Period of the cathedral construction

Period of the cathedral construction

Час побудови собору

           Old Rus chronicles mention the founding of St. Sophia in 1017 and 1037 and name the Grand Prince of Kyiv Yaroslav the Wise its founder. Recent research has shown that the cathedral was actually founded by the Baptist of Rus, Grand Prince of Kyiv Volodymyr Sviatoslavych (980-1015), and completed by his son and heir to the Kyivan throne, Yaroslav the Wise (1016-1018; 1019-1054). No wonder the witness of the appearance of St. Sophia Cathedral, Metropolitan Hilarion of Kyiv, in his “Sermon on Law and Grace” says that in this case Yaroslav completed the inception of his father Volodymyr, as Solomon completed David’s beginning of the construction of the Jerusalem temple.

Kyiv Х-ХІІІ century. Model


           The oldest graffiti inscriptions on the frescoes of Sophia, containing the dates of 1018, 1019, 1022 and 1023, clearly mark the upper chronological boundary of the construction of the cathedral, which emerged in the second decade of the eleventh century. A comparison of the graffiti data and the days of consecration of St. Sophia Cathedral, preserved in the ancient church calendar, allowed us to date accurately the origin of the cathedral on November 4, 1011 (foundation) – May 11, 1018 (completion). The German chronicler Thietmar of Merseburg, a contemporary of the Sophia of Kyiv, mentions it as a functioning metropolitan residence as early as August 14, 1018.

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Graffiti 1018/1021. Drawing Graffiti 1022. Drawing


         In old Kyiv they knew that St. Sophia was the creation of Volodymyr. Sources recorded a strong Kyiv tradition, that spoke of the creation of Sophia by Volodymyr. At the end of the XVI century the cathedral was visited by foreign travelers Martin Gruneweg (1584) and Erich Lassota (1594), who recorded in their diaries, probably from the words of the clergy of Sophia, that it was built by the Baptist of Rus, Prince Volodymyr. The founding of Sophia by Volodymyr is also mentioned in an anonymous Latin document of 1595 from the Vatican archives. The most significant is that the exact time of its foundation,1011, was indicated in Sophia itself. It is a donor inscription of Metropolitan Petro Mohyla, made to his order in 1634 on the elastic arches of the central bath of the cathedral. The inscription claimed that the construction of St. Sophia Cathedral began in 1011. The same date was in the title inscription (probably at the end of the 16th century) above the entrance to the cathedral and in the statistical “Descriptions of the Kyiv Governorship” of the 70’s and 80’s of the 18th century. The date of 1011 as the time of the foundation of the cathedral also appears in the manuscript “Cathedral of Kyiv-Sophia Monastery and its governors”, compiled by the cathedral clerk Jacob Voronkovsky around 1770.

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Date 1011 from the inscription of Petro Mohyla

Inscription of Petro Mohyla on the arches of central cupola with the date 1011. Photo of 1930-s.


            Thus, the date 1011 was recognized until the end of the XVIII century. Only after 1795, with the formation of the Kyiv province, when the tsarist government unified all official dates for the Ukrainian lands included in the Russian Empire, the “textbook” chronicle date 1037 is confirmed. It satisfied the tsar best of all, as it was associated with the establishment of autocracy by Yaroslav: according to chronicles, in 1036, when Yaroslav became “autocrat of the Rus land”, he defeated the Pechenegs “in the field outside the town”, and in the following 1037 allegedly founded St. Sophia Cathedral on this place, according to historians, as a “monument to the glory of Rus weapons.”

            The date 1037 also corresponded to the ideological demands of the Soviet empire with its postulate “Kyivan Rus is the only cradle of three fraternal peoples.” After all, this year was recognized as the culmination of the formation of the Rurik empire, marked by an almost simultaneous appearance in the middle of the eleventh century of its main centers of the three Sophia Cathedrals – in Kyiv, Novgorod and Polotsk. But Sophia of Kyiv is older and more majestic than her namesakes, who tried to emulate it, to repeat it.

            In 2011, by the decision of UNESCO and the Decree of the President of Ukraine, the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Sophia of Kyiv was solemnly celebrated at the international and state levels. This anniversary is of great importance for the history of Ukraine. The appearance of St. Sophia in the second decade of the eleventh century testifies that the statehood and culture of Kyivan Rus reached its apogee already under Volodymyr, and it was Kyiv from where they spread through the East Slavic territories.