November 01, 2012

The Tiny Oasis

The Tiny Oasis

This place, just four versts (4.5 km) from the Kremlin, was, during the time of Ivan the Terrible, a wild forest. In the eighteenth century, it was the site of the city’s first plague cemetery. Today, this section of Moscow is nearly in the heart of the city and, as with many similar neighborhoods, it is embroiled in a disjointed struggle between different architectural eras: hulking masses of glass and concrete lay siege to classic Stalin-era buildings and their Constructivist hangers-on. And yet, amid all this diversity and chaos, an entirely different cultural layer manages to seep through – all the more striking for being carefully cleaned of city soot and modern markings. Indeed, it is like a tiny fragment of an ancient icon...

Tiny is no overstatement. For even though it is located on a rise, this little church is literally drowning in the cityscape, barely peeking through the leaves and shadows cast by neighboring buildings... Its footprint is a mere 5.5 m2 (60 ft2). After it was renovated and reopened for services, there was just one central candlestick, in order that the space could accommodate the maximum number of visitors. Still, it can hold no more than 15.

The Church of the Holy Martyr Tryphon in Naprudny (“On the Pond”) was built before Italian architects made their appearance in Rus, and therefore belongs to the so-called Pskov-Novgorod School, meaning it is of time-honored Russian design. Known to all art experts as one of the earliest preserved monuments of Moscow architecture, it was also the first Russian church with a cross-shaped, vaulted ceiling. Surprisingly, very few others (even among knowledgeable Muscovites) know of this extraordinary building, and many rush by on their preset trajectories, not even noticing the church, as if it were located in some sort of parallel dimension.

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