Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv

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Saint Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv
Собор святої Софії/Софійський собор
Saint Sophia Cathedral
Saint Sophia Cathedral
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Location National Sanctuary "Sophia of Kyiv"
Holy Sophia Cathedral Complex
Shevchenkivskyi District, Kyiv
Country Ukraine
Website Official website
Dedication Hagia Sophia
Heritage designation Seven Wonders of Ukraine[1]
Style Byzantine architecture,
Ukrainian Baroque
Years built 11th century
Length 29.5 m (97 ft)
Width 29.3 m (96 ft)
Dome height (outer) 28.6 m (94 ft)
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Official name Kyiv: Holy Sophia Cathedral and Related Monastic Buildings, Kyiv Pechersk Lavra
Location Europe
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv
Reference 527
Inscription 1990 (14th Session)

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, is an architectural monument of Kievan Rus'. The former cathedral is one of the city's best known landmarks and the first heritage site in Ukraine to be inscribed on the World Heritage List along with the Kyiv Cave Monastery complex.[2][nb 1] Aside from its main building, the cathedral includes an ensemble of supporting structures such as a bell tower and the House of Metropolitan. In 2011 the historic site was reassigned from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Regional Development of Ukraine to the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine.[4][5] One of the reasons for the move was that both Saint Sophia Cathedral and Kyiv Pechersk Lavra are recognized by the UNESCO World Heritage Program as one complex, while in Ukraine the two were governed by different government entities. It is currently a museum.

In Ukrainian the cathedral is known as Sobor Sviatoi Sofii (Собор Святої Софії) or Sofiiskyi sobor (Софійський собор).

The complex of the cathedral is the main component and museum of the National Sanctuary "Sophia of Kyiv" which is the state institution responsible for the preservation of the cathedral complex as well as four other historic landmarks across the nation.


The cathedral is named after the 6th-century Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) cathedral in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), which was dedicated to the Holy Wisdom rather than to a specific saint named Sophia. The first foundations were laid in 1037 or 1011,[6] but the cathedral took two decades to complete. According to one theory, Yaroslav the Wise sponsored the construction of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in 1037 to celebrate his decisive victory over the nomadic Pechenegs in 1036 (who thereafter were never a threat to Kyiv).[7] According to Dr. Nadia Nikitenko, a historian who has studied the cathedral for 30 years, the cathedral was founded in 1011, under the reign of Yaroslav's father, Grand Prince of Kievan Rus, Vladimir the Great. This has been accepted by both UNESCO and Ukraine, which officially celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the cathedral during 2011.[8] The structure has 5 naves, 5 apses, and (quite surprisingly for Byzantine architecture) 13 cupolas. It is surrounded by two-tier galleries from three sides. Measuring 37 to 55 m (121 to 180 ft), the exterior used to be faced with plinths. On the inside, it retains mosaics and frescos from the 11th century, including a dilapidated representation of Yaroslav's family, and the Orans.

Originally the cathedral was a burial place of the Kievan rulers including Vladimir Monomakh, Vsevolod Yaroslavich and the cathedral's founder Yaroslav I the Wise, although only the latter's grave survived to this day (see picture).

File:Saint Sofia, Kyiv.jpg
Saint Sophia Cathedral, in 1889, Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC

After the pillaging of Kyiv by Andrei Bogolyubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal in 1169, followed by the Mongol invasion of Rus' in 1240, the cathedral fell into disrepair. It was greatly rebuilt in its modern splendor in the 16th century, when the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was trying to unite Catholic and Orthodox churches. Following the 1595-96 Union of Brest, the Cathedral of Holy Sophia belonged to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church which commissioned the repair work and the upper part of the building was thoroughly rebuilt, modeled by the Italian architect Octaviano Mancini in the distinct Ukrainian Baroque style, while preserving the Byzantine interior, keeping its splendor intact. The work continued under the Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa until 1767. During this period around Holy Sophia Cathedral a bell tower, a monastery canteen, a bakery, a "House of Metropolitan", the western gates (Zborovski gates), a Monastic Inn, a Brotherhood campus and a bursa (seminary) were all erected. All of these buildings, as well as the cathedral after the reconstruction, have distinctive features of Ukrainian Baroque.

File:USSR-1988-5rubles-CuNi-Monuments SaintSophiaCathedral-b.jpg
The museum depicted on a 1988 5 rouble Soviet coin with a Russian inscription

After the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia and during the Soviet anti-religious campaign of the 1920s, the government plan called for the cathedral's destruction and transformation of the grounds into a park "Heroes of Perekop" (after a Red Army victory in the Russian Civil War in Crimea). The cathedral was saved from demolition[9] (the opposite St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery was blown up in 1935[9]) primarily with the effort of many scientists and historians. Nevertheless, in 1934, Soviet authorities confiscated the structure from the church, including the surrounding 17th–18th-century architectural complex and designated it as an architectural and historical museum.

Since the late 1980s, Soviet, and later Ukrainian, politicians promised to return the building to the Orthodox Church. Due to various schisms and factions within the Church the return was postponed as all Orthodox and the Greek-Catholic Churches lay claim to it. Although all the Orthodox churches have been allowed to conduct services at different dates, at other times they are denied access. A severe incident was the funeral of Patriarch Volodymyr of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate in 1995 when riot police were forced to prevent the burial on the premises of the museum and a bloody clash took place.[10][11][12] After events such as those no religious body has yet been given the rights for regular services. The complex now remains a secular museum of Ukraine's Christianity, with most of its visitors being tourists.

On 21 August 2007, the Holy Sophia Cathedral was named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine, based on votes by experts and the internet community.


The Virgin Orans, c. 1000 
Church Fathers Order, c. 1000 
The Deesis, 1000 
Princely group portrait. South wall of the nave, c. 1000. 
Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise 
The Annunciation. The Archangel Gabriel, 1000. 
Saint Sophia The Wisdom of God, 1700 

Cathedral complex

Christmas celebrations in front of St. Sophia Cathedral bell tower
Model of the original Holy Sophia Cathedral on the ₴2 note
  • Sophia Cathedral
  • Bell tower
  • House of the Metropolitan
  • Refectory Church
  • Brotherhood building
  • Bursa (high school)
  • Consistory
  • Southern entrance tower
  • Zaborovski Gate
  • Cells
  • Monastic Inn
  • Memorial Stela of Yaroslav's library

See also


  1. In late 2010 a UNESCO monitoring mission was visiting the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra to check the situation of the site. At the time the Minister of Culture Mykhailo Kulynyak stated the historic site along with the Holy Sophia Cathedral was not threatened by the "black list" of the organization.[3] The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO decided in June 2013 that Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, and St Sophia Cathedral along with its related monastery buildings would remain on the World Heritage List.[2]


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  5. Голос України.–2011.–9 лютого. Міністерств багато, а Софія Київська – одна.–Градоблянська Т. (government website) Archived 2012-07-16 at
  6. Archived 2010-01-17 at the Wayback Machine
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  8. Booklet "The Millenary of St. Sophia of Kyiv" by Nadia Nikitenko, Kyiv 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 Forgotten Soviet Plans For Kyiv, Kyiv Post (28 July 2011)
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  12. Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. - More than 1,000 mourners had carried the coffin of the Patriarch of Kiev and All Ukraine, Volodymyr to his burial site. The Orthodox believers were intending to bury their religious leader in the grounds of the main Sofia cathedral, but police used force to stop the ceremony as the Patriarch's grave was being dug. As a temporary measure, police allowed mourners to bury the patriarch beneath the pavement in front of the cathedral."

External links

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