4. St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac's Cathedral

Questions to consider:

The two descriptions coincide in content and structure. Baedeker again stresses size and dimensions whereas Keller informs the reader that the church was built on marshes. Both texts emphasize the building’s grandness: its magnificent architecture and lavish decoration render it a marvelous tourist sight. Moreover, they both recommend the view from the dome as a way to enhance the tourist’s visual experience of Petersburg.

Yet, little attention is paid to the church as a religious site. Instead, its splendor has displaced its religious function. In his introduction to the city, Keller describes the churches of Petersburg as “the most splendid of any modern churches in the world” and recommends them as prime tourist attractions.

But how do the two guidebooks represent Russian religious practices? When discussing Russia’s religion, both Baedeker and Keller express astonishment thus anticipating and shaping the foreign tourist’s response to its strangeness.

In his “Introduction” Baedeker writes: “Every foreigner will be struck by the frequency with which the people cross themselves, by their obeisances and prostrations before every open church door, and by the kissing of the floor and the relics inside the churches. Though the Russian attaches great importance to the observance of all these rites and customs, he welcomes strangers to his churches, and places no difficulties in their way in examining the churches and their contents even during divine services.” In other words, not only are Russians accommodating but they are also accustomed to being observed by strangers.

Similarly, Keller’s introduction highlights the peculiarity of Russian religious practices: “Russia! What a crowd of thoughts come flying as the word strikes the ear! – The ikona in the corner of every room; the gold – or blue – domed basilica in every street; the long-haired priests chanting in deep bass; the pedestrian ceaselessly crossing himself.” When describing Petersburg’s streets and people, Keller is struck with the Russian priests as a peculiar picture of Russian life: “One very often meets priests of the Greek Orthodox Church. They wear long hair and close fitting cloaks with very wide sleeves.” Keller’s words transform Russian religious traits into signs for the country itself, into markers of its touristic value.

Both guidebooks stress the building’s magnificent architecture and lavish decoration to highlight its value as a tourist attraction. As in all four stops, the Baedeker emphasizes size and dimensions as a way of seeing and comprehending the sight. If St. Issaac’s is presented as a marvel of Western European architecture, it is also a locus of fabulous Eastern wealth and foreign religious practices. This blend of familiar and exotic constitutes the cathedral as a tourist attraction and might be said to underlie the two guidebooks’ representation of Petersburg.

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St. Isaac's Cathedral


The Senate and Synod
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