The Church of the Ascension, or more precisely, the Ascension Priest Boris, was first mentioned in 1646. It is unknown whether the Church was stone or wooden at the time. Blacksmiths and suburban government peasants were its first parishioners.
In 1712, at the expense of Andrei Volodimerov (alternatively spelled Vladimirov) and other parishioners, a new stone building of the church was constructed. Until 1744, the Church was “a prosperous stronghold, adorned with every ecclesiastical splendor”. Only there was no side-altar in which it would be possible to serve the early Liturgy, and the parishioners found it necessary to ask the Reverend Savva for a temple-created charter for the construction of a side-altar in the name of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Theotokos. After receiving the letter and commencing the construction of the side-altar, the parishioners found that the Church building was badly dilapidated. In 1754, they informed the Right Reverend Gabriel that “the walls, vaults and roofs” of their church “suffer from great dilapidation, so that the ministry is being performed in it with great apprehension” and proposed to demolish the entire church along with the unfinished side-chapel and build a new two-storey one.
The construction of the currently existing temple took over thirty years. In 1755, the altar was consecrated in the name of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the temple in the lower floor of the church. Due to the lack of funds, the construction of the second floor and finishing continued until 1787. In 1774, the building under construction was damaged by a fire.
Such a long construction period may explain the noticeable discrepancy between the flat facades (Classicism) and the luxurious and sculpturesque forms of the tholobate with windows (Baroque). The domes of the Church were gilded, and the roof was made of “white sheet iron”. The upper temple was consecrated in the name of the Ascension of the Lord.
In terms of its volume, the Church is almost one and a half times smaller than the Nicholas-Zaretsky Church, but it seems more monumental. This is facilitated by its elevated location, high pilasters (flat rectangular protrusions of the wall) that unite the main volume into a single whole, as well as a powerful dome on a high tholobate. A magnificent composition, intricate façade decoration (floral ornament and angels), a faceted dome, an elegant crowning lantern, exquisite platbands, oval windows providing additional lighting – these are all Baroque motifs. The section “Tula Buildings as Historical Monuments” in the reference book Tula and the Tula Province published in 1925, defines the style of the Ascension Church as “Petersburg Baroque”.
V.N. Uklein, researcher of Tula architecture, valued this temple highly: “Without exaggeration and without a discount for provincialism, we can say that the architecture of the final part of the Church of the Ascension is the most beautiful in form, rich in plasticity, and outstanding in the creative potential of its author among all the surviving monuments of the first-class Baroque in Tula”.
The general splendor of the composition, the complicated plan, the whimsical opening of the entablature, the non-supporting columns, and the Baroque faceted dome could serve as textbook examples of the decorative techniques of the Baroque. The crowning lantern is amazingly fine, derived with a rare creative imagination and grace. The temple icons belonged to the brush of the famous Tula icon painter of the period, the merchant Grigory Belousov. The icons painted by him for the iconostasis of the Assumption Cathedral in the Tula Kremlin have survived to this day.
A chapel in the name of the Great Martyr Barbara was erected in 1824, on the first floor, at the expense of the merchant Ivan Volodimerov.
During the terrible fire in Tula in 1834, the iconostasis of the upper church with the Belousov icons burned down and was rebuilt only in 1844. The former iconostasis, four-tiered and gilded with red gold, was much richer than the new one. The new one had only two tiers, and only carvings and columns were gilded. In the lower church, the iconostasis was also replaced by a new one at the expense of the merchant Pyotr Volodimerov.
The most revered temple relics included the icon of the Sorrowful Mother of God (the exact copy of the miraculously revealed icon in St. Petersburg in 1888), the icon of the Great Martyr Barbara, and part of the relics of the Great Martyr Panteleimon.
The bell tower, built at the same time as the church, was not at all as elegant as the temple, but rather plain. In the Ascension parish, in the area called Novy Khoper, a stone chapel was erected in 1878 by the bourgeois Kutepov to commemorate the release of state gunsmiths from the obligatory work at the arms factory since 1867. The Ascension almshouse was mentioned in the affairs of the Tula Order of Public Charity in 1782.
In 1863, the Tula Diocesan Gazette reported that, at the Church of the Ascension, there had been a stone almshouse, “rather dilapidated on the outside and poor on the inside”.
In 1883, a parish school opened at the Church.
The Church of the Ascension was closed in the early 1930s. The bell tower was destroyed in the late 1930s. The Church of the Ascension is a federal historical and cultural monument. The building was put under state protection in 1960 in accordance with the decree of the Council of Ministers of the RSFSR.
In 1961, the workshop of the All-Union Trust for the Drainage of Flooded Coal Deposits was located in the former church.
In 1992, the Church of the Ascension was returned to the Tula diocese.
Today’s temple relics are a part of the relics of the holy Great Martyr Barbara and an icon with a part of the relics of the Monk Barsanuphius, the confessor of Kherson.
Since March 20, 2008, by the decision of the Diocesan Council, a city missionary center has been operating at the temple. The temple has a center for assistance and rehabilitation of victims of totalitarian and destructive sects and cults. The Ascension Church became a scientific and methodological center for the newly created institute of assistants to the dean of the Tula diocese in missionary service.
Source: N. Kirilenko, Tulskiye eparkhialnye vedomosti, No. 6 (95), June, 2009; V.N. Uklein, Tula – kamennaya letopis, 1984.