Architecture of the cathedral

Architecture of the cathedral



Appearance. The dedication of Sophia of Kyiv, its scale and triumph make us remember the great Sophia of Constantinople (532-537), born in the time of Justinian. Both Sophias are separated by almost half a millennium, so their architectural types differ from each other. If St. Sophia of Constantinople is a dome basilica, then St. Sophia of Kyiv is a cross-building church; this type appeared in Byzantium before the baptism of Rus. The cross-building temple synthesized the achievements of all previous epochs of architecture and embodied the idea of ​​the unity of the dome – the sky, and the dome square – the quadrangular earth.

It is in the crossed-dome church, which is St. Sophia of Kyiv, that the idea of ​​heaven on earth is clearly and consistently realized, and this idea is embodied in both architecture and mural painting. Sophia of Kyiv belongs to the classical type of cross-building temples, the construction of which was finally formed in Byzantium in the 9 – 11th centuries, externally and internally reflects the main Christian symbols – the cross and the dome. The names of the architects of Sophia of Kyiv are unknown, but there is no doubt that it was built by the best Byzantine masters. They brought to Rus the techniques and forms of Constantinople art, which absorbed the knowledge and experience of millennia. 

            In ancient times, St. Sophia Cathedral was a huge five-nave church, surrounded on the north, west and south by two rows of open galleries: an inner two-story and an outer one-story. Above the outer gallery there was a balcony – “gulbishche”. All five corridors ended in the east with five altar apses. At the corners on the west side stood two stair towers leading to the choirs. The cathedral was crowned by a stepped composition of thirteen cupolas on light drums. The domes, as symbols of the sky, had a spherical shape and were covered with silver lead sheets. Adjacent to the drum of the central dome cruciform cylindrical vaults are the shoulders of the spatial cross that overshadow the space of the temple. Between the shoulders of the cross there are the other twelve domes, which embody the symbolism of Christ and the twelve apostles, who represent the Universal Church. The domes of the cathedral rise in a pyramid, descending from a height of large central ones to four medium and eight small ones. The basis of this sacred pyramid was the outer single-storey open galleries with flat balconies. The arches of the galleries symbolized the heavenly portals through which the people of Rus entered the Church of Christ.



As a result of the reconstruction of the turn of the 17th – 18th centuries, carried out during the time of Hetman Ivan Mazepa, the cathedral acquired a baroque appearance, which in its main features has been preserved to this day. The second floors were built over the old single-storey galleries, and the galleries themselves were turned into closed rooms, where new altars were built. Six additional domes were erected above the cathedral, and there were nineteen of them. The domes were given a pear-shaped faceted shape, the central one and the side tops were gilded. The facades were plastered and whitewashed, and the walls were reinforced with powerful buttresses along the perimeter. The appearance of Sophia has acquired distinct features of the Ukrainian Baroque and it externally represents the majestic image of the Hetmanate.

The interior of the cathedral has been preserved almost unchanged since the 11th century. As soon as we cross the threshold of Sophia, we find ourselves in a world of harmony, where the perfection of forms and the enchanting beauty of colors symbolize Paradise, the Wisdom that is in the temple. The architecture of the interior was designed so that the service was well seen and heard by all present, so that the person, wherever he stood, was introduced into the temple action. Architecture and painting create a visible image of catholicity, giving birth to a joyful sense of unity of all in Christ. There is nothing accidental in the interior of Sophia, everything impresses with thoughtfulness and clarity of design.

The rectangular building of the cathedral is divided by twelve cruciform pillars into five longitudinal corridors (naves), which end in the east with five apses (altar niches). Longitudinal corridors intersect transverse – transepts. The intersection of the central nave and the main transept forms an equilateral spatial cross, above the center of which rises the main dome. Raised above the interior on a high drum, the dome plays a major role in the composition. It rests with the help of spherical triangles-sails on four pillars, and the central under the dome space is adjacent to the cross-shaped cylindrical vaults. The central cross is enclosed on the east by the wall of the main altar, and on the north, west and south by two-tiered triple arcades (the western one has not preserved). The openings of the first tier of the arcades form the solemn entrances to the center of the cathedral, and the second – open here U-shaped choirs. The grandeur of the interior space testifies to the solemnity of the metropolitan service, which could include “all the bishops of the Rus land.” Illuminated by the light from the windows of the central dome and the altar, the service gave birth to the believers a bright and joyful feeling of Salvation.