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This webpage reproduces a section of

Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev
By Olexa Powstenko

published by
The Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences
in the U. S.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Surveys, Restoration, Investigations

[image ALT: A group of large buildings, the most prominent of which by far is a tower of four progressively smaller stories, each with a central arched opening flanked by columns or pilasters, the tower crowned by an onion-bulb dome topped by a cross. Appearing to be only half as tall, partly because slightly farther in the background, on the viewer's right, a single sprawling building sprouting at thirteen smaller versions of the large tower; and to the left, a much smaller building with a single central hemispherical-domed tower. The view is of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv, Ukraine, and its outlying buildings.]

Architectural ensemble from St. Sophia Square.
From left to right:
Refectory Church (Little Sophia), Bell Tower, and Cathedral.

Архітектурний ансамбль св. Софії.
З ліва направо: трапезна церква (Мала Софія), дзвіниця і катедра.

 p29  General Characteristics of the Architecture

The plan of the Kiev Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev as it looked after the addition of the exterior galleries is a rectangle measuring 37.5 by 55 meters (119 by 180 feet) with its longitudinal axis running from north to south. Piers, in section cross-shaped, divide this rectangle into five naves which end with semicircular altar apses in the east. An exterior gallery of one story extends around the remaining three sides of the church, behind which rises the second story of the inner gallery. On the outside, the center (i.e. the main) apse is pentagonal while the remaining apses are semicircular.

The central nave (7.5 meters in width), as well as its apse, is twice the width of the lateral naves. Behind the first row of piers (counting from the apses) runs a broad, transverse arm intersecting all five naves. This arm is equal in width to that of the central nave and forms the crossing (or central square) of the church which is crowned by the dome. Two other transverse arms run parallel to the main one on the western side of the plan's rectangle. Their width is the same as that of the lateral naves. Both these transverse arms form, by intersection with the lateral naves, a system of smaller squares symmetrically divided by the longitudinal axis of the main nave. Thus they carry out the rectangle of the plan and make the composition logical and structurally justified.

On the north, west and south the original five-nave body of the church is girdled by two galleries, the interior of two stories and the exterior of one. In the eleventh century the one‑story galleries were open and had the form of girdling which may still be observed today on Ukrainian churches of the 17th and 18th centuries. On the north and south, the exterior galleries, composed of pillars, arches and vaults, were covered with low sloping, half-pitched roofs. These galleries were composed of flying buttresses arranged two-by‑two and roofed in transverse barrel vaulting. The arrangement of the western gallery was probably the same. The latter filled the space between the two towers standing at the northwestern and southwestern corners of the church. These towers were asymmetrically placed with respect to the axis of the main nave. The northwestern was probably built about the same time as the original church; the one opposite is of later construction. A chronicle reference to the second consecration of the cathedral by Metropolitan Ephraim (1055‑1062) led P. Lebedintsev to believe that this consecration took place on the occasion of the completion of the exterior galleries and the southwestern tower, which had been ordered by Prince Izyaslav Yaroslavych.32

 p30  I. Morhilevs'ky has offered a very interesting hypothesis concerning the addition of the gallery and tower. During his investigation of the baptistry, he found that a flying buttress, since destroyed, did not abut against the brickwork of the pilaster of the transverse wall but touched directly on the frescoed surface. Therefore, Morhilevs'ky concluded that the construction of the exterior galeries was undertaken at a time when the main body of the church, including the interior gallery, was completed and already partly decorated with wall paintings. He considers that the builders of the cathedral, whose knowledge of engineering problems was quite adequate, planned from the very outset to add the galleries but that the work of the guild of wallpainters was not very well synchronized with that of the bricklayers. In consequence, the painters, knowing beforehand which would be the interior walls, covered them with frescoes, but they did not allow for the places where the flying buttresses supporting the structure were to become one with the pilaster.33

During the extensive restoration undertaken between 1690 and 1707, when the rotted spires of the towers were being re‑roofed, the cupola of the southwestern tower was completely dismantled and another erected over the baptistry to make it symmetrical with the north-western tower. In the 12th century, during the reconstruction of a part of the western exterior gallery, the baptistry itself was probably built. At first it was entered from the outside, then this opening was made into a window and a new entrance cut through the southern wall of the narthex. The 12th century baptistry apse was built in the aperture of the lateral arch of the southern interior gallery.34

The interior arcades of the main floor gallery, over which the second floor galleries were built, were used as a burial place for prelates and members of the princely family. The exterior open arcades served as shelters from the weather and in their function resembled analogous elements of old Ukrainian wooden churches. However, sometime in the 12th century these open arcades were walled up and apertures left for windows and doors. The arcades also had a structural function, for their flying buttresses received the thrust of the church walls.

The towers, which gave access to the second story of the internal arcades (the enclosed gallery), probably also had another function. St. Sophia, as every other church of the epoch, served as a fortress and a vault where the princely family could take refuge and valuables be deposited in case of enemy attack. The towers rising at the corners of the church and over­looking the open space provided an observation point second only to the Golden Gate. From them were visible the entire city and the vast plains beyond.

 p31  From the very first the church could be entered from three sides, viz., from the north, south, and west — an arrangement which, in most cases, was followed in later Ukrainian churches. With the addition of the exterior galleries and the towers with staircases leading to the upper galleries, three portals were given to the church on the west, the main one facing the main altars and the others situated symmetrically on either side and opening into the Anthony, Theodosius and St. George altars, respectively. Through these lateral gateways one could also enter the towers. Two doorways each opened on the northern and the southern sides of the church. The doors situated nearest the eastern part led into the main transept through the triple arch of the exterior gallery; the other two led through the arches of the exterior gallery situated on the longitudinal axis of the western interior arcade. The west central three-arched portal of the church with its marble revetment is not preserved and the triple arches of the northern and the southern entrances (now opening upon the Dormition and St. John the Baptist naves) have been altered: the lateral arches have been changed into windows and the central arch into a door.

Prior to the erection of additional stories over the exterior and the changes in roofing (17th to 19th centuries), the St. Sophia Cathedral was much better illuminated since light could enter through windows in the drums of the domes (now partly walled up) and through the windows of the second story of the interior galleries which cleared the roofs of the exterior ones. The addition of upper stories on the latter blocked off this source of light for the northern and the southern parts of the church.

