Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Putinki
In the historical center of the capital of Russia a wonderful example of a bygone era of hipped roof architecture has been preserved. A year after the temple was built in Russia, a reform took place and builders were banned from building hipped-roof churches. The magnificent Christmas Temple is active. Believers come here to pray, and architecture lovers come here to admire the picturesque ornamentation.
How the temple was built
Several centuries ago, the area in which the church is located was a small suburb of Moscow. In the 17th century it was called « Putinki ». It was from here that the road to the distant lands of the north began. This was the Putevoy or ambassadors’ court, where ambassadors abroad stayed.
Initially, there was a wooden temple in Putinki. According to some reports, it appeared in the XIV century. The city plan from the end of the 16th century, known as « Petrov’s drawing », has been preserved. It depicts a two-headed wooden church.
In 1648 Moscow suffered from a great fire and Putinki’s old temple burned down. The parishioners really wanted to build a new stone church. They were afraid of the fires, as the fire deprived the victims of their homes and belongings. When Patriarch Paisiy of Jerusalem arrived in Moscow, he asked Russian Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich to build a chapel in the new church in honor of the icon of Our Lady « The Burning Bush » – the intercessor of the fires .
It is known that in 1649 the ruler allocated the necessary materials for priest Nikifor and cleric Ivan and 300 rubles for the construction of a church in Moscow in honor of the Nativity of the Virgin and the Burning Bush. A huge sum for those times!
As usual in our country, there was not enough government money. Alexey Mikhailovich was not stingy and sent another 400 rubles. In the tsar’s decree it was written that a church with such a dedication was being built for the first time in Russia. After 3 years, it turned out that the money was again not enough, and the treasury allocated another 100 rubles.
In 1652, with the construction completed, an unusual stone temple to Putinki was dedicated. It cost the treasury an unimaginable amount of 800 rubles at that time. But the result exceeded all expectations!
The history of the temple in the XVIII-XIX centuries
The building was rebuilt in the 18th century. A side altar was added to the refectory of the temple, which was consecrated in honor of the patron saint of fasting – Theodore Tiron. Another reconstruction took place before the visit to the church of Russian Tsar Alexander II. In 1864 an enclosed porch with a small temple-style tent was added to the west.
During the war with Napoleon in 1812, the Church of the Nativity was lucky. Unlike other churches in the city, it was not damaged by a fire that burned half of Moscow. During the war with the French, services were interrupted for only two weeks. Since the opening, the composition of the clergy has not changed. The abbot, deacon and sexton served in the church.
After the revolution, Putinki’s church was not closed immediately. In the mid-1930s, an active campaign against religion began in the country, and the old Vysoko-Petrovsky monastery was liquidated. When this happened, Vladyka Bartholomew (Remov) with the whole community of monks and novices moved to the Church of the Nativity. In 1938, the new authorities made sure that believers were no longer allowed to enter this church.
By a happy coincidence, the old building was not destroyed, but it stood empty and decayed year after year. The interior decoration has been lost. For a long time, the premises housed a rehearsal base for the Moscow Circus management. Inside the old church, monkeys and dogs have been trained.
At the end of the 1950s, the state of the Church of the Nativity was already in a critical state. So that a magnificent example of Russian architecture does not disappear, a team of craftsmen under the leadership of architect Nikolai Nikolaevich Sveshnikov carried out a major restoration. Sveshnikov carefully examined the building from the base to the domes and described in detail all the stages of construction.
Thanks to the excellent scientific restoration, the architectural monument was not damaged and they managed to restore it to its original appearance. The only change the restorers made was that the closed west porch was opened. After the restoration, it began to resemble the Russian bedrooms of the 17th century.
Believers were able to return the shrine only in 1990. The former Moscow church received the status of a patriarchal compound, and in 1991 religious services resumed there.
During the decades of desolation, nothing remained in the church, so the abbot, parishioners and volunteers had to restore the interior decoration almost from scratch. The famous theater and film actor Alexander Abdulov provided great assistance in the restoration. In 2008, when Abdulov was gone, his funeral took place under the arches of the church.
The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the last in Moscow, where the old architectural style is used. It appeared just a year before Patriarch Nikon banned the construction of tent-roofed churches in Russia. After the reformation of the church, only bulbous churches were erected in the towns and villages of our country.
The base of the temple is a squat one-storey quadrangle, which is contiguous with two side chapels. The quadruple is built in a non-trivial way, It extends not from west to east, but from north to south. Six faceted tents grow out of the main volume like mushrooms. The picturesque finish forms an intricate composition that resembles the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral.
The bell tower was erected not from the west, like other Russian churches, but from the northeast. It stands next to the three tents of the main body, which stand against each other. Another unusual architectural solution is that the tents do not open inwards, as was the case before. They are erected at the top of the vaults and play a purely decorative role.
The facades of the building are decorated with intricate Russian ornaments. This is the name of the decorative design of the walls using curly bricks. The architectural technique was first used in Yaroslavl, and from there the ornamental patterns spread throughout Russia. It is curious that the Church of the Nativity does not have main and secondary facades. Whichever side you look at the building, it has a rich and immaculate decor.
Everyone who sees the old church is fascinated by the beauty of the small details – zakomars, friezes, arcades and rows of large and small kokoshniks that surround the bases of drums and tents. The precision and accuracy of the stone patterns make you admire the high level of skill of medieval architects. Snow-white domes are in perfect harmony with small azure domes and bright golden crosses.
Interiors and sanctuaries
Three side chapels have been consecrated in the temple, and its walls are decorated with beautiful ornaments. Unfortunately, the old decoration of the church has not survived. Inside there are icons of modern masters, which were painted after the church was handed over to believers. Many icons were donated to the church by parishioners.
One of the shrines in the Church of the Nativity is a rare icon in Russia of the great martyr Theodore Tiron. The Christian saint lived at the turn of the III-IV centuries in the city of Amasia, in Asia Minor. He was a warrior, did not obey the order of his commander and refused to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Theodore Tyrone had to go through prison, starvation and inhuman torture, but he continued to profess the Christian faith. In 306, the unbroken warrior is burned alive.
Useful information for pilgrims and tourists
The doors of the temple are open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Services are held daily: weekdays at 7:30 a.m., and Sundays at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. A children’s charity fund operates at the church.
Near the church fence, on Malaya Dmitrovka Street, a kiosk « Monastyrskaya bakery » is open. There you can always buy fresh bread, flavored rolls, cookies, cakes and rolls.
How to go to Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Putinki
One of the most beautiful cathedrals and temples in Moscow can be found near the turn of Strastnoy Boulevard to Malaya Dmitrovka Street. It is easy to get there on foot from Tverskaya metro stations. « Pushkinskaya » and « Chekhovskaya ». From the Rossiya Theater turn onto Malaya Dmitrovka, and after 100m you are at your goal.