St Catherine’s Cathedral in Kherson

Built in the 1780s at the instruction of Catherine the Great, the Saint Catherine’s Cathedral in Kherson has an interesting history. The town of Kherson itself, was also founded at the instruction of the Russian Empress, with Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin overseeing the project and Ivan Abramovich Gannibal supervising the building of the town. Potemkin was eventually buried at St Catherine’s Cathedral, which is named in honor of Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of Catherine the Great.

The cathedral was one of the earliest churches built in the region known at the time as New Russia, now Southern Ukraine. Constructed of sandstone, the building has a Tuscan portico and a prominent dome, with the walls finished off in an architectural feature known as rustication – with block masonry surfaces being rough and deliberately uneven. Designed by renowned Russian architect Ivan Starov and built after the Russo-Turkish war, the church was seen as a memorial to the victory of Russia over the Byzantine Empire, bringing Southern Ukraine, Crimea and Northern Caucasus into the Russian Empire. The dome of the church was apparently a duplicate of Prince Potemkin’s palace in St Petersburg.

The cathedral’s icons were inspired by the icons painted by 17th century Spanish artists for the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia. It is believed that Ukraine-born artists Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky painted the icons. In addition to Potemkin’s tomb, which is prominently displayed in the cathedral, there are six life-sized figures of martyred saints and apostles against the inner walls.

Following the Russian Revolution, St Catherine’s cathedral was an atheist museum for a time, with some of the icons landing up in a local art museum and others being lost. German invaders reopened the church in 1941, but the Soviets closed it down in 1962, using the building to store logs. In 1991, the Russian Orthodox Church reclaimed the grounds and St Catherine’s Cathedral was restored.