The masonry work of St. Sophia is Byzantine, but the technique (with some variations) had already been known to Kievan builders of the 10th century and was also used in other cities of Ukraine‑Rus′ in the 10th and 11th centuries. This particular method was employed in the construction not only of churches (most notably in the Tithe Church) but also of princely palaces.

This technique, known as opus mixtum and used from late Roman times on, consisted in alternating layers of brick and stone.​a Square or rectangular bricks (plinths), made of well-baked clay and measuring for the most part 35 by 36 (sometimes 35 by 32 or 35 by 26) centimeters and 4.5 to 5 centimeters thick were used. They were laid flat in horizontal courses on a thick bed of mortar, a mixture of slaked lime and ground fragments of brick. This compound had the quality of hydraulic mortar and grew stronger with time. The horizontal layers of brick were alternated with layers of stone (mostly quartzite) which was also embedded in the mortar. Only well‑cut stone of the best quality was used for the facing of the walls in order to provide a smooth surface. The amount of stone used in the construction of the walls was large, since skilled workers, who were scarce at the time, would have been needed for the preparation of such a quantity of bricks and many kilns would first have had to be built. But unskilled workers or even prisoners of war could be used for the extraction and transportation of stone from Volynia (there are no deposits of  p32 stone in the region of Kiev). On the other hand, structures of the 12th century, when brick was abundant in Kiev, were made mostly of that material: the Churches of St. Cyril, the Three Saints and the Redeemer in Berestovo. The bricks, laid over stone courses, acted as relieving layers and leveled off the stone work. The mortar beds were usually thicker than the courses of brick. Arches, vaults and cupolas were of brick; other architectural details, such as pilasters, shafts and the ornamentation for windows and door jambs were also made of brick — in which case the following technique of decorative brickwork was used: Alternate layers of brick were set back into mortar and the space in front filled with mortar up to the level of the protruding rows of bricks. The same system was used with respect to horizontal courses of brick in opus mixtum wall work and created a beauti­ful impression as if between the rows of yellowish brick slightly pink layers of stone were set. (Kievan brick is of a specific yellowish color since the local clay, so‑called spondilov, a type of clay used in making yellow-colored bricks, contains little iron). Similarly, in the other parts of the walls done in opus mixtum technique, the layers of brick alternated with quartzite of a pleasant reddish hue.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the exterior walls of the cathedral were plastered, but originally the above-mentioned technique, with its finished edges and smooth strips of mortar between layers of brick, provided adequate decoration. Since remnants of frescoes have come to light in some places on the exterior of the church — for instance, on the pillars of the arcature and the arches of the exterior arcades — perhaps this has led certain investigators to believe that the whole exterior of the church was originally covered with plaster.

But among the exterior architectural embellishments, only fragments of slate cornice, set into the walls at the level of the imposts in the arches of the exterior gallery, and slate imposts of the semicircular heads of the door and window apertures of the enclosed gallery of the interior arcades, have been preserved. In the main altar apse, slate imposts of arched heads remain in the jambs of the windows, as do the shafts, skillfully executed from gauged or hewn brick, which run along the corners of the altar apse walls. Similar shafts still exist in the drum of the main cupola. The typically Byzantine blind windows, in the form of two or three round-headed niches set into each other, are also well preserved. Still there are several details which seem to prove that most of the outer walls of St. Sophia originally were free of plaster. Such are the meander-like ornament, skillfully executed in brick, set sideways into the wall (uncovered while taking soundings in the north wall), a brick cross set between the arches of the southern exterior arcade, and the decorated arched heads of window and door apertures and niches. A meander frieze also has been uncovered on the main cupola above the windows.

The domed Greek-cross plan of St. Sophia with its supports symmetrically arranged around the crossing is roofed with barrel vaulting. The barrel vaults rise step-by‑step toward the central cupola so that the sections of the lateral arms of the cross which are nearest to it are somewhat  p33 higher than the vaults of the adjoining sections (see cross section of plan). In accordance with the graduated height of the vaults over the arms of the cross toward the main dome, the smaller domes also mount progressively. The original construction of St. Sophia contained thirteen cupolas: not the fifteen, eleven or nine that certain recent authors have maintained.35 The number of the thirteen original cupolas of the church was indicated in the composition of the plan but it also had a symbolic meaning, representing Christ and the Twelve Apostles. The four larger cupolas, which symbolize the four Evangelists, surround the dome, while six of the eight minor cupolas are arranged in groups of three in the western part of the church over the intersection of smaller transverse arms with lateral naves. The last two rise above the pre‑apsidal parts of the first and the fifth nave. All the cupolas were spherical in form — a feature characteristic of Byzantine architecture. Consequently, there was no garret and the original lead roofing lay directly on the spherical surface of the cupolas and the cylindrical surfaces of the vaults.

The smaller cupolas of the church are of unequal height. The four directly adjoining the main cupola rest on drums much higher than those of the remaining cupolas. This increasing height of the cupolas corresponds to the progressive rising of the vaults in the direction of the dome. All this logical compositional system of architectural masses mounting from the periphery toward the center is paralleled by the increasing volume of the apses which in rhythmic proportions progress outward as they rise upward toward the main apse (which is twice their width). The general composition of the structure — the lateral apses, the vaults, and the cupolas pyramiding toward the dome — creates a noble harmony of architectural masses consummated in a majesty of light and shade.

Repeated surveys, investigations and the attempts at restoration of the original appearance of the cathedral (undertaken by F. Solntsev, O. Novyts'ky, I. Morhilevs'ky, K. J. Conant, N. Brunov, and others) have led to the conclusion that St. Sophia was not a specimen of pure Byzantine architecture. This conclusion has in turn provided the basis for various, sometimes contradictory, hypotheses.

