Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Us humans are all holy fools

The last time I visited Moscow, Russia celebrated their most important holiday by staging the first full scale military parade since the Soviet days. Just about three months later the country is involved in a serious military conflict, carefully planned to coincide with the Olympic Games in Beijing.

On 9 May 2008 the Red Square was closed off to the public in favour of this victory parade. So I never got the chance to visit the colourful cathedral of St Basil’s then. There are so many bad things in the world, the worst of which is probably war. Yet, there is also beauty – and what better place to find peace of mind than on holy ground.

St Basil’s cathedral was built during the mid-1500’s by Tsar Ivan the Terrible. It was erected in fulfilment of a vow that Ivan made to the Lord in gratitude for the military victory over the Kingdom of Kazan. It houses the relics of Basil the Holy Fool and Ivan Big Cap.

Close up the textures, colours and details are even more delightful than on pictures. It is certainly one of the most unique buildings I have encountered during my travels. On entering, the experience is magnified. An array of murals decorate the walls and ceiling. These are mostly lush floral splashes of burgundy, amber, turquoise and forest green, creating a warm and intimate atmosphere.

Narrow stairs lead up to the cupola where a small choir is singing hymns. Their music sound rich even without any background music, because of excellent acoustics. The intense concentration of paintings and colours inside this small chapel is arresting. Combined with the pure voices, it is enough to move even the young girl in front of me to tears.

As soon as I step outside I am reminded of the irony of it all. As a Christian cathedral St Basil's stand in honour God the Creator, whereas the military hardware that passed by here recently are probably the same ones that is now causing so much destruction in Georgia.

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