The St George Cathedral


Although the chronicles do not record the founding of the St George (Yuriev) Monastery, it probably took place long before the monastery was first mentioned in the entry for 1119. The largest Novgorodian cloister, it played an outstanding part in the ecclesiastic, political and cultural life of the city. Several scholars think that the oldest of all known icons of St George (1030, the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) stems from this monastery. Of exceptional historic and artistic value is another icon of the saint painted in the 12th century for the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. The famous Ustiug Annunciation (the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) bears this name only by tradition; it would be more proper to call it the Yuriev Annunciation since the icon was painted for the St George Cathedral of the monastery in the 1130s. Also for it, the Yuriev Lectionary, one of the ancient illuminated manuscript books of this type, was written between 1120 and 1228 (now in the Historical Museum, Moscow). Today, the monastery is dominated by structures of the 19th century, but none can stand comparison with the St George Cathedral located at its centre. A supreme manifestation of early Russian architectural thought the church was founded in 1119. One chronicle names its creator: 'and built by Master Peter', which is actually the first mention of an architect to be found in old Russian chronicles. The name of Master Peter is associated with the construction of other Novgorodian churches of the early 12th century, including the Cathedral of St Nicholas in Yaroslav's Court and the Church of the Annunciation in the Rurik-Fortress. The St George Cathedral is perceived as a triumph of artistry over stone. This is the key feature that unites all Novgorodian architecture of the 11th to 15th century. The crystal clarity and unity of the volumes is emphasized by tiers of windows and double-stepped niches. In spite of the thick cultural layers burying the lower parts of the walls and in spite of the cornice seemingly extinguishing the energy of the dynamic wall surfaces, the height of the building and its impetuous surge upward produce an indelible impression. The character of the architectural masses as if modelled by hand, the spontaneous composition with a tower and an asymmetric three-cupola top a composition that accentuates the harmony of whole and detail everything is imbued with a special sense of majesty inherent in Novgorodian architecture. The architectural scheme of the interior, resolved in an energetic and dynamic manner, is notable for the well-thought-out relationship of space and volumes. It looks as if the architect aspired to convey here his idea of a harmonious world. Such buildings could have only been constructed by people who keenly felt the harmony of the spiritual and the material. Most of the murals were lost in the 19th century (knocked down during a restoration).