History of the Church
Our wonderful Savior Church on Angara
For three hundred years our city is enriched by white-stone Church of the Saviour that is witness of Irkutsk City origin. Church of the Saviour is the heart of the city and visible image of small motherland for Irkutsk dwellers. The ancients walls of the Church absorbed three centuries of history. It is significant that during its 3-hundredth anniversary which was celebrated in 2006 by Irkutsk dwellers, festive devotions were heard again and the religious, as it was before, hurried to the church services to the oldest Irkutsk church.
There was no real church in Irkutsk fortress in the first decade of its existence. In 1672 Cossacks in the lead of boyar’s son Ivan Maximov and together with trades people built the first wooden church “in the name of The Vernicle Image of the Saviour” in the centre of the wooden fortress. Tobolsk Metropolitan Kornily gave the Blessed Certificate for the Church of the Savior construction in 1670. The detailed information about architecture and interior decoration of the wooden Church of the Saviour hasn’t been discovered yet. But in the Irkutsk inventory of 1684 we can read, “This church was two-storeyed. cold and warm… cold upstairs – in the name of the Holy Face and warm downstairs in honor of St. Nicolas. It was called cathedral. Under the church porch there were six benches about two hagiographies; the bell tower was new log tent-shaped with passages and under it there were four benches and church barn… ” From the counting list of 1697 we can see that there was a clock that struck every hour on the tower bell.
In 1706 in the south wall of the fortress by efforts of voivode A.S. Sinyavin with the participation of town citizens the foundation of the stone Church of the Saviour was laid with the blessing of Tobolsk metropolitan Philotheus. The constructor of the church was Moses Ivanovich Dolgikh, Moscow bricklayer who had been working in the construction of Tobolsk and great height churches before coming to Irkutsk. In terms of architecture new Saviour Church embodied the traditions of Old Russian suburb church: two-storeyed tchetverik without columns, topped with one dome, two-storeyed refectory from the west and round apse from the east were the image of the church-ship with the sharp countour endwise east-west. In 1710 the upstairs cold side chapel in the name of the Vernicle Image of the Saviour and in 1713 the downstairs warm side chapel in the name of St. Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia were sanctified.
The first transformations of the church date back to 1758 when a bell tower was added to the refectory. It contained a mechanism of striking clock with bell ringing till the beginning of the 20 century. The church in the name of St. Dmitry Rostovsky was arranged on the second tier of the bell tower in 1769. In 1770-s years when the population of Irkutsk increased dramatically, it was decided to extend the Saviour Church. In autumn of 1777 the stone accretion was laid from the north side: ground floor in the name of Presentation of the (Holy) Virgin in the Temple (sanctified on 21.11.1778), upper floor in the name of the Abalakskaya icon of the Mother of God of the Sign (sanctified on 14.07.1784). In connection with the arrangement of Dmitrievsky side chapel under the tower bell, wooden gallery with the wooden porch was built at the upper floor level on the outside walls of the church (except east wall). The gallery was pulled down in 1861 during the repairs of the church. At the same time niche was laid in the north wall of the church, used before for steps to choirs of Dmitrievsky side chapel, east wall (apse) was encircled by iron straps. These repairs prevented the church from serious damages during the earthquake in 1861- 1862. In 1866 with the connection to the siting for new cathedral archbishop Parthenius offered municipal duma to pull down the Church of the Savior and construct a new cathedral on its place.
Saviour Church survived in the epicenter of the fire. The fire spread on the roof timbers of the north side chapel, but soon was put out. After if the church was repaired. In 1880 the stone fence with the iron bars was built for the donations of I.N. Trapeznikov. So well-attended and solid was the church in the beginning of the third century of its existence.
A great number of Siberian hierarchs had been serving in the Church of the Saviour for two centuries. In 1720 metropolitan of Tobolsk Philotheus (Letschinsky) served in the cathedral. The decree dated 27 August 1727 was kept in memory of Hierarch Innocent (Kulchinsky) serving which informed about appointment of the hierarch as a bishop of Irkutsk and Nerchinsk. This decree hung in the lower side chapel till the revolution. Archbishop of Kamchatka, future metropolitan of Moscow, nowadays apostle of America and Siberia St. Innocent Veniaminov also served in the Saviour church. Concelebration of three Right Reverends: Benjamin (Blagonravov), Melitius (Yakimov), and bishop of Kamchatka Gurias took place in 1885.
Clergy and priests, churchwardens and voluntary donators worked at maintenance and improvement of beauty of the oldest Irkutsk church. Their names by right added to history of Saviour Church.
With the Soviet government accession to power in 1920 all property of Irkutsk churches was registered by the government and the churches themselves by decision of civil authorities were passed from one community to the other. In 1924 church of the Saviour together with Kazan and Theophany cathedrals were turned over to the renovated community of Irkutsk cathedrals. In 1932 church of the Saviour was closed for divine service and was used as shoe-making shop. In 1932 the church could be blasted together with Kazan cathedral, but the cherished list of people's commissariat of education, in which the church of the Saviour was included as historical site, protected it from destruction. Different workshops, shared apartments, warehoused had been located at the oldest Irkutsk church for forty years. By 1960 the church fell into total decay and desolation.
In 1960 the church of the Saviour was registered as an architectural and historical monument. Preparation to its restoration began. In 1965 Moscow architect Oranskaya G.G. prepared the rebuilding project and in three years restoration work started. In the process of restoration the north side chapel was pulled down, windows on the first floor were trimmed, mural painting of the south and east facades was reconstructed. Moscow icon-painters Grachev L.M. and Maslov E.M took part in the renewal of painting. Restoration finished in 1980 and monument was passed at the disposal of Irkutsk regional local history museum.