The presence in St. Sophia of two façade towers, enclosed galleries running along the body, triple arches in the lateral and main naves, flying  p34 buttresses in the exterior galleries, the clustered columns, and other features, remind some scholars of certain analogous elements in the Romanesque architecture of Germany [the Cathedrals at Worms (1110‑1200), Trier (1047), Speyer (1030)] as well as of features of basilicas of Armenia, Syria and Asia Minor. Certain scholars (Aynalov, Zalozets'ky) compare the St. Sophia of Kiev with the Nea of Constantinople (dedicated in 881), which is in many respects related in architectural forms and partly in construction to such Constantino­politan churches as that of the Pantocrator, the Kahrie-djami (Chora), the Church of St. Nicholas in Myra of Lycia and of certain Caucasian churches (such as those of Odzun [Uzunlar], Ereruyk [Ani‑Pezma], Mugni, Zarzma, Ani).

Professor Morhilevs'ky attempts to find "common features and roots for the main architectural elements of St. Sophia in quite unexpected places and periods," for instance, the palace of Shapur I in Ctesiphon, the palace of Okhadjer near Kerbela on the Euphrates, the palace of Tag Eivan of the Sassanid period and the edifices of Trans-Jordanian Syria displaying Sassanid characteristics (Al‑Qarani, Kusejr-Amra, and others).36

During the period of its influence on Ukraine‑Rus′, it is true that Byzantium itself was in turn influenced by Arabian, Armenian and Syrian art. The Princely state of Rus′, however, carried on extensive relations with neighbors other than Byzantium. It was exposed to artistic influences coming from the east, west and south; the northern provinces of Rus′, such as Novgorod, Pskov, Suzdal' and Vladimir on the Klyaz'ma, were, in their turn, influenced by the cultural center of Kiev. Therefore it is not astonishing that early Ukrainian artisans were well acquainted with the stylistic devices used in the constructions and architecture of their neighbors. The fact that Romanesque architectural forms, present in the buildings of the so‑called Byzantine period in Kiev, Chernihiv, and especially Halych, appeared almost simultaneously with the Cathedrals of Worms, Speyer and Trier, is additional proof of the increasing artistic competence of early Ukrainian artisans.

In considering the long established view that almost all the first Christian buildings of Kievan Rus′ were erected by Byzantine master-builders, it may be suggested that one should expect from them the introduction of purely Byzantine architectural forms on Kievan soil. But even if Byzantine builders were sometimes invited to come, they did not play a decisive part in Rus′ whose buildings continued to display their own particular artistic features. St. Sophia does not show any notable similarity to contemporary architectural monuments and much less likeness to Constantino­politan churches than might be inferred from some recent discussions on the subject. In short, the distinctive features in the construction and architectural forms of St. Sophia, although under Byzantine  p35 influence, display characteristics of their own, and the church, outstanding in its artistry, occupies a prime position in the architecture of the 11th century.

If we consider the most important of the churches of the 11th century — Ani (1001), Kutaisi (1003), Pisa (1063), St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice (1071), the Church of St. Remi in Reims (1095), the Byzantine churches of St. Luke in Phocis and of Daphni and the Church of St. Sophia in Kiev — three, St. Mark's, the Cathedral of Pisa and St. Sophia in Kiev stand out (and it must be noted that the first two are later in date than the Kievan cathedral). We know of no contemporary churches of comparable magnificence in Bohemia, Moravia or Bulgaria. St. Sophia of Kiev served as a model for the Churches of St. Sophia in Novgorod (1046) and Polotsk (1048‑1052), lending them not only its name but also its plan and architectural composition. Making use of Byzantine elements, the early Ukrainian artisans by their work on St. Sophia laid the foundation for the distinctive features and traditions of Ukrainian architecture which have survived to the present day.

Nevertheless, certain scholars either reject the autochthonous origin of the cathedral altogether (e.g. Zalozets'ky) or, while recognizing its originality, regard it as Russian (Aynalov, Brunov and others). V. Zalozets'ky denies completely the hypothesis of the autochthonous origin of St. Sophia, calling such a theory "an echo of the old romantic trends and their uncritical glorification of the national past dissociated from universal currents."37 He bases his conclusions on the following considerations: "Even if it (i.e. the autochthonous architecture) had existed, it is beyond doubt that the hypothesis of its influence upon the monumental stone architecture of Byzantium should be discarded for the simple reasons that (a) it was a pagan architecture with a different purpose from the Christian; (b) at no time in the history of architecture do we know of an influence exerted by wooden architecture on stone; (c) in the Byzantine churches of the Ukraine, no forms — except the Byzantine, which from the 12th century adopted certain Romanesque architectural ornaments — have been disclosed which would point to any autochthonous pre‑Byzantine pagan style."38

However, it may be argued that Dr. Zalozets'ky (a) takes into consideration only the pre‑Christian religious architecture of Rus′, omitting lay architecture, whereas both could have left traces upon the early Christian architecture of Rus′; (b) we know many examples of the influence of wooden architecture upon stone, starting with the Lycian  p36 tombs. To remain on Ukrainian territory, the Ukraine's stone architecture of the so‑called Ukrainian Baroque period (17th and 18th centuries) is patterned upon Ukrainian wooden churches, the earliest examples of which date back to the Grand Princely period. As early as the 10th century (in 989, according to the Novgorod Chronicle), there existed in Novgorod a wooden church of St. Sophia which had thirteen cupolas (verkhy) — that is, as many as the later thirteen-cupolated Church of St. Sophia in Kiev. In Kiev we now know of examples of stone architecture of the pre‑Christian period (through excavations in the courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Princes); (c) even in the 10th and 11th centuries Kievan building did not present a purely Byzantine aspect.

