Easter in Imperial Russia: the Royal Doors

March 28, 2024

St. Isaac’s Cathedral

The time to arrive was about 11:30 p.m., when the great church, packed to its doors by a vast throng, was wrapped in almost total darkness…. As the eyes grew accustomed to the shadows, tens of thousands of unlighted candles, outlining the arches, cornices, and other architectural features of the cathedral, were just visible. These candles each had their wick touched with kerosene and then surrounded with a thread of gun-cotton, which ran continuously from candle to candle right round the building. When the hanging end of the thread of gun-cotton was lighted, the flame ran swiftly round the church, kindling each candle in turn; a very fascinating sight.… When, as the first stroke of midnight pealed form the great clock, the Metropolitan of Petrograd announced in a loud voice, “Christ is risen!”

At an electric signal given from the cathedral, the great guns of the fortress boomed out in a salute of one hundred and one guns; the gun-cotton was touched off, and the swift flash kindles the tens of thousands of candles running round the building; the enormous congregation lit the tapers they carried; the “royal doors” of the iconostas were thrown open, and the clergy appeared in the festival vestments of cloth of gold, as their choir burst in the beautiful Russian Easter anthem, and so the Easter Mass began. Nothing more poignantly dramatic, more magnificently impressive, could possibly be imagined than this almost instantaneous change from intense gloom to blazing light…I never tired of witnessing this splendid piece of symbolism.

The vanished pomps of yesterday; being some random reminiscences of a British diplomat by Hamilton, Frederick Spencer, Lord, 1856-1928 P. 106-107.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 570


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