Central Moscow is rich in incredible churches dating back to the 17th century. These churches used to be community buildings of trading quarters around the city, constructed using the personal financial contributions of parishioners. An example of this type of architecture is the snow-white Church of St. Nicholas in KhamovnikiRussian: khram sv. Nikolaya v Khamovnikakh or храм св. Николая в Хамовниках, rightfully considered one of the most ornate churches in Moscow. The miraculous ‘Surety of SinnersRussian: Sporuchnitsa greshnykh or Споручница грешных’ icon of the Mother of God is kept there. In addition, the church is associated with the personality and work of Leo Tolstoy, whose museum-estate is located within walking distance. The church is also in close proximity to the ‘Park KulturyRussian: Парк культуры’ Metro station.
CHRONICLES OF THE SHRINE
Before the stone church was constructed, there was a wooden church on the sit – the first mention of this church was in 1625. The present church was built in 1679-1682 with the financial contributions of parishioners, including artisans, mainly weavers, who lived in the Khamovniki trading quartersRussian: Khamovnicheskaya sloboda or Хамовническая слобода. The main church was consecrated in June 1682. A chapel and a one-pillar refectory side-chapels were subsequently added.
Interestingly, the masters whose contributions were used to build the church were called “khamovniki” because they worked with kham, which was the name of the plain canvas supplied from the northern lands to Moscow. Later, the word was associated with the lower socioeconomic classes. After this, the word was used to refer to bad-mannered and rude people.
Let us turn back to the church in Khamovniki, though. During the war with Napoleonic France in 1812, it was partially destroyed. The present paintings on the walls have only embellished the church sine 1845. 60 years after Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the Our Lady ‘Surety of Sinners’ Side-Chapel was arranged and consecrated in the church. In the same year, 1872, the iconostasis and the chandeliers were renewed.
THE LUCKY LOT
In the Soviet period, the St. Nikholas Church in Khamovniki was blessed, so to speak, not to share the fate of numerous other churches in Moscow, which were razed to the ground. Moreover, it was not even closed down! In 1949, after the Great Patriotic WarWorld War II, the church was repaired, while in 1972 the authentic facade paintings and ceramic décor were restored.
There is a modern urban myth associated with this temple. Its location was towards Komsomolsky AvenueRussian: Komsomolskiy prospekt or Комсомольский проспект, which is an avenue intended to connect Sparrow HillsRussian: Vorobyovy Gory or Воробьёвы горы and the Palace of SovietsRussian: Dvorets Sovetov or Дворец Советов (which was planned for construction on the site of the Cathedral of Christ the SaviorRussian: khram Khrista Spasitelya or храм Христа Спасителя). However, a Moscow city map clearly indicates that right in front of the church, the avenue deviates to one side, as if avoiding it. While in Stalin’s time, hundreds of churches were demolished for no particular reason, a church in the way of a significant arterial road was doomed to disappear. It is unknown what saved the church from destruction. It has operated continuously throughout its entire history, never stopping its services. Three major restoration projects have been carried out. In 1992, the bell (weighing 1.8 tons) which had been taken down in the 1930s was restored to its place in the bell tower.
If the Russian history is a subject of your interest and you want to know, for example, what is the oldest church in Moscow, what are the famous monasteries around Moscow, which style of Moscow architecture you can see only in this town, you can read on our website pages about Kremlin Russia and “History and Architecture”.
The architecture of this church is of great interest, too. Churches with a similar layout and structure were often built in the second half of the 17th century. They mostly had a rather small main structure which then expanded with a refectory and side-chapels dedicated to different saints. Adjoining the refectory was usually a bell tower. The silhouette of such a church resembled a ship, which is why this type of arrangement is known as the ‘ship design’. The church fence with two gates was added in the early 19th century.
It is worth noting that the bell tower of St. Nicholas Church in Khamovniki is one of the highest tent-style bell towers in the capital. Its tent has three tiers, each featuring dormer windows (32 in total), and is crowned with a small cupola. Undoubtedly, it is the bell tower that draws the most attention thanks to its tiled decorations. Each dormer in the tent of the bell tower is framed by brick patterned window surrounds composed of a set of cohesive elements. The main structure of the church is also decorated with window surrounds in bright polychrome, sharply outlined against the background of the white wall. This combination lends ornate splendour to the church.
The principal relic of the church is the miraculous ‘Surety of Sinners’ icon of the Mother of God (defender of sinners in front of God). The faithful pray to it for healing, deliverance from depression and despair, and repentance. In 2008, the Church of St. Nicholas in Khamovniki commemorated the 160th anniversary of the acquisition of the icon. Some other relics have been preserved too: St. Alexis’s iconRussian: ikona svyatogo Aleksiya or икона святого Алексия (1688, by isograph Ivan Maksimov), a copy of Our Lady of SmolenskRussian: Smolenskaya ikona Bozhey Materi or Смоленская икона Божией Матери (17th century) and Martyr John the Warrior’s iconRussian: ikona muchenika Ioanna Voina or икона мученика Иоанна Воина (18th century).
Near the church is the memorial museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy in KhamovnikiRussian: muzey-usadba L. N. Tolstogo v Khamovnikakh or музей-усадьба Л. Н. Толстого в Хамовниках. The museum consists of the main house, an annex, household outbuildings, and a garden. It is a well-known fact that the writer spent every winter from 1882 to 1901 at the estate; about a hundred of his works were written there including the novel ‘ResurrectionRussian: Voskresenie or Воскресение’, the short novels ‘The Death of Ivan IlyichRussian: Smert Ivana Ilicha or Смерть Ивана Ильича’, ‘Kreutzer SonataRussian: Kreytserova sonata or Крейцерова соната’, and ‘Father SergiusRussian: Otets Sergiy or Отец Сергий’. Tolstoy regularly visited the church and even mentioned it in his works.© 2016-2018 moscovery.com