With his three arguments, Dr. Zalozets'ky supports the old 19th century concept which denies any original features to the architecture of the Grand Princely period and which imputes to the builders of Rus′ a mechanical imitation of Byzantine models. Western European Byzantinists, not having direct access to the Cathedral of St. Sophia, have been forced to base their research on obsolete and occasionally tendentious studies, especially those of the present time. Nevertheless, the autochthonous hypothesis of the origin of St. Sophia, mentioned, among others, by Professor V. Sichyns'ky,39 is based not on "old romantic trends" but on pertinent, although sometimes divergent, conclusions of researchers. We shall omit any detailed discussion of the conclusions reached by earlier Russian investigators of Grand Princely architecture who considered the Cathedral of St. Sophia as a Byzantine work executed by "masters from Greece" coming from Constantinople. We shall only remind the reader that the generally known works from the end of the 19th, and the beginning of the 20th century (those of D. Aynalov, E. Redin, I. Tolstoi, N. Kondakov and N. Pokrovski) follow the leading view that the development of Kievan architecture depended directly on Byzantium and that it took a path different from that pursued by the art of Western Europe.40 We shall, however, discuss the opinions of a few scholars who deny this concept of St. Sophia's unadulterated "Byzantinism." Here we meet quite divergent explanations which may be reduced to three main  p37 trends: the Romanesque theory, the so‑called Caucasian hypothesis, and the assumption of the autochthonous origin of St. Sophia.

Professor D. Antonovych discovers Romanesque elements in the general Byzantine architectural composition of St. Sophia.41 L. Kraskovs'ka, who also belongs to the group of "Romanesque" scholars, stresses that the church possesses many forms alien to Byzantine art. She points out that the plan of the church has no analogy in the architecture of Constantinople and other Byzantine cities and that it presents distinctive features in its five naves and apses, its galleries, and its thirteen cupolas. In addition, Dr. Kraskovs'ka draws our attention to the two towers of the western façade of St. Sophia. She considers them a striking feature of the Romanesque style.42 However, the towers of St. Sophia have been built independently of any influence from the cathedrals along the Rhine, inasmuch as the most important among the latter, such as the Cathedrals of Worms, Speyer and Trier, were built after St. Sophia. It also seems that the towers of St. Sophia had a somewhat different function from the Treppentuerme or Glockentuerme of German Romanesque cathedrals; nor are the towers of St. Sophia round in shape, as Dr. Kraskovs'ka maintains.

Academician F. Shmit, the most prominent exponent of the Caucasian hypothesis, finds some similarity in plan and construction between St. Sophia and the church of Mokvi in Abkhasia. Therefore he concludes that the roots of old Rus′ art should be sought not in Constantinople but in the northwestern Caucasus.43 Professor V. Nikols'ky sees no other way through which artistic influences could have penetrated into Kiev of the Grand Princely period other than the direct Caucasian route.44  p38 Charles Diehl, who calls the Cathedral "une des merveilles de l'art byzantin," thinks, nevertheless, that its plan is strikingly similar to that of the church of Mokvi and that it could be argued that the Kievan cathedral is a work of Armenian, rather than Byzantine, hands.45 Louis Réau agrees with this opinion in most respects although he also finds certain western influences in St. Sophia.46 Professor A. Nekrasov disagrees with scholars who find similarity between the Caucasian church of Mokvi and St. Sophia, contending that their conclusions are based on a number of features only remotely common to the two plans. He is also disinclined to relate it to the St. Sophia in Constantinople or any other large church of the same name (such as those of Thessalonica and Trebizond). He objects particularly to those scholars who find common forms in the curvature of domes and roofs of the St. Sophia in Kiev and the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and who conclude from this similarity that the first was modeled on the second.47

K. Sherots'ky was among the first scholars who boldly propounded the hypothesis of the autochthonous origin of the church.48 Prof. Sherots'ky's conclusion that the architectural composition of St. Sophia is a development of its predecessors, e.g. the Tithe Church and the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Chernihiv, is of high importance. This conclusion militates against the assertion of G. Pavluts'ky, who considers that the St. Sophia of Kiev commences a new group of Kievan churches of the 11th and 12th centuries. He introduces as a model between the Tithe Church and St. Sophia the no‑longer extant Nea Ecclesia of Constantinople, built by Emperor Basil I.49 Finally, Professor S. Bezsonov calls St. Sophia the first product of national architecture without analogies in Byzantium and denies not only the idea of St. Sophia as a direct imitation of Constantino­politan architecture but doubts any leading or direct part played by Greek artisans in its construction. He ignores the so‑called Caucasian hypothesis because for him it lacks substance.50

 p39  The Cathedral of St. Sophia may be considered as an original, early Ukrainian architectural monument. Although in its artistic complexity foreign influences had been absorbed, their synthesis within the unique composition of the cathedral is the creative achievement of early Ukrainian masters. Nevertheless, both earlier and recent works of Russian scholars on St. Sophia attribute the difference between it and other churches of the Byzantine period to the merits of Russian architecture. Such is the opinion of Professor N. Brunov who also envisages St. Sophia as exposed to the influence of the Eastern school of Byzantine architecture.51 Brunov finds analogies between particular architectural details of St. Sophia and the details of such 11th century churches in Constantino­politan as Molla-gyurani-djama and Eski-imaret-djami (Pantepopte). But in the latter, the triple arches rest upon thin round columns typical of Byzantine buildings (cf. the Church of St. Vitale in Ravenna), whereas in St. Sophia of Kiev the arches of the triple embrasures in the lateral arms of the central architectural cross are supported by thick octagonal piers; in the internal galleries, the piers are rectangular in plane with typical Romanesque shafts bordering their four corners. In Professor Brunov's opinion these piers completely divide the triple embrasure into three separate passageways, for, he argues, the piers are so thick that they almost equal the embrasures in width. This statement is not exact as applied to the piers of the triple arches of the cathedral, inasmuch as the embrasures are half again as wide as the piers (and the central embrasure, incidentally, is slightly wider than the two lateral ones). The lower (octagonal) piers may have appeared so thick to Professor Brunov since his investigations were carried on before the 19th century floor was lowered to the level of the original 11th century one (in 1939‑1940). Only then did the true proportions of these triple embrasures of the arches come to light.

 p40  Pursuing his comparative method, Professor Brunov states that in the Church of St. Sophia we encounter a propensity toward concentration of mass as opposed to the clear tendency of the churches of Constantinople to accentuate spaciousness and to articulate architectural masses by more plastic forms (e.g. the niches on the exterior walls of the altar apse of Molla-gyurani-djami are deeper than in Kievan churches). Thus, for instance, all the piers in the interior of the cathedral are cruciform and divide the internal space of the church into separate squares. In comparing the Cathedral of St. Sophia with the architecture of Constantinople, Brunov remarks that an increased corporeality is encountered (a feature of the Eastern school of Byzantine architecture) at the expense of dynamism and an impression of immateriality. Brunov thinks that St. Sophia of Kiev is built in the five-nave variant of the capital of the Byzantine Empire (the example quoted being the church of the Lips Monastery in Constantinople, the present Fenari-Issa-Mesdjid), but he finds that it reflects the elements of the Eastern Byzantine architectural concept and also represents a type of simple Greek-cross plan surmounted by a dome similar to the three-nave, three-apse church in Corfu.

