place for a number of princes of Kiev, including Yaroslav, his son Vsevolod, and Vladimir Monomakh.

Over the years the cathedral was damaged many times. In 1169, it suffered pillage by Andrei Bogolyubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal . In 1240, invading Tatars heavy damaged the cathedral. In disrepair for many years during Tatar occupation, the cathedral came under control of the Greek Catholic Church after the Union of Brest in 1595-96. In 1633, the Orthodox Metropolitan Peter Mogila obtained control of the cathedral and commissioned repair and reconstruction of the buildings. The reconstruction was done under the Italian architect Octaviano Mancini who produced a Baroque style exterior for the cathedral while preserving the splendid byzantine interior, bringing, in 1740, the appearance of St Sophia Cathedral to its present form.

After the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian Empire in 1917, the new government planned the destruction of the cathedral during the 1920s. Through the efforts of many scientists and historians the cathedral was saved, but, in 1934, it was confiscated by the Soviet government that turned it into an architectural and historical museum. St. Sophia remains today as an architectural and historical preserve.