the city known as the ‘cradle of the Renaissance,’ surrounded by buildings
roofed in predictable terracotta and dressed in Carrara marble, a cluster of
five striped onion domes, each topped with a tall cross, is certainly not what
you would expect to see in the Florence skyline. It is the Russian Orthodox
Church of the Nativity of Christ, at the intersection of viale Giovanni Milton
and via Leone X. While the debate continues over the need for a ‘suitable’
place of prayer for Florence’s growing Muslim community, we asked Kelley
Robinson to find out more about the history of Florence’s small community of
Russian Orthodox worshipers and their place of prayer here, a building which
seems both disconnected from its surroundings, yet at the same time somewhat
complementary to the city’s distinct architectural style. Or does it? Email
firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
than a mile from Florence’s famous Duomo, these brightly colored domes of a
different kind mark the surviving history of Russian immigration to Italy and
Florence. They also represent a culture that Florentines have accepted in their
midst, despite the contrasting architectural style of the church in an
otherwise homogenous area of buildings.
as early as 1818, wealthy Russian immigrants had built private chapels in
Florence, among them was Anatole Nikolayevich Demidov (1813-1870). A well-known
world traveler and patron of the arts, Demidov garnered favor among Florentines
because of his particular passion for the arts. He spent the majority of his
time in Florence expanding his father’s art collection in San Donato, and in
1837, he became the first Prince of San Donato and subsequently wed Princess
Mathilde, the daughter of Jerôme Bonaparte. Their residence here, Villa
Demidov, remains a Florentine landmark.
1880, with the enthusiasm of then-rector Father Vladimir Levitskij, approval
from St. Petersburg was granted for a church to be built.
donations from wealthy Russians in Florence, including major contributions by
the Demidov princes of San Donato, pushed the project forward. Even so, there
remained many funding difficulties to overcome before the church, which is
designed in the northern Russian style, could be consecrated upon completion on
October 26, 1903.
church in Florence houses many historic relics of the Russian Orthodox Church,
including works by both Russian and Italian artists. Beautiful icons of the
apostles, patron saints of the church and the passion of Christ cover the
interior walls. These are hidden treasures for those lucky enough to enter the
church when mass services are not being held. The two-level interior, which
houses numerous historic artifacts, is a glimpse into the rich history of
Russians who called Florence their home.
church and monument to the history of the Russian community in Florence is
among the city’s least well-known tourist attractions but is known to locals as
a good neighbor. ‘Yes, the Florentines like the church.
only problem is money,’ says the church’s rector, Georgij Blatinskij. ‘It is a
big church that needs lots of restoration. It is very difficult.’
says the church has between 150 and 200 people in its congregation each Sunday.
His job as the rector is to uphold orthodoxy in worship and aid parishioners.
He also travels around Italy, speaking about the tradition of the Russian
who became rector in 1997, says the church needs at least 200,000 euro for
restorative efforts. So far, he says, the Russian Orthodox Church of the
Nativity of Christ has only received a generous donation of 20,000 euro from
one contributor, and he anticipates accumulating more.
twenty thousand euro is far short of the mark. While Florence may accept and
appreciate the beauty of the Russian church in their midst, the city and its
people need to help ensure its survival for future generations of residents and
Russian Orthodox Church
of the Nativity of Christ
viale Giovanni Milton and via Leone X
For mass schedule and
visits by appointment, call 055/490148.