Brunov sees the most distinctive feature of St. Sophia in the elongation of the rectangle of its plan in a north-south direction (whereas the plan of Constantino­politan churches is, for the most part, square), in the characteristic growth of its architectural volumes from the periphery toward the center, and, finally, in the fact that Sophia was crowned with thirteen cupolas, an arrangement unknown in Byzantine architecture.

Nevertheless, after these correct comparisons and analyses, Professor Brunov is reluctant to consider the cathedral as an expression of a creative adaptation of Byzantine, Oriental and Western stylistic peculiarities to the local artistic taste and needs.52 His tendency to reckon the St. Sophia among the "first creations" of Russian architecture stems from the same attitude. In his opinion, "the cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev in its original form contains independent Russian compositional elements which, developing in the course of later centuries, led to the composition of the Sobor of Basil the Blest."53

We do not intend to deny the independent Russian compositional elements of such an autochthonous Russian building as Basil the Blest. We cannot concede, however, that its forms go back to the Cathedral  p41 of St. Sophia in Kiev. It is true that architectural forms of the buildings of Grand Princely Ukraine‑Rus′ were imitated for a long time in Moscow, whose architecture was strongly influenced by Kiev, but the Sobor of Basil the Blest in Moscow (16‑17th century) is an exclusively Russian architectural monument in no way related to St. Sophia. The majority of Russia scholars (Professors Lukomski, Alpatov, Brunov, Grekov, Voronin and others)54 reckon among the Russian, the achievements of early Ukrainian architecture which, on the contrary, often yielded models for Russian constructions.

If we look carefully for the source which inspired the plan of St. Sophia we shall find it in Kiev itself. That St. Sophia has an immediate Kievan antecedent may easily be proved by comparing its plan with that of the Tithe Church. If we juxtapose, in the same scale, the plan of the foundations of the Tithe Church (found in numerous publications) and the plan of St. Sophia, the similarity of these two plans will appear most convincingly. We take as a basis of comparison the plan of the Tithe Church, after its enlargement and the completion of additional structures under Prince Yaroslav following the fire of 1017, and the plan of St. Sophia, after the erection of the exterior one‑story galleries and the southwestern tower, both constructed during the rule of Prince Izyaslav (1055‑1060).

The length of the main nave, measured from the western walls to the altar apse, is almost the same in both churches. So is the arrangement and the number of transepts which create the same number of transverse sections, namely, six in both cases. The two outer (western) sections constituted the western parts of the gallery in the two churches. With regard to the number of longitudinal naves and lateral galleries the difference between the plan of St. Sophia and that of the Tithe Church consists solely in the fact that one nave and one internal two‑story gallery were added on the southern and northern sides to the three central naves of the Sophia Cathedral.55  p42 

[image ALT: Comparative elevations (above) and plans (below) of two churches in Kyiv, Ukraine: on the left, the Tithe Church, of three apsed naves with an additional gallery on either side; on the right, the Cathedral of St. Sophia, of five apsed naves with an additional gallery on either side. In each case, the elevation shows the height of the galleries and naves increasing towards the center, creating a pyramidal effect.]

Comparative floor plans and sections
of the Tithe Church and St. Sophia Cathedral. (Restoration by author).

Порівняльні схеми плянів та розрізів
Десятинної церкви і катедри св. Софії. (Реконструкція автора).

At present it is impossible to solve the problem of the similarity in the arrangement of the towers of the two churches, since we have almost no data on the towers of the Tithe Church. Nevertheless, it may be asserted with some probability that if the Tithe Church had two towers after the additions of 1017, they may have been situated in the northwestern and southwestern corners of the church. In that case, the arrangement of the towers of St. Sophia would be slightly different in its asymmetry, but that may have been prompted by the necessity of setting  p43 the baptistry aside, which was less feasible in the Tithe Church. There, a similar position of the baptistry would lead to an embarrassing reduction in the width of the narthex where the main entrance led into the church. In both churches the location of the new towers may have been decided during the erection of exterior galleries and therefore adapted to local changes necessitated in both churches by these additional structures.

It can be assumed that the necessity of lighting the central part of the Tithe Church led to the construction of at least seven cupolas. The dome must have crowned the crossing of the church, while the remaining minor cupolas rose above the intersections of the lateral transverse arms. It is possible, as such was the case in St. Sophia, that the four cupolas surrounding the dome were built higher than the two outer western cupolas. These seven cupolas (in addition to towers, if they were existent) were sufficient to provide the church with light, along with the windows cut in those walls which extended above the roofs of the one‑story galleries. If the galleries were filled at a later date, we may also postulate the existence of windows set into the galleries themselves.

The transformation of the plan of the Tithe Church in St. Sophia carried with it the necessity of providing adequate lighting for the additional naves and the two‑story galleries. This led to the construction of six more cupolas, in addition to the seven principal ones, over the intersections of the first and the fifth native with transverse arms corresponding to those of the Tithe Church. Thus the thirteen-cupola form of the cathedral was obtained — a form unknown before in Byzantium and not used in any of the contemporary five-nave churches considered by certain scholars as proto­types of St. Sophia.

Thus it would seem more appropriate to look for models of the plan of the Tithe Church than for that of St. Sophia. But inasmuch as the original plan of the Tithe Church has been complicated by later additions, the finding of direct analogies will prove difficult. Whereas the proto­type for the plan of St. Sophia is undoubtedly Kievan, the Tithe Church, after the enlargement in the 11th century, must have displayed an architectural design both adapted to local peculiarities and reflecting a Byzantine model. Regarding the source of its original plan no sure conclusions may be reached before new excavations are undertaken. One may only speculate that these sources may not be farther away than the nearby Khersonesus.

