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Saint Petersburg

Imperial residence and second capital of Russia

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Saint Petersburg, the imperial residence and second capital of Russia, lies at the mouth of the Neva on the Gulf of Finland. In 1899, including the suburbs, it had 1,439,600 inhabitants; of these 81.8 per cent belonged to the Orthodox Greek Church, 4.8 per cent were Catholics, 7.03 per cent were Protestants, and 1.4 per cent were Jews. As regards nationality 87.5 per cent were Russians, 3.3 per cent were German, 3.1 per cent were Poles, 1.03 per cent were Finns, and 1.03 per cent were Esthonians. In 1910 the population was estimated at over 1,900,000 persons. The district of Ingermannland, that is, the territory between Lake Peipus, the Narova River, and Lake Ladoga, in which St. Petersburg is situated, belonged in the Middle Ages to the Grand Duchy of Novgorod, and later to Moscow. In 1617 the district was given by the Treaty of Stolbovo to Sweden; in 1702 it was rewon by Peter the Great. When Peter in 1703 formed the daring plan to transfer the center of his empire from the inaccessible Moscow to the Baltic and to open the hitherto isolated Russia to the influence and cultivation of Western Europe by means of a large fortified commercial port, he chose for his new creation the southern end of the present island of Petersburgsky. At this point the Neva separates into two branches, the big and the little Neva; here on 16 (27) May, 1703, he began the citadel of Peter and Paul, the fortifications of which were built first of wood and in 1706 of stone. The Troitzki church was the first wooden church of the imperial city; around it were erected houses in Dutch architectural style for Peter and his friends. As early as 1704 the first habitations were built on the northern bank of the Neva. Some 40,000 men drawn from all parts of the empire worked for several years in the erection of the new city; a large number of them succumbed to the extreme severity of their labors and the deadly mists of the marshy ground. In 1708 St. Petersburg was unsuccessfully besieged by the Swedes. The Russian victory over Charles XII at Pultowa put an end to any danger that might have arisen from Sweden. In 1712 the city was formally made the residence of the Court.

It was Peter’s desire that his new capital should not be surpassed in brilliance by the capitals of Western Europe. He intended to follow in its construction the plans of the architect and sculptor Andreas Schluter, who was called to St. Petersburg in 1713 but died in the following year. In order to make the new capital the equal of Moscow in religious matters, Peter and his successors built a large number of churches and monasteries, often equipped with the most lavish splendor. Peter sought, above all, to establish veneration for the national saint, Alexander Newski, Grand duke of Novgorod, who died in 1261. He therefore built a church near Neva, on the spot where Alexander in 1241 gained the traditionally celebrated victory over the united forces of the Swedes, Danes, and Finns; this victory cannot be proved historically. The bones of the saint were placed in the church with much pomp in 1724. The tsar himself drew up a plan for a monastery and gave to its construction 10,000 roubles from his private fortune, besides state revenues. At Peter’s death the city had 75,000 inhabitants. However, a pause now occurred in its development as Catharine I and Peter II preferred the old capital Moscow. Anna Ivanova (1730-40) was the first ruler to live again at St. Petersburg. During her reign and that of her successor, Elizabeth Petrovna, the city grew greatly and was adorned with striking buildings. Most of the older public buildings, however, belong to the reigns of Catharine II and Paul I, who were great builders. By the favor of the tsars who competed with one another in adorning the imperial city with splendid structures and enriching it with schools and collections, as well as by its advantageous position for commerce and intercourse with Western Europe, St. Petersburg has gradually surpassed its rival Moscow. It has developed into the largest city of the empire, but has assumed more the character of a city of Western Europe than that of a national Russian one.

