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23.07.2020

Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki

Dormition Cathedral is the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland, and the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church in Finland, dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. Its name comes from the ancient Slavic word uspenie, which means Dormition.

After Helsinki was made the capital of Finland in 1812, Alexander I decided in 1814 that 15 percent of the salt import tax should be collected for two churches, one Lutheran and one Orthodox church.  The Orthodox Church of Helsinki, which is believed to have been established in 1827 during the construction of the Holy Trinity Church, Helsinki, needed a larger church than before for a growing Orthodox parish. The construction of the Assumption Cathedral was largely funded by parishioners and private donors. The cathedral was designed by the Russian architect Alexei Gornostaev (1808-1862). The cathedral was built after his death in 1862-1868, and its work was led by architect Ivan Varnek. It was opened on October 25, 1868. During the construction of the cathedral 700,000 bricks were delivered by barges from the Bomarsund Fortress, which was demolished in the Crimean War. The iconostasis was painted by Pavel Shiltsov. At the request of Alexander II the church was dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The crypt of the cathedral chapel is named after St. Alexander Hotovitsky, who served as vicar of the Orthodox parish of Helsinki in 1914-1917, died a martyr's death in the Great Cleaning and was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1994.

The cathedral is located on a hillside on the Katajanokka peninsula overlooking the city. At the back of the cathedral there is a memorial plaque in honor of the Russian Emperor Alexander II, who was a ruler of the Grand Duchy of Finland during the construction of the cathedral. The Cathedral of the Assumption is the main cathedral of the Finnish Orthodox Church in the Helsinki Diocese and is considered to be the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe.

About half a million tourists visit the church every year. Entrance to the cathedral is free. In winter, the cathedral is closed on Mondays.

There are several valuable icons in the cathedral. The icon of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker was stolen on August 16, 2007 from noon to 1 pm in broad daylight, when hundreds of tourists visited the cathedral. The icon is from the 19th century and is a rare variant. Originally it was given to the Orthodox Cathedral of Vyborg, from where it was moved to Helsinki during World War II. No further details of its origin are known. The icon, measuring 45 by 35 centimetres (18 x 14 inches), was placed in a whale (protective frame with glass coating) and weighed a couple of kilograms. It was on display in the pulpit. The search for the icon continues both in Finland and abroad.

Another icon, the Virgin Mary from Kozelotshana, was stolen in June 2010, but later it was found in February 2011 from hiding in the ground. Two robbers broke into the church twice through a window, and they were caught the second time in August. Although they did not confess to the first robbery, DNA testing of the blood stain left over from the first robbery confirmed this. However, the robbers continued to deny that they had done so. But in February of the following year, one of the prison robbers changed his mind and confessed to everything and revealed the location of the icon.  He spent 8 months in the ground, but fortunately remained almost spotless.

UP