Carusel Tours
15 September 2020

Three Angels of St. Petersburg. Where to Find Them?

St. Catherine Church
After our short post about the guardian angels of St. Petersburg in social media, we realized that this was a topic for a more detailed article and here it is!

In this post, we will tell you about three archangels that have been protecting our city throughout its history.
Palace Square from the Hermitage General Staff
I think that we all believe in guardian angels, even if we are not Christian or very religious. We have someone or something that supports and protects us in our lives.

Without a doubt cities have them too. They have survived through so many changes, tragedies and reforms that it could not be otherwise.

St. Petersburg is a relatively young city, but it is full of angels, there are their sculptural figures on facades of buildings, in parks and cemeteries. In addition, you will find plenty of them on their walls and icons in our churches. There are at least three angels, that obtained a special meaning for the city and the locals, they are our symbols and patron saints. These archangels dominate the silhouette of the city and protect us from above.
Spire of Peter and Paul Fortress
Archangel Gabriel

The first protagonist of our story is Archangel Gabriel, the Messenger of God, his golden figure crowns the spire of the Cathedral of Peter and Paul Fortress, the oldest and tallest building in the city. This spire is not just a pretty decoration, but a weather vane that reaches 122.5 metres in height, with the 3.2 metre angel. Until 2012 it was considered the tallest building in the city.

You can visit the fortress with its cathedral during our panoramic tours.

The first Guardian Angel of St. Petersburg was mounted on the spire of the Cathedral in the 1720-s. It was the idea of the main architect of the city at that time, Domenico Trezzini, who proposed to install the patron saint of Russia at the height of the bell tower of the new capital. Trezzini's drawing of an angel has survived until today, it is different from the current sculpture but it also depicts a flying angel with a cross in his hands.
Trezzini's drawing of the angel on Peter and Paul Fortress
Throughout its life this golden angel was damaged many times in fires and storms, but it was always rebuilt using the original wooden mould and returned to its place. During the reign of Catherine II it once took 20 years to restore the bell tower with the angel.

Its second version was smaller and upright. It was created by another famous architect of our city, Antonio Rinaldi, and appeared on the spire in 1778. This angel was flying over the city, pointing out to the sky for the next 50 years.

In 1829, after a strong hurricane the angel almost fell down and it was turned around. Nobody dared to repair it, until they found a man who climbed the tower every day for 6 months without scaffoldings, using only a rope ladder. His name was Peter Telushkin - he mended everything and also installed the clock to the bell tower.
Peter and Paul Fortress
For his risky work, Peter Telushkin received 5000 rubles, the medal of Santa Anna and the right to receive a free shot of vodka in any tavern in the city. But, he got into the annals of the city's not only for that.

Upon receiving the right for a free shot, signed by Emperor Nicholas I himself, he lost this valuable document pretty quickly. The emperor refused to give him the duplicate and ordered to put the mark on his neck that replaced that document.

So, Telushkin continued to receive his free shots by snapping his fingers at his neck and showing the mark. Since then we use this gesture to indicate in an informal talk that we would like to have a drink or perhaps we have had too much drinks already, although it does not grant us with free shots anymore!
Angel on Peter and Paul Fortress Spire Photo by Golovdinov
Photo A. Golovdinov

The angel that we see now is the fourth version, that protects us from 1858. It has a slightly modified wind vane mechanism and wooden pieces replaced by metal ones. And the strongest disasters that this angel has witnessed were historical, not natural.

Urban legend says that in the 1930s the city officials thought of replacing the angel with the figure of Joseph Stalin, but it was saved by the director of the Hermitage at that time, who said that it was not possible for the sculpture of the great Soviet leader to be reflected in the water of the Neva River with the head upside down.
Peter and Paul Fortress from water
During the tragic years of the Leningrad siege in World War II Gabriel stayed in place, but it was painted in camouflage and covered in canvas. Another hero, the mountaineer Mikhail Bobrov, saved our golden angel and other large domes of the city by painting and covering them. He was very weak and nearly starving, but he continued to perform his job. He survived the siege and later obtained many awards and the title of honorary citizen. It was he, who climbed Everest at the age of 75 and got into the Guiness Book of Records.

Since the restoration in 1953, restorers leave a time capsule in the golden bowl at the foot of the angel with a note for future generations. The last restoration took place in 1997.

The story of the golden angel and the city continues. All locals believe that until the Archangel Gabriel is on the spire of the Cathedral, St. Petersburg is protected!
St. Catherine Church on Vasilievsly Island Photo Golovdinov
Photo A. Golovdinov

Archangel Raphael

Our second patron is Archangel Raphael on Vasilievsky Island (Basil's Island), the cradle of our city. It is located on the dome of St. Catherine's Church.

On that spot, there have always been the churches that belonged to different military regiments. The first one was made of a portable fabric tent. It was followed by the wooden one and in the 1760-s the stone church was built and consecrated under the current name.
Panoramic View of Vasilievsly Island (St. Basil's Island)
Vasilievsly Island is one of the largest in St. Petersburg. It is situated opposite the Winter Palace, on the other side of the river. It forms an integral part of the city centre. It was the first urbanized area in the 18th century. This neighbourhood has the most regular city design and its straight and wide streets were initially planned as canals, as in Amsterdam, as Emperor Peter the Great wanted. The idea with canals was not implemented, but now there you will find the oldest buildings of the city.
St. Catherine Church has always had strong links with the medicine. It is located near the old hospital, named in honour of Mary Magdalene, and in the 19th century the city's Maternal Institute also belonged to this parish. That is why our second guardian angel who crowns the large dome of the church is Archangel Raphael, responsible for healing.

