The Royal Church Museum
Empress Elisabeth I was a very devout lady. In every palace that was being built for her she wanted to have the church premises. In 1740s F. B. Rastrelli was given the task by the empress to reconstruct the Grand Palace in Peterhof. The old palace of her father was too small for her ever growing retinue. Rastrelli was the brilliant master of baroque style, and he could easily implement this style into secular and church buildings. Construction process started with the building of the church. Elisabeth herself was present at the ceremony when foundation for the royal church was laid in 1747. Empress wanted the church to be lavishly decorated and to be built with five domes, as she has put it “as is right and proper for our Orthodox faith”. The church was consecrated in the name of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The gorgeous baroque-style church was completed in 1751.
Under Nicholas I in 1844 it became the family chapel of the Romanovs. After 1917 all church utensils were taken out and anti-religious exhibition was arranged here. The palace was badly damaged during the war and reconstruction was completed only in the end of 1950s. In 2003 the full renovation of the church started. It has been re-consecrated in 2011.
Features and description of the museum
The space of the church is divided into three parts according to the Orthodox tradition: sanctuary, where the altar is, congregation hall and refectory. Since the Royal church in Peterhof is technically the final hall in the suite of gala palace halls, the décor of all three parts is truly outstanding. The procession of courtiers headed by the Imperial family moved along the suite of rooms and came directly into the refectory. The walls are adorned with carving covered in gold leaf. Icons are painted in oil on canvases. The paintings are done in secular artistic tradition, brought to Russia by Peter the Great and continued by his daughter. Iconostasis is also carved from linden and covered with gold leaf. There is diaconal vestment dating back to the times of Empress Elisabeth in the showcase here, it is made of brocade and damask stitched. There is also memorial icon of St Alexander Nevsky which belonged to the emperor Alexander II. When the future emperor was the newborn baby, his height was measured and the small icon was done according to that measurement. This is the ancient Russian Orthodox tradition. There is also the number of family photographs, mostly of the family of Nicholas II.
Baptism and wedding were the most frequent church sacrament performed here. There is not a single funeral that was performed in that church, for all members of the Imperial family were buried in St Petersburg. Probably this fact is the reason of incredibly light and festive ambience in the Royal Church in Peterhof.
The congregation hall is octagonal in shape. Eight is the symbol of eternity. Gold and gilded items symbolize heavenly light. The iconostasis consists of 40 icons. There are icons of name saints of Empress Elisabeth: St Zacharias and St Elisabeth; they take up the central position. The monogram of Elisabeth is placed above all the icons.
The church is the outstanding example of the combination of western baroque architecture and Russian Orthodox tradition. It is also the monument of great historical value, showing adherence of Russian Imperial family to the Orthodox traditions.