During the detailed archeological excavations of 1938‑1939, the technique of erecting the walls and foundations of the Tithe Church was ascertained. Since the church was built on filled soil (on the site of an ancient necropolis), the packing of the ground by means of short wooden piles and grillage and closely spaced wooden spikes driven into the clay (the procedure followed by the builders) appears to be completely justified. Until recently, it was thought not to have been a necessity but simply a technique introduced by some foreign artisans and mechanically applied in Kiev.

[image ALT: Two versions of the floor plan of the Tithe Church in Kyiv, Ukraine, of three apsed naves with an additional gallery on either side. The plan on the left shows the somewhat messy actual archeological state of the building, with successive changes and details; on the right, a cleaner, simplified version.]

Comparative floor plans of the Tithe Church:
1. Archeological (by Prof. M. Karger); 2. Restored (by author).

Порівняльні пляни Десятинної церкви:
1. археологічний (проф. М. Каргер); 2. реконструктивний (автор).

Detailed measurements permit us to reconstruct the exact plan of the original church. It was a three-nave structure terminating in the east with horseshoe-shaped altar apses (a type known in Khersonesus) and enclosed by galleries on the south, north and west. As has already been stated, the original church was remodeled and enlarged by Yaroslav after the fire of 1017. In the present writer's opinion, the enlargement consisted in widening the church on its southern, northern, and western sides — in other words, in broadening the galleries and perhaps erecting an additional story above them.

[image ALT: Two versions of the floor plan of Dormition Cathedral in Halych, Ukraine, of three apsed naves with an additional gallery on either side. The plan on the left shows the actual state of the building; on the right, a version suggesting its evolution over time, in which the lateral galleries and the first traverse row are shown as additions to an original plan encompassing only the central three naves.]

Comparative foundation plans of Dormition Cathedral in Halych:
1. Archeological (by Dr. Ya. Pasternak); 2. Restored (by author).

Порівняльні пляни фундаменту Успенської катедри в Галичі:
1. археологічний (Др. Я. Пастернак), 2. реконструктивний (автор).

It appears from the foundation plan of the Tithe Church, drawn on the basis of the latest excavations, that the foundations of the northwestern and southwestern parts of the gallery are not extensions of the foundations of the corresponding walls of the original church built by Volodymyr. Moreover, in the eastern exterior foundation of the northern gallery, as well as in the second (counting from the east) and the fourth interior foundations of the southern gallery, rectangular extensions are clearly distinguishable on both sides of the wall. These extrusions are at an equal distance from the walls of both lateral naves of the church. M. Karger, who directed the excavations of the foundations of the Tithe Church, drew attention to them but he did not suspect their purpose, stating only that they were internal  p45 articulations for constructional purposes.56 In the opinion of the present writer, they are the foundations of cross-shaped piers which served as supports for the original galleries and entered into the new wall at the time of their enlargements. The position of these piers did not coincide with the axis of the new walls and they must have been dismantled. On the basis of this inference, we are giving one of the variants for the reconstruction of the plan of the Tithe Church. Our reconstruction of the original structure quite naturally corresponds to the principles of planning and arrangement of the naves and transepts of the St. Sophia Cathedral. This reconstruction accounts for the prolongation of the foundations of the galleries and the construction of new foundations which do not coincide with the direction of the old ones. It also shows that the earlier outer walls (the northern and southern) were bound on both sides by newer foundations dating from the time of Grand Prince Yaroslav. This may have been done in order to stop the deformation of the walls which had been disclosed in the western part of Volodymyr's Church. On the basis of these investigations it might be asserted that the person represented on Abraham van Westervelt's drawing of the central part (now  p46 lost) of the St. Sophia frescoes, depicting Prince Yaroslav's family, is Yaroslav himself holding the model of the Tithe Church he had restored. It is possible that the model was erroneously represented in the copy from Westervelt's lost drawing. If this assumption be true it will be difficult to agree with the reconstruction of the general view of the Tithe Church made by Professor Conant.57

Cases of enlargements of existing churches in the Grand Princely period are fairly numerous. The construction of galleries on three sides of the Dormition Cathedral in Halych (third quarter of the 12th century) is among the most striking examples of this procedure. There the partitions of the added northern and southern galleries do not correspond to the directions of the transept walls. This lack of coincidence is underlined by the fact that the outer pilasters of the original church protrude into the added arcades. Dr. Pasternak, who failed to notice this detail, looks for affinities between the Dormition Cathedral in Halych and the Dormition Cathedral in Vladimir on the Klyaz'ma and objects to the thesis of Professor H. Pavluts'ky,58 who quite rightly finds some similarity in the plans of the Tithe Church and the Vladimir Cathedral.59 While detailed comparative discussion transcends the scope of the present book (the reconstruction of the original plan of the foundations for the Dormition Church in Halych and the galleries added at a later date is given here only for comparison with the somewhat similar addition of galleries in the Tithe Church), it may be stated briefly that the churches of the northern (the principalities of Novgorod, Pskov, Vladimir-Suzdal') as well as western territories (Galicia, Volynia) of Eastern Europe had remained for a long time under the influence of the cultural center of Kiev where an original architecture had come into being.

Strong influences of Kiev are reflected for several centuries in architectural compositions and especially in the plans of a great number of Ukrainian and Russian churches, even at the time when these churches adopted Romanesque architectural forms. From time to time these early elements are borrowed for the architecture of modern churches. Thus the culmination of early Ukrainian architecture begun by the Tithe Church and brilliantly crowned by the Cathedral of St. Sophia, opened a separate chapter in the history of the architecture of Eastern Europe.

The Author's Notes:

32 P. Lebedintsev, Opisanie Kievo-Sofiiskago Kafedral'nago Sobora (Kiev 1882), pp5, 71. Speaking of the second consecration of St. Sophia, P. Lebedintsev states that "this second consecration was probably occasioned by the erection of the galleries encompassing the church on three sides and of the second tower in the southwestern corner of the edifice."

