This weekend, Russian strikes damaged the Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral dear to the Ukrainian port city. This symbolic monument, founded in 1794, carries a heavy history.
A majestic dome with a bell tower, dazzling gilding contrasting with immaculate white marble… The Transfiguration Cathedral stood proudly in Odessa before Russian strikes devastated it overnight from Saturday to Sunday.
Huge cracks now streak the walls, beams lie on the ground, the furniture is on the ground, the chandeliers are rickety, the frescoes have been ravaged by flames.
“All the decorations are practically destroyed. Only the bell tower is intact,” Father Myroslav, the cathedral’s deputy rector, told AFP. “The shock wave was so strong that the cathedral, which is 95 meters long, saw all its windows and doors damaged”.
A historic symbol
Just like the historic center of the port city, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, which belongs to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, was listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco at the beginning of the year, in order to guarantee it high legal protection in view of the “threats of destruction” which weighed on it. Well Named. This missile launch hit both an architectural and historical symbol.
Founded in 1794 and inaugurated in 1809, the monument, initially a simple church, has evolved over the years and has become one of the largest in the city. In 1837, a bell tower was erected, relates the Kyiv Post.
Its main bell was cast from 28 Turkish cannons: a trophy from the campaign of 1828-1829. Odessa in the same year becoming the seat of the bishop of the diocese of Kherson-Tauride, the church received the title of a cathedral. Important relics are kept within its walls.
At this time, all the major events, social and spiritual of the city take place there. Popular festivals, religious celebrations or even moments of meditation, as during the bombardment of Odessa by the British fleet in 1854 during the Crimean War.
Already destroyed under the Soviet era
This is not the first time that the Odessa Transfiguration Cathedral has found itself at the heart of history. In 1932, it was closed as part of the fight against religion that followed the Bolshevik revolution, reports the Kiev Post. All the furniture was confiscated, and the marble uprooted.
Before the place of worship was totally destroyed in 1936. “According to one version, it was dynamited, according to another, it was dismantled almost by hand, stone by stone”, writes the newspaper. On its remains, a memorial in honor of Stalin would then have been built.
A fall and a rebuild
In 1991, the Soviet Union was broken up and Ukraine regained its independence. The idea of rebuilding the religious monument then took shape in the minds of civilians and authorities. A fundraiser is organized: more than 615 million dollars have been raised since 1999 by the charitable organization “Black Sea Orthodox Fund”. Completed in 2003, the cathedral was again consecrated in 2010 by… Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all the Russias, on whom it still depends. Unlike the Independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine which achieved canonical recognition in the Orthodox world in 2019.
Patriarch Kirill, a former member of the KGB, close to Vladimir Putin, “leads the largest Orthodox Christian community in the world and the richest Orthodox clergy in the world”, explains at France 24 Cyril Bret, associate researcher on Russia and Eastern Europe at the Jacques Delors Institute.
The one who publicly showed his support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine “therefore also has an incredibly strong international influence” and “a significant influence on civil society, the Orthodox faithful and the Russian government in the sense that he is a public figure who has long been involved in the burning issues of Russian society”, details the lecturer at Sciences Po Paris University.
“A war crime”
Twenty years later, the strike on this building – denied on Monday by the Kremlin which claims to target only military sites – was castigated. Unesco denounced a “war crime”, and condemned “brutal Russian strikes” against heritage. In all, 25 monuments were damaged in Sunday’s strikes on Odessa. “There will definitely be reprisals,” promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
From the early hours of Sunday, residents came with heavy hearts to help clean up and pick up debris from the cathedral.
Source: BFM TV