The history of the Cathedral
The foundation stone of the Cathedral was laid in June 1900. On 22 August (old style) the Russian Tsar Nikolai II together with his family visited Liepaja and attended the consecration ceremony in the Cathedral. The Cathedral was designed by the famous architect Vasiliy Kosyakov from St. Petersburg. He developed the project and supervised the construction works. The Russian Navy Administration ordered the construction of the Cathedral. In order to build it up there were made donations to the Cathedral by the people. The most significant donors were the Emperor Nikolai II and his family. The shape of the Cathedral reflects a ship. The anchor in the base of the central cross is the symbol of Hope in the stormy “sea of life”.
The Cathedral stands on a high concrete base, coated with granite and sandstone. The walls are made of red bricks and surfaced with yellow figured bricks creating, thus, an intricate decoration. The central cupola is surrounded by four smaller ones symbolising, thus, Jesus Christ surrounded by the four Evangelist Apostles. The high bell-tower above the central entrance to the Cathedral reminds of John the Forerunner heralding the Kingdom of God. The central altar of the Cathedral, as well as the entire Cathedral itself, was consecrated in honour of St. Nicolas the Miracle-Worker, who had been regarded by seamen as their heavenly protector and the prayer for them. The southern altar of the Cathedral was consecrated in honour of the Holy Theophany (Epiphany), the northern altar of the Cathedral was consecrated in honour of the saint bishop Alexy who lived in 14th century. The four pediments of the Cathedral are inscribed in the old Slavonic language from the Holy Scripture and decorated with icons of golden mosaic, which were made in St. Petersburg. The rosettes on the walls are filled with majolica. They were also made in St. Petersburg.
The interior of the Cathedral amazes by its dimension and magnificent play of light. Instead of the columns, which are usual for temples, the Cathedral has four bow-shaped intersecting arches. They support the arch with the cupolas and the central dome drum. This solution by the architect significantly expanded the internal space of the Cathedral and made it possible to see the divine service from any place in the Cathedral.
Initially the interior of the Cathedral had a magnificent interior decoration: icons in gilded icon cases and three double-level iconostases. Three marble stairways (to each of the three altars of the Cathedral) lead to the solea fenced by forged railing. Above the marble communion table of the central altar there was a unique gilded canopy signifying the Divine Shroud over the earth. Four bronze church chandeliers symbolising celestial bodies hung from the intersections of the arches.
The first Dean of the Cathedral was the Archpriest Vladimir from Archangelsk, who served in this Cathedral for a long time. The seamen of the squadron going on a long trip to the Pacific Ocean and Russian submariners prayed in the Cathedral. The further fate of the Cathedral became the reflection the fates of people and countries. It is known, that the interior of the Cathedral had already been damaged during the World War I. Nevertheless, some occasional divine services were ministered in the Cathedral. A part of the icons and church utensils had been rescued and placed in other orthodox temples before the Cathedral was ravaged. During the World War II German anti-aircraft defence forces located in the Cathedral. All the bronze bells were removed. Upon the return of the Soviet army the Cathedral was used as a warehouse, and later as a seamen’s club. A great deal of what reminded of the real destination of the Cathedral was destroyed or done over.
By the end of the 1980’s the movement for the return of the Cathedral back to the Orthodox Church got stronger. Liepaja City Council made decisions on this subject. Several times similar ideas were expressed in the local and national press, as well as via actions of the public. On 2 June 1990, on the Memorial Day of St. Alexy, Alexander, the Bishop of Riga and all Latvia, in collaboration with the clergy of Liepaja and Riga and with participation of many pilgrims, held a church service at the walls of the locked temple. In September 1991, after a protracted resistance, the military abandoned the Cathedral and left the keys to the believers. The first liturgy was held on 19 December 1991 on the Memorial Day of St. Nicolas the Miracle-Worker. The clergy of Liepaja, the representatives of the City Council and the military were present at the ceremony of carrying the Cross and during the thanksgiving service. In order the regular church services could be held as soon as possible there were carried out some repair works in the southern side altar of the Cathedral. On 6 January 1992 the Cathedral consecration service was held with the blessing of Alexander, the Bishop of Riga and all Latvia. The next day, on 7 January (the Orthodox Christmas), the first Divine Liturgy took place. That was the beginning of the regular services in the Cathedral.
Renovation of the Cathedral is going on due to the donations. Now the Crosses (made and mounted by Tosmare factory) are risen above the cupolas of the Cathedral. The metal-plated roof has been almost completely renewed. The central altar with its unique paining and marble stairways has also been restored (the company of Andris Kokins donated marble for this purpose). On 20 July 1997, Alexander, the Archbishop of Riga and all Latvia, together with the clergy of Liepaja and Riga, held a great consecration service of the central altar and the whole Cathedral. The territory of the Cathedral is framed by an ornamental metal fence donated by the joint-stock company “Liepajas Metalurgs”. The main hall, choir, Christening and candle premises are decorated with magnificent church chandeliers presented by the family of Moiseev.
It is impossible to mention everybody who has contributed to this holy work. The Lord does not forget anybody or anything. There has been done a number of other works – great and small, visible and inconspicuous – have also been carried out, including purchase of various vessels for the divine services, as well as ecclesiastical books and videos for the library. At the Cathedral there is a Sunday school both for children and for adults.
A considerable number of works still must be done in order to complete the restoration of the Cathedral. With the help of God the renewal is going on. The detailed list of the works that have been or must be carried out is available in the Cathedral.