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33 I. Morhilevs'ky, "Kyyivs'ka Sofiya v svitli novykh sposterezhen'," Kyyiv ta yoho okolytsya v istoriyi i pam'yatkakh, ed. by Acad. M. Hrushevs'ky, (Kiev 1926), pp102‑104.

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34 N. Okunev, "Khreshchalnya Sofiiskago Sobora v Kieve," Zapiski otdel. russkoi i slav. arkheol. Imper. Russkago Arkheol. Obshchestva (Kharkov, 1915).

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35 The total number of St. Sophia cupolas in the present state is nineteen (thirteen cupolas dating back to the Grand Princely period and six added under the Hetmanate of Mazeppa). Here are some erroneous indications of earlier authors: K. V. Sherotski, Kiev, Putevoditel', (Kiev, 1917), p34: fifteen; A. Nekrasov, Vizantiiskoe i russkoe iskusstvo (Moscow, 1924), p58: eleven; V. Sichyns'ky, Arkhitektura staroknyazivs'koyi doby (Prague, 1926), p13: eight, or twelve (besides the main one); the same author in "Katedra sv. Sofiyi v Kyyevi," Shlyakh, (July 22, 1951), p4: writes of "cupolas and drums of the four larger domes, surrounding the main one, and seven others, which now are covered under the roofs"; in Ukrainian Arts (New York, 1952), p146, Sichyns'ky speaks of St. Sophia's nine domes. The same error is repeated by S. Hordyns'ky, ibidem, p127.

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36 I. Morhilevs'ky, "Kyyivs'ka Sofiya v svitli novykh sposterezhen'," Kyyiv ta yoho okolytsya v istoriyi i pam'yatkakh, (Kiev, 1926), p106; ibidem, "Ob izuchenii Sofiiskogo sobora v Kieve," Russkoe iskusstvo (Berlin, 1923).

Thayer's Note: It may be noted that at least two of the Armenian churches cited in the immediately previous paragraph, Ereruk and Uzunlar, have been traced by some scholars to Syrian antecedents as well: F. Macler, "L'architecture arménienne dans ses rapports avec l'art syrien", Syria I.261.
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37 V. Zalozets'ky (W. Zalozecky), "Sofiys'ky sobor u Kyyevi i yoho vidnoshennya do vizantiys'koyi arkhitektury," Zapysky chyna sv. Vasyliya Velykoho, III (Lviv-Zhowka, 1929).

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38 Ibidem, p317. Cf., also, W. Zalozecky, "Byzantinische Baudenkmalerei auf dem Gebiet der Ukraine," Jahrbuecher fuer Kultur und Geschichte der Slaven, N. F., III (1927), 209‑230.

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39 V. Sichyns'ky, Arkhitektura staroknyazivs'koyi doby, (Prague 1926), p35. This a priori statement could not convince the scholar­ly world since on the whole the results of the investigations of the twenties, thirties and forties were unknown to Western scholars. For an exception, cf. S. H. Cross, H. V. Morgilevski, and K. J. Conant, "The Earliest Mediaeval Churches of Kiev," Speculum, XI:4 (October 1936), 477‑499.

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40 Principal literature: D. Aynalov and E. Redin, Drevnie pamyatniki iskusstva Kieva, Sofiiski sobor, Zlatoverkho-Mikhailovski i Kirillovski monastyri, (Kharkov, 1899); A. Prakhov, "Kievskie pamyatniki vizantiisko-russkago iskusstva. Drevnosti," Trudy Imp. Moskovskago Arkheologicheskago Obshchestva, XI, 3 (1886); D. Aynalov and E. Redin, Kievo-Sofiiski sobor (St. Petersburg, 1889); I. Tolstoi and N. Kondakov, Russkiya drevnosti v pamyatnikakh iskusstva, IV (St. Petersburg, 1891); N. Zakrevski, Opisanie Kieva (Moscow 1868); N. Petrov, Istoriko-Topograficheskie ocherki drevnyago Kieva (Kiev 1897).

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41 D. Antonovych, Skorocheny kurs istoryi ukrayins'koho mystetstva (Prague 1923), p28: "The St. Sophia Cathedral remained throughout the period of the Byzantino-Romanesque style to which it belongs and through the subsequent centuries, the most magnificent art monument in all Ukrainian architecture. It was unequalled by any of the churches built in Kiev in the 11th and 12th centuries, similarly marked by the transition period from the Byzantine to the Romanesque type prevailing throughout Europe at that time."

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42 L. Kraskovs'ka, "Zakhidni vplyvy v ukrayins'kiy arkhitekturi X‑XIII st.," Zbirnyk ukrayins'koho naukovoho instytutu v Amerytsi, (St. Paul-Prague, 1939): "as we do not find such towers in Byzantium or in the East, for instance in the Caucasus, we may assert that this architectural form was introduced into the architecture of the Grand Princely period from the Romanesque style of the West. The towers of Kiev, Chernihiv and Volynia, which are still extant, are usually round in shape. Such a form is found in the Romanesque period only in German architecture of the Rhineland. Therefore this is the only area from which the models for the round-shaped tower could have come. In Central Europe we do not find examples of this form which would point to its way eastward."

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43 F. Shmit, Mystetstvo staroyi Ukrayiny-Rusy (Kharkov, 1919), pp30‑44; ibidem, "Pro vydannya sv. Sofiyi," Zbirnyk sektsiyi mystetstv, (Kiev, 1921), p103‑111.

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44 V. Nikol'ski, Istoriya russkogo iskusstva, (Berlin, 1923), p68: ". . . the investigation of the plans, foundations and details of Byzantine architecture in Kievan Rus′ points to the conclusion that the builders came from Armenia and Georgia."

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45 Ch. Diehl, Manuel d'art byzantin (Paris, 1926), pp513, 518.

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46 L. Réau, L'art russe des origines à Pierre le Grand, (Paris, 1921), pp93‑103.

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47 A. Nekrasov, Vizantiiskoe i russkoe iskusstvo, (Moscow, 1924), p58.

