Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh at Kulikovo Field
Thrones: St. Serguis of Radonezh
Architectural styles: Modern, Romantic
Year of construction: 1915.
Architect: A. Shchusev
As early as 1821-1824, following S.D. Nechaev’s initiative, the Governor-General A.D. Balashov wanted to create a memorial complex on Kulikovo Field (on an area of 100 acres) which would include a church in the name of Sergius of Radonezh. Later, A.P. Bryullov wanted to construct such a church and even had a project approved by Nicholas I in 1836. However, when re-considering the project (1845) and making a decision on its implementation, the emperor ordered to simplify it leaving only a memorial column - a monument to Dmitry Donskoy.
The question of the construction of the reverend Sergius Church on Kulikovo Field was raised again at the beginning of the 20th century by Tula clergy and nobility. In 1902, Yepifanovo landowner, Count V.A. Olsufiyev donated about 40 acres of land for the construction. Two years later, Bishop Pitirim who guided the Tula bishopric requested the approval of the Synod and Tsar Nicholas II to construct the church and received it as well as even obtained the emperor’s personal contribution of 5 thousand rubles in gold.
The project of the church was undertaken by an architect Aleksey Viktorovich Shchusev. The building committee was headed by Yury Aleksandrovich Olsufiyev, a Count, who was selflessly and courageously protecting cultural and historical values of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius from being plundered during the Soviet regime. Unfortunately, he was shot in 1938 at the Butovo range. His wife S.V. Olsufyyeva (Glebova) died in 1943 in prison in the Sviyazhskiy monastery. In fact many works of art belonging personally to Y.A. Olsufiyev are a part of the expositions of Tula Museums as well as the museum of A.S. Pushkin and the Tretyakov Gallery.
A.V. Schusev worked long and hard on the project of the church. He partially redesigned the original version (1906) and only by 1911 the final design was developed. The church was laid down on June 16 (June 26), 1913.
“The remarkable architect,” V.N. Ashurkov wrote. “He reflected the heroic victory of the Russian people over the hordes of Mamay in the bright national-architectural image of the church he created. The bold combination of church architecture elements with forms of serf architecture makes the image of the memorial building very peculiar and at the same time close to the national tradition since its form goes back to some ancient Russian church. The three-part composition of the building figuratively echoed the composition of the “Bogatyrs” painting by V.M. Vasnetsov (1898). The building consists of three parts: two side towers and the church itself with domes towering above them. Each of the towers was given an individual interpretation in the final draft. “Kulikovo church has a fine architecture. I changed the top of the second tower and the dome was changed to the helmet... Leaving both towers of the same style would be falsely classic, timid...”Shchusev wrote in a letter to the keeper of the Russian Museum P.I. Neradovskiy. The Various proportions of the towers, special outlines of their roofs similar to military helmets were inspired by the images of the Russian epic and they reminded of the ancient heroes: the heroes of the battle, the heroism and resilience of the Russian people many years ago who had courageously defended their homeland here in the vast Kulikovo Field…”
In autumn of 1914, the construction works of the church were mostly completed. During the First World War, the work was slowed down but the church was completed in 1917 before its interior was done according to the project.
Dmitriy Semenovich Stelletskiy and Vladimir Alekseyevich Komarovskiy were both invited to paint icons for iconostasis (unfortunately their names were forgotten until recentimes). It happened that thanks to Komarovskiy the work took place in Raksha estate located near the county town of Morshansk in the Tambov province. In summer of 1914, the painters finished Olsufiyev’s instruction and the icons were sent to Tula province to the memorial church on Kulikovo Field. The Komarovsky was looking forward to hearing the Count’s opinion as he was considered to be a strict and fair critic. Ten days later a telegram came from him: “Today we opened the icons, their beauty struck us. Yuri.” Further fate of the iconostasis is unknown. After the October revolution, the iconostasis mysteriously disappeared. It is believed that it he was plundered by local residents for wood. Only a part of watercolor sketches of the iconostasis was saved.
In 1918, the St. Sergius of Radonezh Church was taken under so-called “state protection.” The church services on Kulikovo Field were going on until 1940 when the church was finally closed to arrange an exhibition dedicated to the 560th anniversary of Kulikovo Battle. Otradinsky Aleksei Nikolayevich was the last senior priest of the church. Residents of surrounding villages who are living witnesses of those times tell that until 1941 the church was still more or less safe although no one was guarding it. The fascists did not destroy it since German soldiers were not on Kulikovo Field. The devastation of the Kulikovo shrine was started by the Red Army soldiers of the rear units. They tore off the roof sheets made of copper (with thickness of one mm) and trading them for peasant home-distilled vodka. Floor slabs disappeared from the church the same way. After the withdrawal of military units from the region the farmers continued the devastation. Even today church copper and slabs may be found in the farmsteads of villagers. Whatever happened, it happened. A word dropped from a song makes it all wrong... By the beginning of the reconstruction one of the best creations of the architect Shchusev turned out to be in a very deplorable state.
However it is necessary to pay tribute to the same authorities that let the wind and rains destroy the church and gave corrupted people a good opportunity to devastate it. For the 600th anniversary of Kulikovo Battle these authorities came to their senses and carried out large-scale and expensive restoration and construction works to create a completely decent museum complex with the church of St. Sergius as the centerpiece.