Catholicism is one of Russia’s traditional religions, and the presence of the Catholic Church in Moscow dates back several centuries. This religion has known periods of outright rejection and of goodwill in Russia’s capital. Today, there are three Catholic churches in Moscow, namely the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin MaryRussian: Kafedralnyi sobor Neporochnogo Zachatiya Devyi Marii or Кафедральный собор Непорочного Зачатия Девы Марии, the Church of St. Louis of the FrenchRussian: Khram sv. Lyudovika or Храм св. Людовика and the Church of St. Princess Olga Equal-to-the-ApostlesRussian: Khram sv. ravnoapostolnoy knyagini Olgi or Храм св. равноапостольной княгини Ольги. Catholic services are held in a number of languages. These churches also hold scout events and concerts of organ music, give catechism classes and run Sunday schools for children.
THE FIRST CATHOLICS IN MOSCOW
The Muscovites came into close contact with Catholic people in the late 15th century during the construction of the Moscow Kremlin and its cathedrals. All of the leading architects involved in the project – Aristoteles Fioravanti, Aloisio da Milano and Marco Ruffo – were Italian Catholics. Aloisio’s InnRussian: Alevizov dvor or Алевизов двор in the Kremlin, a kind of hotel for the Italians working on the construction site, was well-known in 16th-century Moscow. In 1469, Grand Prince Ivan IIIreigned from 1462 till 1505 of Moscow decided to marry Sophia Palaiologina, a Byzantine princess and heir to the Imperial Palaiologos family who had long lived in the papal court in Italy. When Pope Paul III gave his consent to the marriage, he was hoping that it would result in an improvement in relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, as well as aid Russia’s participation in the fight against the Turks. The marriage by proxy was performed at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1472. However, as Sophia was entering Moscow, the Orthodox clergy did not let any Catholic insignia into the city, and the official marriage ceremony took place according to Orthodox traditions.
Another attempt at strengthening the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia was Tsar False Dmitry Ithe first of three "pretenders" who claimed during the Time of Troubles to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible’s marriage to Marina Mniszech, the daughter of a Polish nobleman, in 1606. However, an uprising overthrew the new tsar later that year. Prince Władisław, the son of Sigismund III of Vasa and the first and only Catholic ruler in Russian history, was proclaimed tsar during the Polish occupation of Moscowmilitary conflicts and eastward invasions carried out by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the early 17th century. The council consisting of Moscow’s most illustrious Boyarsmembers of the highest rank of the feudal society in Russia had chosen him, but Władisław was never officially recognised as tsar because he refused to convert to Orthodox Christianity.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Catholic people in Moscow largely consisted of migrants from Poland who had settled in Moscow during the long period of wars and conflicts in their homeland. They settled mostly in neighbourhoods known as Stary PanyRussian: Старые паны (IlyinkaRussian: Ильинка Street in Kitay-gorodRussian: Китай-город), Litovsky DvorRussian: Литовский двор (TverskayaRussian: Тверская Street) and Krymsky ValRussian: Крымский вал, which became the first Catholic expatriate communities in Moscow. Descendants of the Polish migrants soon assimilated into the community at large, resulting in the disappearance of Polish quarters.
THE FIRST CATHOLIC CATHEDRALS
The first Catholic cathedral appeared in Moscow in the late 17th century during the reign of Peter the Greatruled from 1682 until 1725. This Church of Peter and PaulRussian: Khram svv. Petra i Pavla or Храм свв. Петра и Павла, a small wooden building erected in the German QuarterRussian: Nemetskaya sloboda or Немецкая слобода in Starokirochny LaneRussian: Starokirochnyi pereulok or Старокирочный переулок in the 1690s, was later rebuilt in stone and consecrated in honour of the Holy Trinity.
In 1789, Moscow authorities gave permission to build a Catholic church on Malaya Lubyanka StreetRussian: ulitsa Malaya Lubyanka or улица Малая Лубянка, in the very heart of the city. The Abbot Adrien Surrugue was one of its most notable priests. Upon his entrance to Moscow, French Emperor Napoleon I wanted to meet the abbot, but the latter refused and later appeared in full ecclesiastical robes with a cross in his hand before French troops, preventing them from invading the church!
Another Catholic church in Moscow, the Roman Church of St. Peter and PaulRussian: Kostel sv. Apostolov Petra i Pavla or Костел св. Апостолов Петра и Павла once belonged to the Polish community. In the 19thcentury, the church had a parochial school, an almshouse, a Polish charity house and a school for women. The church featured six altars, shrines with particles of the Holy Cross and of St. Stanislaus Kostka as well as the Icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. Doctor Friedrich Gaza, architect Mikhail Bykovsky, patron of the arts Alfons Shanyavsky and poet Yurgis Baltrushaytis were frequent visitors to this church.