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48 K. Sherotski, Kiev, Putevoditel' (Kiev, 1917), p35: "The architecture of St. Sophia of Kiev has many Byzantine and Romanesque features, though it resembles the St. Sophia of Constantinople but little. However, the cathedral of Kiev does not have complete analogy in Byzantium or in the West and represents an independent monument of world art developing in many respects the distinctive features of earlier Kievan monuments (Tithe Church and the Chernihiv Cathedral of the Transfiguration)." Cf. his Starovynne mystetstvo na Ukrayini, (Kiev, 1918), p9, where he says that "the more distinctive features of St. Sophia are connected not with St. Sophia of Constantinople, but with churches of Syria, Armenia and Asia Minor, as well as with Western influences (churches in Trier, Worms and others)."

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49 G. Pavlutski, "Kievskie khramy domongol'skago perioda i ikh otnoshenie k vizantiiskomu zodchestvu," Trudy XIV arkheolog. s'ezda v Chernigove, (Moscow, 1911), p34.

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50 S. Bezsonov, "Arkhitekturni zvyazky skhidn'oho slovyanstva v XI‑XII st.," Vistnyk Akademiyi Arkhitektury URSR, I (Kiev, 1949), 16‑17: "Chronicles contain direct references to the part played by Greek masters in the building of certain monuments of Kievan architecture. No source mentions this with reference to St. Sophia. The opinion that Greeks had built St. Sophia was once expressed by Academician Kondakov and since then scholars repeat it constantly, varying only as to the place from which these Greeks supposedly came. They mention Constantinople, Bulgaria, Asia Minor, Khersonesus and the Caucasus. The comparative historical and stylistic analyses of our monument give a negative answer to this hypothesis. St. Sophia has too many stylistic features which are not encountered in Byzantine art: the width of its body is greater than its length, its galleries, towers, cross-shaped piers, the pyramidal character of its composition . . . all these are peculiar only to St. Sophia."

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51 N. Brunov, Ocherki po istorii arkhitektury, II (Moscow-Leningrad 1935) 518‑520: "St. Sophia of Kiev is closely connected with the architecture found in the larger Byzantine towns of Asia Minor. At the same time, however, St. Sophia displays features which distinguish it from Byzantine buildings and bring it close to the works of the later Russian feudal architecture. This authorizes us to call it the first product of Russian architecture. A comparison of the exterior and interior parts of St. Sophia in Kiev with the middle Byzantine buildings in Constantinople and its eastern provinces discloses on one hand the source of Russian architecture, while on the other it very clearly bares the contrasts existing between the architecture of the capital and of its oriental provinces in the middle Byzantine period."

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52 N. Brunov, op. cit., p520: "St. Sophia in Kiev differs rather greatly from contemporary Constantino­politan monuments and shows an interpenetration of the Constantino­politan and Eastern schools of Byzantine architecture, which is typical for a province exposed to the strong impact of the culture of the capital."

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53 N. Brunov, "K voprosu o samostoyatel'nykh chertakh russkoi arkhitektury X‑XII vv.," Sbornik Akademii Arkhitektury SSSR, Russkaya Arkhitektura (Moscow, 1940), p123. Other studies of this author are conceived in the same spirit. cf. "K voprosu ob istokakh russkogo zodchestva," Vestnik Akademii Nauk S. S. S. R. (No. 6, 1944) and "Kievskaya Sofiya — drevneishy pamyatnik russkoi kamennoi arkhitektury," Vizantiiski Vremennik, III (1950).

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54 G. Lukomski, Kiew, Denkmäler kirchlicher Architektur des XI. bis XIX. Jahrhunderts. Byzantinische Baukunst. Ukrainische Barock. München, 1923; G. Lukomski, Starye gody, (Berlin, 1923), p20. Ibidem, p16. See also G. K. Lukomski, L'architecture religieuse Russe (Paris, 1929); M. Alpatow — N. Brunov, Geschichte der altrussischen Kunst, (Augsburg, 1932), pp10 and 23; B. D. Grekov, The Culture of Kiev Rus′ (Moscow, 1947), pp121 and 125. See also the same work in German and French, published in 1947 in Moscow, B. Grekov, Kievskaya Rus′, (Moscow, 1949), pp8‑12, 273‑288; N. Brunov, Ocherki po istorii arkhitektury, II, 520; N. Brunov, "Arkhitektura Konstantinopolya IX‑XII vv." Vizantiiski Vremennik II (XXVII), Academy of Sciences of the USSR. (Moscow-Leningrad, 1949), p214; N. Brunov, "Kievskaya Sofiya — drevneishy pamyatnik russkoi kamennoi arkhitektury," Vizantiiski Vremennik III, Moscow-Leningrad, 1950, 154‑156; N. Voronin, Glavneishie etapy russkogo zodchestva X‑XV stoletii, Izv. A. N. SSSR, Seriya Ist. i Fil., 4, 1944.

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55 On the explanatory diagram the additions to the plan of St. Sophia are outlined in black as opposed to the solid black of the parts which correspond to those of the Tithe Church.

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56 M. Karger, Arkheologicheskie issledovaniya drevnego Kieva, (Kiev, 1951), p74.

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57 Samuel H. Cross and K. J. Conant, Mediaeval Russian Churches, (Cambridge, Mass., 1949), fig. 1.

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58 Not to I. Grabar' as Pasternak thinks.

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59 Y. Pasternak, Stary Halych (Krakow-Lemberg, 1944), p128 f.; cf. I. Grabar (ed.), Istoriya russkago iskusstva, I, 311, 314 (article by Professor G. Pavlutski). Comparing the dimensions of the Dormition Cathedral in Halych with those of St. Sophia of Kiev, Dr. Pasternak says: "With regard to the question of the time of the erection of the Halych Dormition Cathedral, the first chronological clue may be obtained from its monumental appearance, which it shares only with the largest churches of the Ukraine's Grand Princely period. Among extant churches, only St. Sophia in Kiev is superior to it in this respect." It must be observed, however, that even the Tithe Church (33 by 40 meters) is larger than the Cathedral in Halych (32 by 36 meters, including the added galleries).

Thayer's Note:

a Illustration on an early medieval church incorporating a Roman wall, in central Italy.

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Page updated: 22 Feb 23