St. Sophia Cathedral - an incredible creation of human hands of its time

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St. Sophia Cathedral - an incredible creation of human hands of its time

Who are these four sisters of Sophia - the older one in Constantinople, the middle one in Kiev and Novgorod, and the younger one in Polotsk? Have you guessed? Of course, we are speaking about four temples in honour of Saint Sophia. Builders of three of them were descendants of the Baptizer of Ancient Rus Vladimir Svyatoslavich and Polotsk Princess Rogneda.

Аn incredible creation of human hands

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For its time St. Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk was an incredible creation of human hands. It embodied the independence, power and might of the Polotsk land. It is first mentioned in the chronicle of Novgorod in 1066. The church is also mentioned in The Song of Igor's Campaign: "In Polotsk as the bells of St. Sophia Church rang for the matins, they heard the ringing in Kiev ". St. Sophia Cathedral is picturesquely situated on the bank of the Western Dvina in the Upper Castle. It was built by the Byzantine craftsmen in 1044-1066 by order of the prince Vseslav Charodei, intricately interweaving the Byzantine canons of construction and traditions of the original architecture of Polotsk.

Euphrosyne of Polotsk

It is no coincidence that St. Sophia Cathedral is closely connected with the name of Euphrosyne of Polotsk, the daughter of Prince Svyatoslav-Georgius, younger son of Vseslav Charodei. She took monastic vows at the age of 12, and all her future life was dedicated to service to God. At the request of Euphrosyne of Polotsk a cross bearing her name which is a unique masterpiece of ancient Belarusian applied art was created. After her death the enlightener found rest in a monastery near Jerusalem, but in 1187 her hallows were transferred to Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, and in 1910 they were moved to Polotsk where they are situated now.

The fate of St. Sophia Cathedral

The fate of St. Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk is tragic. During the Great Northern War with Swedes Peter I demanded to give the church to the Orthodox, but the prior was afraid of revenge of the Uniates. Then Peter I killed the prior and monks, and the church was used as a warehouse, after which it was blown up. In the middle of the XVIII century, the St. Sophia Cathedral was rebuilt in the style of Vilna baroque by architect Jan Glaubits, in fact, his idea we can see now. Fortunately, by some miracle, the 11th century frescoes have survived. They were discovered in 2013 during the restoration of the Saint Sophia Cathedral. Scientists are very likely to believe that they were painted by the hand of Euphrosyne of Polotsk herself.

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Another amazing story is connected with the Cross of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk, the main Orthodox relic in Belarus. During the Napoleonic wars of 1812, the French used the church as a stable, and they had no idea that the Cross, a real treasure immured in a niche, was hidden in the wall... 

In 1941, during the evacuation of valuables, the Cross of Euphrosyne of Polotsk disappeared and, despite many years of searching, its trace has never been found. In 1997 the jeweller Nikolai Kuzmich created an exact copy of the relic. Now the new cross is kept in its original place - the Saviour-Transfiguration Church of Polotsk monastery.

One should see the St. Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk because it is one of the earliest cathedrals of the Ancient Rus and the most ancient on the territory of Belarus. Its fate reflects almost a thousand years of epoch like in a mirror!