Tuesday 21 May 2013

Uglich is a small town on the river Volga, the first stop on the river cruising route from Moscow to St Petersburg. As we approached the landing stage we could see the striking rich red walls of the Church of St Demetrius on the Spilled Blood, and the yellow of the Transfiguration Cathedral.



Uglich is renowned as the place where Tsarevich Dmitry, youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, met a grisly end in 1584. This event is depicted on the walls of the church built to mark the place of his demise. The buildings in this easily accessible area of the town, much frequented by tourists, were all thoroughly renovated and smart. Here you could have your photograph taken dressed up as a 16th-century boyar or boyarina. I would have loved to have had more time in Uglich to visit some of the buildings more off the beaten track, particularly the soulful-sounding ‘Wondrous’ church:

The ‘Wondrous’ Church of Uglich: Olga Berggolts (1910-1975)

And the church turned out so lovely

in every aspect that the people

gave it their own imperishable name -

to this day it is called ‘Wondrous’.

Its three hipped roofs ascend

so majestically, simply, forcefully,

that the distant sunrises are

reflected in them from the morning, and

when storms thunder

the clouds darken them.


But time passed – three whole centuries …

Everything changed – love, treachery, compassion.

And the church was overgrown with wormwood,

quietly, proudly it sank into ruin.

Now a birch sapling sprouted in a crack,

here a beam collapsed, there another…

Oh no, it is not that we wished it harm,

simply that we did not care for it.


…I know that buildings will be raised,

where all you have to do is press a button -

hosts of northern lights will rise,

worlds will understand each other.

But just you try to restore the ‘Wondrous’ church,

when the ancient secret on which

its masonry is based has been forgotten:

truth, faith, and love.

Some time I’ve known of this

and dare not overlay it now with falsehood.

May the church’s three hipped roofs

crash down on me,

in all their incorruptible beauty.

(1953. Translated from the Russian)


I’ve found some information about the church which I assume is the one in Berggolts’ poem:

… re: ‘tent shaped churches – the Church of the Assumption of the former Alekseyevskii Monastery at Uglich. This very fine and original specimen of ancient Russian architecture was built of bricks, not wood, in 1628, or perhaps before, by unknown masters. Nor is there any information concerning who commissioned the Church. It is hard to believe that most of the old monasteries, former centres of literacy and education, did not preserve data about the talented men who erected their best monuments or about those who offered money for their construction. Unfortunately, during and after the revolution most of the monks were chased out of the monasteries and their books destroyed or burned. One should go to Uglich or to any other monastery that has not been visited by tourists or foreigners to see how dilapidated and miserable they can become.

This happened to the Alekseyevskii Monastery and its ‘Marvellous’ (Divnaya) Church of the Assumption, an epithet that the simple people gave to their church and which became a part of its official name. The rectangular church with decorative kokoshniki was built on a high basement. Instead of ending in a normal roof the vertical line continues. Two smaller octagons, one on each side, and a larger one in the middle, each carry the eight slopes of a tall pyramid which end in a drum crowned with a cupola and a cross. On the east side of the church there are three apses, decorated with a band of ornamental blind arcades. On the west is the refectory (trapeznaya) with its original single pier in the middle, carrying four cross vaults that span the entire room. After the revolution this unique church was ransacked and left to decay, sharing the destiny of thousands of others. Only in the late fifties did Soviet authorities decide to do something to save it from collapsing.’


Church of the Assumption, Alekseyevskii Monastery, Uglich – the ‘Wondrous’ church


2 Responses to Uglich
  1. John Broomfield
    October 10, 2016 | 3:07 pm

    Thank you. Your picture and text helped my wife to organize our scrapbook of photos from our cruise of Russian waterways from Moscow to St Petersburg.

    • Pamela
      October 20, 2016 | 11:20 am

      Thank you John. I think it’s so worthwhile making a book of photos after a wonderful trip. I enjoy those experiences over and over again, looking at the pictures.

Leave a Reply