At approximately 1 a.m. on July 23, 2023, the slumbering Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Odessa fell victim to a missile attack, resulting in the devastating obliteration of the venerable Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral situated in the city’s core.
Historical records indicate that in 1794, Queen Catherine II expended a substantial sum of 24,135 rubles to erect the church, originally intended as a commemoration to Nicholas, a revered saint within the annals of Russian Orthodox Church history. The primary structure of the church was completed on November 14, 1795, and in February 1800, it was christened as the Transfiguration Cathedral. Following the passing of Empress Ekaterina, Peter the Great ascended to the throne. In 1804, he allocated an additional 100,000 rubles to finalize the church’s construction. While the exterior was completed in early May 1808, the interior suffered from delays due to insufficient funds.
Notwithstanding the consecration and opening of the church on May 20 of that same year, the most pivotal element of the cathedral, its bell tower, was not erected until 1825 in accordance with the architectural scheme devised by Flannory, ultimately reaching completion in 1837. Concurrently, Odessa assumed its role as the epicenter of the Kherson Orthodox Church, with the Transfiguration Cathedral naturally assuming the central position within the diocese. In 1841, the diocese allocated funds for its expansion.
During the recent Russian airstrike on the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa, firefighters valiantly rescued the statue of Our Lady of Kasperova from the wreckage of the ravaged church, delicately transporting it to a place of refuge. Within Ukraine, the statue of Our Lady holds profound significance – in the 16th century, this icon was brought to churches in southeastern Ukraine by devout Serbian believers for veneration, rumored to possess miraculous healing properties. Consequently, local parishioners reverentially refer to it as “the miracle worker” of the Madonna.
Initially, the statue of Our Lady found its resting place in churches situated in cities such as Kherson, Ochakov, and Nikolayev in southeastern Ukraine. However, in October 1854, following six months of fervent prayers and blessings, it was officially installed within the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa, earning the epithet “the city’s patron saint” as bestowed by the denizens.
In 1894, the church underwent an extensive renovation. From 1900 to 1903, the municipal government of Odessa allocated a substantial budget of 220,000 rubles to restore the church’s lateral walls, embellish the bell tower, construct porches and domes on either side, and enhance the interior decoration, rendering it truly resplendent.
The prayer hall, suffused with luminosity, exudes a sense of spaciousness, adorned with solemn Corinthian marble columns in pristine white. The iconostasis, meticulously fashioned from gray-white marble, exudes a refined craftsmanship, while the dome crowning the altar imparts an aura of perfection. Following the church’s renovation, its majestic dimensions reached a total height of 72 meters, length of 90 meters, and width of 45 meters. At its zenith, the prayer hall accommodated over 9,000 worshippers.
Regrettably, in March 1932, the Transfiguration Cathedral was forcibly shuttered. In May 1936, an edict was issued to dismantle this ancient church. Numerous invaluable cultural relics housed within the church, including ancient icons, censers, and gilded ritual implements, were pillaged by troops dispatched by the Odessa State Finance Department. Subsequent events remain shrouded in uncertainty.
The supporting timber embedded within the church’s walls, as well as the robust wooden framework, proved exceedingly resilient and resistant to disassembly. Employing multiple detonations, the demolishers initially felled the bell tower, strategically directing its fall upon the church, utilizing its impact to unleash destruction upon the Transfiguration Cathedral. The cemetery, where Marshal Vorontsov and his wife rested in eternal repose, was subject to plunder by marauding soldiers. Vorontsov’s saber and epaulettes were interred with him, while his wife’s jewelry was unceremoniously taken.
In December 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the Odessa Black Sea Orthodox Foundation spearheaded the initiative to restore the Transfiguration Cathedral, allocating a substantial budget totaling 32 million hryvnia. Between 1996 and 1999, archaeologists excavated a fragment of the old church’s gable at its original site, serving as a pivotal reference point for the upcoming reconstruction efforts.
In 2005, the mortal remains of Marshal Vorontsov and his wife were finally laid to rest within the churchyard. On July 21, 2010, Kirill, the Patriarch of All Russia, and Moscow, graced the Transfiguration Cathedral with his presence, presiding over a sanctification ceremony of utmost solemnity. Subsequently, the church was officially entrusted to the Orthodox diocese of Odessa, a mere 13 years ago.