History of the “Saint Nicholas” Orthodox University Chapel (Russian Church in Bucharest)
The church of Saint Nicholas, the university’s chapel (The Old Russian church), was built by initiative of the Russian ambassador who was at that time from the Romanov family, a family of the Tsars. The church was intended to be the chapel for the Russian embassy of Bucharest.
The construction began in 1905 and was finished in 1909, being executed by Italian and Russian workers, according to the plans of the Russian architect Preobrajensky who spent 600,000 rubles of gold. Dedicated to the Holy Hierarch Nicolas, after the name of Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia (who has been canonized as a saint and martyr of the Russian Orthodox Church), the church was consecrated on November 26 1909 by his Eminence Archbishop Atanasie Mironescu, Primate of the Autocephalous Church of Romania and his Eminence Vladimir, Archbishop of Petrograd, delegate of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church.
The building is constructed in brick and stone.
The building’s appearance is a result of an art nouveau synthesis of the Russian architectural tradition of wall and wood as well as, the representation of a theological concept which emphasizes the Naos as a symbol of the earthly presence of Christ.
Consequently, the other specific areas – such as the Holy Altar, the Pronaos, the Porch – are minimized in dimensions and importance.
The ceramic ornament, with themes inspired from Russian folklore.
The architectural style of the church is Russian, having seven towers with onion shaped domes, covered with sheets of gold.
The interior of the church was painted partially in oil colors by the Russian painter Vasiliev, covering a surface area of 1,500 square meters and was completed in 1948 by the painter Cudinov in a neo Byzantine style.
A very unique element is the church’s iconostasis which is entirely sculpted from wood, covered with thin sheets of gold, executed with great skill in Moscow, according to the model of the icon screen of the Holy Archangel’s Cathedral at the Kremlin.
The church is on the list of historical monuments and is unique in Romania, representing the authentic Russian style at the beginning of the twentieth century.
During both the first and second world wars it suffered great damage. In 1948 and 1967 the interior painting was cleaned and restored.
In time this holy place was dedicated to many different communities
Up to 1934 was the chapel for the Russian Embassy of Bucharest.
In 1934 it passed under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Patriarchy and became, through the initiative of N. Titulescu (the Minister of External affairs at that time), the chapel for the University of Bucharest.
On the fifth of May in 1947 it entered again under the jurisdiction of Moscow.
In 1957, it became the property of the Orthodox Church of Romania and functioned as a parish church in Bucharest.
In January 1992, at the request of the University students of Bucharest it became the University’s chapel, the first church in Romania after 1990 that had this purpose.
At this moment the church is the chapel of the University of Bucharest. It has a spiritual program which is interwoven with cultural activities, through which we try to respond to students’ needs, mainly young people. This does not mean that the church is exclusively for students or only in the university’s framework, since it is open to the needs of all Christians.
After the earthquake of 1977, the whole circumference of the principal tower was cracked and, due to the atheistic regime, even though restoration and consolidation proposals were made, no restoration maintenance work has been performed on the church since 1967. In this current situation, the church needs the following work to be done as soon as possible:
- Restoration and consolidation of the towers.
- Restoration and preservation of the icon work.
- Secondary maintenance work.
The Parish priest,
Fr. Vasile Gavrila