In 1782, this church obtained the title of the smallpox church. By decree of the Holy Synod of 1775 such churches were designated for patients with smallpox or measles. Only the priests of these churches could visit the houses with inhabitants infected with these diseases.
Angel with the cross on the dome of St. Catharine Church
Smallpox appeared in St. Petersburg in the mid. 18th century. It received fame as "the disease of the tsars". The young emperor Peter II died from it and Peter III got it, but he survived. The first person that was vaccinated against smallpox in Russia was Empress Catherine II in 1768. After the vaccination, the Empress got ill for a week, but soon recovered. The experiment was successful. Catherine II vaccinated her son Paul and launched mass vaccination in the city.

Many Russian surnames are linked to smallpox and they were given to those who has survived this serious disease. The most popular ones are Shchedrin, Ryabtsev, Ryabov. They indicated that these people had the signs of the disease on their face.
Like its predecessor, the church played an important role in the religious and social life of the islanders, protecting them until the revolution. In 1917, it was looted by the revolutionaries. The building was later given to the Hydrological Institute and its laboratories. The angel remained on the dome, but without a cross. Since then the locals called it the Pioneer of the island, because without the cross its gesture was reminiscent of the pioneers' greeting.

Thus, with the angel with empty arms, our church survived World War II, only the chapel was destroyed. In 2000, the golden cross returned to Gabriel's hands and serious restoration began. When the angel came down from the dome, the restorers understood that it was unique, as it was carved from wood and covered with lead, which gave it the silver color. Only Gabriel's face remained made of wood and unprotected.

In 2017 a modern copy of the archangel with a cross in its hands was made according to the original drawings and installed on the dome.

The original figure is now on display in the Smolny Cathedral. Restorers forbade to return it back, because it might no longer be resistant to the climate changes. It served the city for almost 200 years and it is now retiring in a museum.
Alexander Column on Palace Square
Archangel Michael

The last patron saint of our city is no less significant, but younger. It is Archangel Michael, located at the top of the Alexander Column, in the heart of the Palace Square, the main square of the city.

This monumental column made of red granite was erected in 1834 to commemorate the victory of the Russian army and people in the Patriotic War against Napoleon, under the rule of Emperor Alexander I. The name of the triumphant emperor was given to the column created by the French architect Auguste de Montferrand. On top of the column there is the bronze figure of Archangel Michael carrying the cross in his hands, the leader of the Celestial Forces and protector of the Russian army.
St. Isaac's Cathedral
The entire column together with the base and the figure of the angel is 47.5 metres high. It is the tallest monument of its kind in the world, it is made of a singular piece of stone 25.5 metres in length and approximately 3.5 metres in diameter. Columns of the same granite were used for St Isaac's, the main cathedral of the Russian empire, also designed by Montferrand.

You can see the column and St. Isaac´s Cathedral on our panoramic tours.

It must be said that the installation of this 600-ton column was a true miracle of 19th century engineering. It was put in the vertical position without the help of modern cranes or engineering machines, it was raised in less than 2 hours only thanks to the forces of 3000 men.

Like its twin sisters on St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Alexander Column was so perfectly positioned that to this day it does not need any accessories at the base. It maintains the vertical position only thanks to its weight and exact mathematical calculation, made by the Spanish engineer Augustin de Betancourt, the creator of the lifting and positioning system on the pedestal.
Angel on top of Alexander Column
We can say that this column is the international monument made by the forces of artists of different nations: French Monteferrand was the coordinator and architect of the project, Spanish Betancourt was the main engineer and Russian sculptor Boris Orlovski - the author of Archangel Michael.

The angel holds a cross in its left hand, and the right hand is raised to heaven. The angel's head is bowed, its gaze is fixed on the ground.

All the details of this monument have special meanings: the Russian column is taller than the Vendome column in Paris and the figure of Archangel Michael is taller than the figure of Napoleon on the French column. Furthermore, the angel tramples the serpent with the cross, symbolizing the peace and tranquility that Russia brought to Europe by defeating the Napoleonic troops.

According to a legend, the face of the angel reminds Emperor Alexander I or Alexander Blessed as the people called him. Another version of that legend says that it was sculpted from the famous poet and translator of that time Elisaveta Kulman, who passed away at the age of 17. I think this version is very romantic but unlikely.

The Alexander Column was inaugurated on August 30, 1834, the day of Alexander Nevsky - the holy prince and the other protector of the Russian army, Emperor Alexander I and our city.
Sky View of Palace Square
The installation of the magnificent column with the angel marked the final stage in the creation of the perfect architectural ensemble of Palace Square as the main square of St. Petersburg and as the monument of the Russian victory. Without a doubt, this square is one of the most beautiful in the world!
At first, the locals in St. Petersburg were afraid to walk near the huge granite column, they were afraid that it could fall due to some error in the calculations of its creators.
One countess forbade her coachman to take her near that column. The grandmother of the famous Russian poet Michael Lermontov never walked through the square, near the giant column.
Montferrand walked every night around the column with his dog until the day of his death, maybe he wanted to show the people that this fear was unfounded.

Today no one is afraid of the column, where we have the monument of the third guardian angel of our city. Palace Square is truly the heart of the city. Here we walk a lot and celebrate all the main events in the life of the city. Young couples come here to take their wedding photos and another myth, just emerged, says that depending on how many times the groom will be able to go around the column with his bride in her arms, so many children they will have.

And seriously, I believe that there is not a single person who could avoid visiting our main square. You can greet our three angels and thank them for the protection of our city and our happy lives in peace together with us, when you arrive. Our guardian angels are always at their posts, apart from the times when they are on restoration, but they never leave the city!

If you want to read more stories about St. Petersburg or other Russian cities, let us know! Your comments and exchange of opinions will help us improve our content and make it more interesting.

Text by Karina Matveeva
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