The history of the Catholic Church at St. Petersburg goes back to the era of the founding of the city. As early as 1703 there were a few Catholics in the city. In 1704 one of the Jesuits, who since 1684 had been able to maintain themselves at Moscow, came to St. Petersburg in order to make the observance of their religious duties easier to the officers and soldiers stationed on the Neva; he had also the spiritual care of over 300 Catholic Lithuanians who had been taken prisoners. From 1710 the Catholics had a little wooden chapel, called the Chapel of St. Catharine, not far from the spot where the monument to Peter the Great now stands. The parish register of the chapel goes back to this year. Later, Franciscans and Capuchins took the place of the Jesuits. Although Peter the Great was kindly disposed to the Catholic community, the Holy Synod, an administrative ecclesiastical board that he had created, was constantly suspicious of them. National disputes having arisen between the Franciscans and Capuchins, the Holy Synod was able to obtain an imperial decree in 1725, compelling all the Capuchins but one to leave the city. This one remained behind in the employ of the French embassy and was permitted to hold services for his countrymen in a chapel designated for the purpose. In 1737 the wooden church burnt down. It was decided to rebuild it in stone and a temporary chapel was arranged. Although the Empress Anna Ivanova gave a piece of ground, the cornerstone of the new Church of St. Catharine was not laid until 1763 on account of the national feuds within the Catholic community of Germans, French, Italians, and Poles. The construction of the church advanced slowly because of lack of funds. It was built in the Renaissance style by the Italian architect, Vollini de la Mothe, and was formally consecrated by the papal nuncio Archetti in 1783. In 1769 Catharine II confirmed the gifts of her predecessors and released the church, school, and dwelling of the Catholic priests from all taxes and imposts. In the same year she issued the “Ordinatio ecclesiae petropolitanae”, which settled the legal status of the parish and was a model for the other Catholic parishes of Russia. This ordinance raised the permitted number of. Catholic priests from four to six. These were generally Franciscans, who had charge of the welfare of souls at Kronstadt, Jamburg, Riga, and Reval.

The number of Catholics was considerably increased by the French emigrants whom the French Revolution caused to flee to St. Petersburg. Further, the fact that the first archbishop of the newly founded Archdiocese of Mohileff soon transferred his residence to the capital of the empire also contributed to the strengthening of the Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. In October, 1800, the Church of St. Catharine was confided to the Jesuits at the request of the Emperor Paul. The Jesuits opened a school that was soon very prosperous, but their success and the many following conversions aroused the jealousy of the Orthodox. The Jesuits were expelled from St. Petersburg on December 22, 1815, and from the whole of Russia in 1820. The parochial care of the Catholics of St. Petersburg was given to secular priests, and in 1816 to the Dominicans who have been in the city continuously until the present time. A Catholic Rumanian church was built during the reign of Alexander I. During the forties the number of Dominicans increased to twenty; but the closing of the Polish monasteries, from which they drew new members, reduced their number, and it became necessary to call fathers from Austria and France. Since 1888 secular priests have also been admitted to the cure of souls; still the present number of ecclesiastics is hardly sufficient to meet the needs of the entire Catholic community, the pastoral care, schools, and charitable demands. In addition, there still remains the old limitation of administration by the governmental church consistory, the Catholic collegium, and the department of the state ministry for foreign religious, which exerts a zealous care that an active Catholic life, religious freedom, and efforts for the conversion of those of other faiths should be and remain impossible.

Ecclesiastically, as regards Catholicism, St. Petersburg is the see of the Metropolitan of Mohileff, of the general consistory, of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical collegium (the highest collegiate church board of administration, which, however, has to obtain the consent of the minister of the interior in all more important matters), of a Roman Catholic preparatory academy for priests, and of an archiepiscopal seminary. The Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary was built in the Byzantine style in 1873 and was enlarged 1896-1902. The parish Church of St. Catharine was erected in 1763, that of St. Stanislaus in 1825, that of Our Lady in 1867, that of St. Casimir in 1908, and the German parish Church of St. Boniface in 1910. In addition there are 4 public and. 10 private Catholic chapels in the city. The cure of souls is under the care of 6 parish priests and administrators, and 15 vicars and chaplains; there are also 2 military chaplains for Catholic soldiers. The orders settled in the city are the Dominicans, Assumptionists, Oblates, Franciscans, and the Sisters of St. Joseph. Besides the clerical educational institutions there is a Catholic gymnasium for boys and one for girls, and a higher school for boys. Catholic religious instruction is given in 30 public intermediate schools for boys, 11 military schools, and 28 schools for girls. According to the yearbook of the Archdiocese of Mohileff the number of Catholics is 87,500.


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