The Archangel Gabriel Church

The Church of Archangel Gabriel, also commonly known as the Menshikov Tower, is one of the most original pieces of Russian early 18th century architecture. A small, three-domed church of Archangel Gabriel stood at the place where the Menshikov tower is situated now until the beginning of the 18th century.

This old church was first mentioned in history in 1551. By 1657 it was rebuilt in stone and later, in 1679, the church was increased in size. A further twenty years later the Archangel Gabriel Church had become a family chapel of Alexander Menshikov, a powerful statesman and a favourite of Peter I. Menshikov had repaired the old church by 1701 and then suddenly ordered to demolish it. It is said this decision was influenced by the fact that Menshikov had brought an ancient icon of the Holy Mother from one of his military campaigns and he wanted to build a new church specifically for this icon.

The Archangel Gabriel Church is built in the Muscovite, or Petrine Baroque style. At first, an 84.2 meter high tower had four decks and, until 1723, it was topped with a high spire that had a weather-vane shaped as a soaring angel with a cross in his hands. The clock with chiming bells was mounted at the upper deck in 1708. This novelty (with respect to Russian churches) was ordered from England. The upper deck with the clock burnt down in 1723 after a lightning strike. While falling, the bells crashed through the church’s vaults and the building had stayed in this state for over 50 years.

By that time people had forgotten it had been a church and they called this half-ruined building just the “Menshikov tower”.

During the reign of Catherine II, in 1787, a certain Gabriel Izmailov set about restoring the church. When the reconstruction had finished the building became the Muscovites’ favourite church. Izmailov, who was a mason, had restored the Archangel Gabriel church by ornamenting it with masonic symbols and emblems and inscriptions in Latin. The sculptures located above the southern entrance had scrolls with mysterious texts in their hands.

The secret signs, inscribed inside and outside, had existed for several decades. They were partially replaced or removed only during the reign of Alexander II in 1863. But some elements remained: the spire that looked like a flame of a candle, the vases and the figures above the southern entrance with erased scrolls in their hands. But even after having been deprived of certain mysterious symbols the Church of Archangel Gabriel at Moscow’s Chistye Prudy, the “clean ponds”, has not lost any of its unique charm to the present day.

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