Around 1,500 images of people, animals, and plants adorn this 12th-century church. The blend of biblical and pagan figures forms a menagerie of mythical and real creatures meant to represent power.
The church was built in the 1190s by Vsevolod III Yuryevich, the Grand Prince of Vladimir. It was connected to his palace, and was built for the prince’s personal use.
Though the palace is long gone, the church still stands. And as impressive as its age may be, it’s the building’s outside that truly makes the building a sight to behold.
Humans and beasts cover the white stone facade. The prophet David appears three times, surrounded by fierce lions. Mighty eagles, griffins, and leopards are interspersed with tranquil beings like does and doves. There’s also a scene showing the ascension of Alexander the Great and a composition believed to depict Vsevolod himself.
Sadly for the church, time has not been kind to the building or its wonderful carvings. It was renovated in the 1830s, which saw parts of the structure removed. During this somewhat botched restoration process, some of the old stones were moved around and replaced with new blocks. Pollution from the urban environment has also damaged the limestone.
Today, the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius is no longer a working church. Instead, it functions as a small museum. The building has inspired more than just the casual observers who wander by. It’s believed this wonderful, historic work of architecture also inspired the creators of Moscow’s House with Animals.
Know Before You Go
The stone carvings on the exterior are the highlight of visiting the church. You can easily view them from the street, though it may be best to hire a local guide who can explain their significance and point to particular images of interest.
The church now functions as a museum, which hosts various public events. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday and Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You can book a group tour online.