Medal celebrates Russian cathedral

St. Isaac's Cathedral takes 40 years to build
Published : 12/25/13
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Completion of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Saint Petersburg in 1858 concluded four decades of construction and resulted in what was then the largest cathedral in Russia.

A bronze medal was issued to mark the consecration of the new center of worship in Romanov Russia. An Extremely Fine example of the medal is being offered at auction in New York City on Jan. 9 by The New York Sale, a consortium of A.H. Baldwin & Son, Dmitry Markov and M&M Numismatics.

Forty years is a long time, a near epoch in architectural terms. Overseeing the monumental construction project was French architect Auguste de Montferrand, who died just months after the cathedral was completed.

The church and its golden dome rise 101.5 meters (333 feet high) in the city skyline, dominating the view (though it no longer is the largest church in St. Petersburg). The dome was the third in the world to be constructed on a cast-iron support.

Inside, visitors will find 14 different colors of marble used in construction, along with gemstones like lapis lazuli, and frescoes, mosaics, stained glass and a gilded sculpture of Christ. Outside, the porticos hold pediments with sculptures, supported by massive red columns of granite weighing 80 tons each.

The current structure is the fourth church built on the site and dedicated to St. Isaac of Dalmatia, patron saint of Peter the Great. Peter ruled Russia when the first of four successive churches was constructed. That first building was destroyed by floods, the second by fire, and the third project was never completed as planned. In 1809 Czar Alexander I ordered construction of a new cathedral, and work on the fourth, current structure began in 1818.

When completed, St. Isaac’s could hold 14,000 standing worshipers.

During Soviet rule the church was converted into a museum. Today, it still serves as a museum but is a site of worship on certain ecclesiastical holidays.

The medal was designed by A. Lyalin and V. Alexeev. The obverse features a central medallion with a cameo portrait of Peter the Great, surrounded by portraits of Catherine the Great, Paul I, Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II.

The reverse shows a front view of the Cathedral, and includes an inscription in Russian translating to “Render unto God the things which are God’s and unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” from Matthew 22:21.

The 79-millimeter-diameter bronze medal is cataloged as Diakov 677.1 in Mikhail Diakov’s Medals of the Russian Empire, an eight-volume reference on the thousands of medals of Imperial Russia. The medal has an estimate of $500. ■


1858 bronze medal for St. Isaac’s Cathedral


Extremely Fine

Auction Location:

New York City

Auction Date:

Jan. 9


Medal celebrates the lengthy effort to construct what was the largest church in Russia when it opened in 1858.

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