Aleksander Nevsky

Orthodox church and Imperial legitimate symbol in Copenhagen

Top-illustrations: A collection of photographs – used as postcards – commemorating the Dowager Empress´funeral in 1928, showing priests and clergy from the Russian church escorting the coffin on its´way to the railway station, taking it to the Royal Cathedral in Roskilde. (Private collection) Notice the invitation (far right) giving access to the funeral-service and ceremony at Roskilde © Ballerup Museum

The orthodox church in Denmark can be traced back to 1741: The first Russian envoy brought with him from Sct. Petersburg a transportable Russian church, including a priest! The very first real orthodox congregation rented some rooms in Copenhagen 1852 – 1873, then moved to another address. The increasing diplomatic- and trade relations later to be confirmed by the marriage between a Danish princess and the Russian heir in 1866, meant a need for the establishment of a regular church.

The Aleksander Nevsky is named after a Russian Saint (1220 – 1263) from Novgorod, patron of the Russian Empire. The church was designed by Russian architect D.J. Grimm overseen by the Danish architect Ferdinand Meldahl. Both having excelled entirely in the “historic” architecture of the late 19th century, the church is a mixture of byzantine, old Russian-style and more modern architecture, bound as it is by a location situated between to other tall buildings. Begun as late as 1881, in keeping with Emperor Aleksander the 3rds coronation, the church was inaugurated in 1883. The church is even today a very significant monument in Copenhagen with its five onion-domes covered in gold.

Emperor Aleksander III © Ballerup Museum

In 1925 the Russian émigrées were broken-hearted when the new Soviet government decided that the Russian Church of st. Aleksander Nevsky in Copenhagen was Soviet property. Then, when the Danish government allowed the Soviets to turn the building into an extension of their Consulate, the Dowager Empress was furious. Refusing to accept defeat she engaged the solicitor to the Supreme Court to fight the case, helped and backed up by the Baron Nikolai von Geersdorff, who followed with a public subscription and fundraising, instigating the Dowagers Foundation on the occasion of the Empress´eightieth birthday, winning the case

The interior is created as a basilika with a central nave © Ballerup museum
The inner sanctuary, the room behind the gilded iconostasis © Det Kongelige Biliotek/Royal Library, Creative commons
The Dowager Empress used the Russian church as her private chapel, and after the Revoluion it became the hotspot of the Russians in Denmark. Photograph from the Dowager Empress´ funeral in 1928. © Ballerup Museum
Bredgade in Copenhagen, 1908. The onion-shaped golden domes of the Russian church are clearly visible. The modern tram is passing the Frederiksgade, where the Imperial Russian Legation and the official residence of the “Minister” to Russia lived. © Det Kongelige Biliotek/Royal Library, Creative commons

The church was officially inaugurated on saturday evening, 8th of September 1883, sprinkled with holy water by the priest Voloboniev – the Imperial legation priest in Denmark – and the most prominent Russian cleric Janistjev from Sct. Petersburg. Next day, in the morning of sunday the 9th, a cortege of prominent guests departed by train from the Royal Palace at Fredensborg, later using 15 carriages, being escorted by guards, and led by the Imperial Court Marshall Prince Obolensky. Present royalty included the Emperor Aleksander and Empress Maria Feodorovna, Queen Olga of Greece, Grandduchess Xenia, The Prince and Princess of Wales and many others. The streets in Copenhagen were decorated with flags and flowers. At the chuch entrance, the Royal party were greeted by the Russian ambassador in London, Baron Morenheim and the Russian Minister in Denmark count de Toll. Included in the saintly ceremonies were also the Archdean Popov from Sct. Petersburg and the ships-priest from the Imperial yacht Derschawa, as well as employees and staff from the Legation, the architects Grimm and Meldahl and officers and sailors from four Russian vessels. 30 shipmates from Derschawa stood for the choir music. After the inauguration, royalty as well as clergy and diplomats were escorted to the harbor and invited for lunch at the Imperial yacht, each cheer saluted by gun-fire from three Imperial Navy vessels: The Czarewna, The Europa and The Slovenia.