In 1937, the Bolsheviksmembers of a wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, which, led by Lenin, seized control of the government in Russia (October 1917) and became the dominant political power shut down this church, and all priests were subject to religious repression. The church building was badly damaged after a bomb raid during WWII and it was later used to house administrative authorities. Nevertheless, the mostly Russian-speaking parish of the Church of St. Peter and Paul has survived to today. Religious services are held in the nearby Catholic Church of St. Louis of the French in both the Russian and Lithuanian languages.
Along with the heritage of world-famous people and great museums, there are many attractions in Moscow, which are not so popular, but still very remarkable. Beautiful temples in the Orthodox style, the unusual architecture of the Russian Middle Ages or the recent Soviet era, ballet and drama theaters – on our website you can learn more about Moscow landmarks.
THE SOVIET PERIOD
Just like other religious institutions, the Catholic Church suffered greatly in the second quarter of the 20th century. As part of the Bolsheviks’ war against religion, churches were shut down and nationalized throughout the Soviet Union, and priests were either shot or sent to prisons and camps on a massive scale. Only the Church of St. Louis of the French remained open in Moscow. Services were held by priests who served as chaplains in Western European embassies, whom the Soviet authorities could not repress owing to their diplomatic status.
Michel-Joseph Bourguignon d’Herbigny played an important role in preserving the presence Catholic Church in Soviet Russia. Pope Pius XI appointed him bishop, and he himself secretly conferred episcopal orders on Boleslav Sloskans, Aleksander Frizon, Antoni Malecki and Pie Eugene Neveu who became papal administrators in Russia’s four major regions: Moscow, Leningrad, Minsk-Mogilyov and Odessa.
In 1936, Bishop Bourguigon d’Herbigny went to France for personal reasons, and Soviet authorities prohibited him from returning to the USSR. Pope Pius XI is thought to have written his encyclical letter Divini Redemptoris, in which he denounced communism, under the influence of Bourguignon’s testimonies.
THE REVIVAL OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN MOSCOW
The early 1990s in Moscow marked an active revival of the Catholic Church, reinforced by the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Vatican City and the opening of the Embassy of The Vatican in A. V. Markin’s mansion (Block 1, 7, Vadkovsky LaneRussian: Vadkovskiy pereulok or Вадковский переулок). This Art Modern mansion, built by P. Kharkov in 1904, also houses a small Catholic chapel. The flag of the Holy See with the crossed gold and silver keys of St. Peter, the founder of the Catholic Church, flies over the mansion.
The building of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was also handed over to the Catholic Church in 1995 (see below). 1996 saw the opening of St. Francis monasteryRussian: monastyr Sv. Frantsiska or монастырь Св. Франциска (Block 2, 2, Shmitovsky DrivewayRussian: Shmitovskiy proezd or Шмитовский проезд), which belongs to the Order of Friars Minor Convent and is part of the Russian General Custody of St. Francis of AssisiRussian: Rossiyskaya Generalnaya Kustodiya sv. Frantsiska Assizskogo or Российская Генеральная Кустодия св. Франциска Ассизского. The classical-style building was constructed between 1993 and 1996.
The St. Thomas InstituteRussian: Institut sv. Fomy or Институт св. Фомы (Block 4, 46, Fridrikha Engelsa StreetRussian: ulitsa Fridrikha Engelsa or улица Фридриха Энгельса, BaumanskayaRussian: Бауманская Metro Station), which was established in 1991 to house a Catholic theology college, plays an active role in Moscow’s Catholic world. It also boasts a vast library and a publishing house owned by the institute.
A monument to Pope John Paul II by Aleksandr Vasyakin and Ilya and Nikita Fyoklin was erected in the inner courtyard of the Foreign Literature LibraryRussian: Biblioteka inostrannoy literatury or Библиотека иностранной литературы (1, Nikoloyamskaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Nikoloyamskaya or улица Николоямская) in 2011 as a tribute to the head of the Roman Catholic Church by the Russian people.
THE CATHEDRAL OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE VIRGIN MARY
This cathedral is the heart of Moscow’s Catholic community. It is located at 27, Malaya Gruzinskaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Malaya Gruzinskaya or улица Малая Грузинская. It was built by Foma Bogdanovich-Dvorzhetsky between 1906 and 1917. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary remained open until 1938 and was among the first to be closed down by the Bolsheviks who looted its property. Later reconstructions greatly damaged both its façade and interiors.
