St Basil’s Cathedral & the Role of the Holy Fools in Russia


Located in the Eastern side of Red Square (Moscow, Russia) St. Basil’s Cathedral is a great example of russian architecture during the 16th century.

Composed by six chapels and one bell tower, it was designed by Postnik Yakolev in 1561 commisioned by Ivan the Terrible ( CHECK) to celebrate the succefsul victory over the Mongol armies in 1552. It is said that Ivan the Terrible was so fashinated by the result of the project at the point to blind the architect Yakolev to prevent him to design other projects of such beauty.


The Original name of the Cathedral is  “Cathedral of Intercession”, becuase the seige of the Mongol Kazan occured under the period of the Feast of the Intercession of the Virgin.

Successively the Cathedral acquire a new nomenclature due to the St.Basil the Blessed, known also as the “holy fool”.


In Russian “holy foolinshness”, a form of ascetism typical of the Russian Orthodox Church, is called Iurodstvo.  St. Basil is one of the 36 canonized holy-fool saints of the Ortodox Church ( ).

At the base of the “holy foolinshness” is a firm convinction on avoiding any sort of prasie and idolatration the holy person might have received from other people, and the most strong message of humility.  In the case of St. Basil the saint has renounced to his vestiary and fought at the same time one of the seven sins, Vanity.

In fact, it arises a sentiment of respect and doubt, where this extreme dismostration of fith lead the figure of the saint in the middle of sacre and profane.

Without an explanation of his message it’s almost impossible to understand its aim, just as a fool.


20131230-225246.jpgThe patron saint of holy fools is St. Simeon Salos of Emress. He retreated to the Syrian desert in the 6th century to devote his life to prayer, living on nothing but lentils. A few decades later, Simeon returned to town a completely different man. He tied a dead dog to his waist and entered town dragging the carcass. Simeon would throw nuts at the priests during worship services and publicly ate sausage on Good Friday. The seemingly nutty monk also helped people in the town, though never when someone else might notice and never taking credit. Simeon’s saintly deeds were done in secret. And no one could dispute that Simeon was very holy person.20131230-225316.jpg

In the picture above it’s reproducted the person of St. Basil with other saints during an episode of his life.

A interesting note from an article in about the holy-fools is pointing out the fact that even in the Old Testament some prophets had some characteristics “…who exhibited signs of strange behaviour are considered … to be predecessors of “Fools for Christ“. The prophet Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for about three years, predicting a forthcoming captivity in Egypt (Isaiah 20:2,3 KJV).

This kind of figures that abbandon their belongings to perceive their creed imitating the life of Jesus, who also has been critized and humiliated by the people of his time, has lead to the rise of great holy persons as Francesco D’Assisi, who abbandoned any privilege of his material life and embrace a material nudity. Other instead embraced a phisical as Basil.

Another example of sacred nudity in Western Christianity is St. Martin, which in this case has recognized the holines of a beggar exposed to the cold and who decide to share his mantel with him.




Concluding in the description of the Cathedral, the inter of the Chapels are in a rich baroque-style iconostats.

The enviroment and the style of the paintings  and icons changes from one environment to the other because to the initial structure have been added more chapels along the time.

Each of the seven Chapels recal one or more saint, as St. Cyprian (the saint of the day of the last attack to Kazan armies), St. Basil, C. of St. Nicholas, C. of Bishop Gregory, and the C. of St. Varlaam, or moment of the life of Jesus, as the C. of the entry of Juses in Jerusalem during the procession of Plam Sunday.


3 thoughts on “St Basil’s Cathedral & the Role of the Holy Fools in Russia

  1. pensierifuoriforma says:

    Amazing! Nice pics! Also, you know, I wanted to write a piece on holy fools myself! The Russian Ortodoxism is full of them, but other traditions have them too, like Tibetan Buddhism and in Advaita Vedanta. 🙂


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