St. George's Cathedral

Yuryev-Polsky, Museum lane, 1
56.49644592, 39.68017451

In 1152, Yury Dolgoruky founded a new princely town of Yuryev-Polsky (i.e. standing in the fields) on a still uninhabited place, having called it his name – Gergiev-Grad (George's-Town). The location of the city was advantageous: to the north it was surrounded by tributaries of the Nerl, near the town the Koloksha River carried its waters to the Klyazma. Here, first of all, the fortress was built and in it the white-stone princely church of St. George.

In 1212, Yuryev became the center of a small estate belonging to the son of Vsevolod III – Svyatoslav. In 1234, Svyatoslav, the grandson of Yury Dolgoruky, built a new St. George's Cathedral here on the site of a "dilapidated" church built by his grandfather. The cathedral was richly decorated with carvings and was famous for its beauty even centuries later. Unfortunately, the cathedral collapsed in the middle of the 15th century.  It was "assembled again" by the famous Moscow architect V.D. Ermolin in 1471, probably with great changes. Later, it underwent repeated alterations, and only in Soviet times the extensions (bell tower, sacristy, warm side-chapel) disfiguring this beautiful building were demolished.

Initially it was a small one-headed four-pillar cathedral. The building was very slender and picturesque. The facade was divided by pilasters into three parts along the vertical and by arcature -columnar belt – horizontally, as was characteristic of the white-stone architecture of the late 12th-early 13th century. The heaviness of the today's temple is the result of its restoration by Ermolin. As the excavations have shown, in the small side-chapel near the northern wall there was the shrine of Svyatoslav Vsevolodovich (since 1991 his relics have been kept in the Holy-Intercession Church of Yuryev-Polsky).

Judging by the design of the northern wall, surviving from the 13th century, the whole surface of the facades of the temple and all the architectural details were entirely covered with carving, which distinguished the St. George's Cathedral, even in comparison with the exquisitely decorated Cathedral of St. Demetrius in Vladimir. The combination of a carpet pattern with high relief figures of saints, human faces, animals and monsters was very difficult technically. First, at the construction site, on individual stones relief images were hewn out. Then they were introduced into the wall masonry. And only on the already finished wall carving of the carpet pattern was made, which braided all high reliefs and architectural details. This work required perfect precision from the carvers and was possible only on the basis of a preliminary detailed project for the placement of carved stones. The calculation shows that two artels worked on the carved decoration of the temple: one (at least 12 masters) cut high relief figures, another (up to 20 people) performed floral ornament. At the same time, the individual manner of the Vladimir-Suzdal masters was seen behind the unity of decoration.

The beauty of the sculptural decoration of St. George's Cathedral captivated V.D. Ermolin, when he restored the temple after the destruction. Therefore, he kept all the whole stones with reliefs and tried to select them by the subjects, as far as possible. In general, the presence of complex plot compositions in the decoration of the facades (for example, Deesis, Our Lady of the Orante, "Crucifixion", "Ascension", "Trinity", "Transfiguration", "Seven Sleeping Youths of Ephesus", "Three Youths in Fiery Furnace", "Daniel in the Moat with Lions", "The Ascension of Alexander the Great" and others) also distinguished the St. George's Cathedral from its Vladimir predecessors. But they were connected nevertheless by the leitmotif of greatness and God’s preservation of Vladimir power of the descendants of Monomakh.

Unfortunately, the famous carved white-stone St. George's Cathedral in Yuryev-Polsky today is in a state that requires a serious restoration to preserve the unique monument. However, for a number of reasons, earlier it was not included in the number of specially protected objects, unlike the Golden Gates, the Assumption cathedral and the cathedral of St. Demetrius , the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl and other ancient monuments of the Vladimir region. Only in 2015, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation carried out a historical and cultural examination, which resulted in the drafting of a decree on the attribution of St. George's Cathedral to especially valuable objects of cultural heritage. With the positive conclusion of the Government of the Russian Federation, it will be possible to count on the presentation of St. George's Cathedral of Yuryev-Polsky for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Author: V. Korolkova