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St. Sophia Cathedral

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia.

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Christianity became the religion of Russia in 988 AD yet for uncounted centuries there had been a variety of megalithic, pagan and shamanic traditions. Concentrations of megaliths have been found near the White Sea and in the Caucasus Mountains. The Scythians, Huns, Greeks, Persians, Celts and Slavs built temples for different deities. Following practices established by Roman Christianity, these temples were demolished, churches were erected upon their foundations, and relics were installed. Over the centuries tens of thousands of Russians went upon long walking pilgrimages in order to behold the sacred icons and relics.

Novgorod, one of the oldest cities in Russia, was founded in the 5th century AD. Its first church, erected upon the site of a pagan temple, was built in 989. In 1045 this building burnt to the ground and upon the same site a stone cathedral was built. The new cathedral was consecrated in 1052 to St. Sophia, who symbolized the feminine aspect of divine wisdom. Scholars interpret the dedication of Novgorod’s cathedral to St. Sophia as a continuation of the cult of the Great Goddess that was widely practiced since archaic times.

In 1170 an event occurred that firmly established the cathedral as a place of pilgrimage. An army had attacked Novgorod and was threatening to overwhelm the inhabitants. The local bishop had a vision in which he was instructed to carry the icon of the Virgin to the fortress walls. An attacker’s arrow flew through the air and lodged directly in the icon, where upon tears began to flow from the Virgin’s eyes. At this moment, so the legend tells, all the attackers went blind and the army of Novgorod was able to defeat the enemy. Since this time the icon of the Virgin has been named Znamenie, meaning ‘Our Lady of the Sign’ and she is believed to be the protector of the city. Her festival is celebrated on December 10.

More on the St. Sophia Cathedral from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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