The cathedral, handed over to the Catholic Church in 1995, is now completely restored. Religious services, including the Armenian Divine Liturgies, are held in several languages. The cathedral also hosts magnificent organ concerts and houses a library and a church store. The Salesians from the Society of St. Francis de Sales founded by St. John Bosco along with nuns from the Sacred Heart Church are currently engaged in various services at the cathedral. Father Iosif Zanevsky is the Dean of the Cathedral. The Curia building houses the secretariat and the residence of the archbishop who is in charge of the Roman Catholic ArchdioceseRussian: Arkhieparkhiya Bozhiey Materi or Архиепархия Божией Матери of Moscow established in 2002 in Moscow.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary keeps particles of the relics of St. Andrew, Sts. Kosma and Damian, St. Zenon, St. Anastasia, St. Gregory of Nazianzus as well as particles of the Holy Virgin’s cover, a gift from the Archdiocese of Verona. The Tridentine Mass is celebrated in the cathedral’s crypt, whose altar at the chapel’s north end is originally from the USA. As the restoration works at the cathedral progressed slowly, it was used as a monstrance and, later, was transferred to the crypt. It now houses the relics of various saints. The altar’s front panel depicts St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Joseph. The chapel of Divine MercyRussian: chasovnya Bozhiya Miloserdiya or часовня Божия Милосердия is located at the end of the left nave, together with a monstrance and the altar of the Holy SacramentsRussian: altar Svyatyh Darov or алтарь Святых Даров, a reliquary with relics of St. Therese of LisieuxRussian: relikvariy s moschami sv. Terezy Mladentsa Iisusa or реликварий с мощами св. Терезы Младенца Иисуса presented by the Embassy of Guatemala. The west end of two transepts features two other altars – Our Lady of Fatima on the left, and St. Joseph on the right. In the cathedral’s narthex, one can see a built-in brick from the gate of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and a medal to celebrate the 2000th jubilee of Christianity. Prayers in Old Church Slavic and Polish languages are engraved under the icon.
Bishop Viktor Skvorets of Tarnov presented five bells, now installed on the cathedral’s belfry, namely “The Holy Virgin of FatimaRussian: Fatimskaya Bozhya Mater or Фатимская Божья Матерь”, “John Paul IIRussian: Ioann Pavel II or Иоанн Павел II”, “St. FaddeyRussian: Svyatoy Faddey or Святой Фаддей”, “The 2000thJubileeRussian: Yubiley-2000 or Юбилей-2000” and “St. ViktorRussian: Svyatoy Viktor or Святой Виктор”.
The nuncio of Pope John Paul II and Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, consecrated the cathedral on 12 December 1999 making it Moscow’s official cathedral church. The All-Russian Eucharistic CongressRussian: Vserossiyskiy evharisticheskiy kongress or Всероссийский евхаристический конгресс took place here in 2000, and the Great Jubilee celebrations in honour of the 2000th anniversary of the Nativity ended here in 2001. A plaque in the memory of Pope John Paul II can be seen in the cathedral’s porch, and one of the cathedral’s spires and stained-glass windows bears the coats of arms of Pope John Paul III and of Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz.
CATHEDRAL OF ST. LOUIS OF THE FRENCH
The present-day Catholic Cathedral of St. Louis of the French (12A, Malaya Lubyanka Street) is the oldest in Moscow. It was built by Alessandro Gilardi between 1827 and 1830 in the classical style. Two relatively low belfries stand on either side of the cathedral. The altar of the left nave features statues of St. Louis, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Francis of Sales, along with two small statues of female patron saints of France, Jeanne d’Arc and Therese of Lisieux. The altar on the right, where a statue to the Virgin Mary is installed, is dedicated to the Holy Virgin. Paintings in the central altar depict the Transfiguration of Jesus, and a stained-glass window portraying St. Joseph dates back to the 19th century.
Christmas is the most popular holiday among the Catholic people. Catholic churches in Moscow host Christmas masses and stage nativity shows about baby Jesus and the Three Kings. Christmas carols, fireworks and feasts are part of Christmas celebrations, too.
On Palm SundayRussian: Verbnoe voskresene or Вербное воскресенье, religious processions are held in churches, and parishioners hold palm leaves or willow branches (according to the Russian tradition) in their hands. Catholic churches and cathedrals stage performances using stories from the Scriptures. The celebration of the Stations of the CrossRussian: Krestnyi put or Крестный путь goes through the Moscow streets during Lent in memory of Jesus Christ’s sufferings on the day of his crucifixion. Before the start of the Easter Mass, the Paschal candle is lit. This is followed by the mass itself, and the light from this candle is then passed on to the believers. Catholic people celebrate Easter and Christmas before the Orthodox Christians.