4 September 1993

Day 4, Windows and icons

We go to St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Olga has another ‘contact’ there, and as a result we get a free personal tour.

St. Isaac’s is the fourth largest church in the world, after St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in England, the the Duomo in Firenze. It reminds me very much of St. Peter’s, except it’s more tasteful. There’s less gold and the place is more colorful, with lapis lazuli and colored marble everywhere.

We climb to the balcony and look out over the city. I take some photos. It turns out that it’s still illegal to take pictures of St. Petersburg from the air, and a Russian berates me. It probably doesn’t help that my camera is a small Western one which slides open and closed like a spy camera and fits in a pocket.

After the cathedral, we walk a small distance and go into a more traditionally Russian church. The first thing I notice is the smell of incense. The place is filled with icons—in the original sense of the word—and people are lighting candles, placing them in front of the icons, and praying for whatever it is that people who pray, pray for. The church is very dark compared to any other church I’ve been in.

For those who don’t know what real icons are, they’re small pictures, paintings of religious significance, often almost covered with hugely elaborate frames made of wood and metal. As well as the icons on the pillars above the candles, there is also an entire wall dedicated to icons.

The Orthodox cross is different from the ‘normal’ one I’m used to: it has two extra crossbars, one above the main beam to represent the nameplate, and one at the bottom to represent where the feet were nailed. The bottom crossbeam tilts down slightly on the right side. I’ve no idea if there’s any Biblical basis for the idea that Jesus’s left leg was longer than his right one.

In the evening we go to see Oscar Wilde’s classic “The Importance Of Being Earnest” at the local theater. Since it’s performed entirely in Russian, and I only know a handful of words of Russian, I must admit I don’t find it as hilariously witty as the author intended.

Dinner is some kind of Russian meatballs, with potatoes and vegetables. For dessert there’s some excellent apple cake.

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© mathew 2017