Saturday, January 2, 2016

Russia: Moscow Cathedral

Russia issued this stamp 12 July 2001 as part of a set of 14 stamps featuring houses of worship of various denominations and faiths. In addition to a central image of the facility the stamp includes half-tone images of key features of the facility to the left and right and at the top. In this case a crucifix and a rose window are at top and right. The left image is another window but also the organ. Scott 6649 is interesting for its orientation. The stamps presents as a diamond rather than a square or rectangle; it's denominated 2.5 rubles.

The cathedral was begun in 1901 and was completed in 1911. An organ was installed during that early history, but was cryptically "taken by the state in 1938." An electronic organ was installed in 1999. One is left to wonder if the cathedral did without an organ for the intervening 6-year period. In 2002 momentum began to build for a new pipe organ for the cathedral.

The cathedral's pipe organ was built in 1955 by Orgelbau Kuhn AG of Männedorf, Switzerland, for the Reformed Evangelical Basel Münster Cathedral in Basel, Switzerland. The Swiss cathedral donated the organ, dismantled it in 2002, and all pipes but without the largest — Nr. 65 principal bass 32 '​, 10 m (32 ft) long — were transferred to Moscow. The pipes were transported wrapped in new garments donated by the people of Basel, which were later distributed to Moscow's poor. The installation of the pipe organ in Moscow was performed by the Orgelbau Schmid company from Kaufbeuren, Germany, headed by Gerhard Schmid, who refused payment for his work. During the work, Schmid was killed in a fall from a scaffold on 9 September 2004; his son Gunnar finished the work (The single pipe remained in Switzerland and was incorporated into that cathedral's new organ; a replacement was made for the installation in Moscow.)

The Peter and Paul parish was formally dissolved by the communist government in 1929, and celebrating mass was forbidden. The church lost much of its surrounding gardens in 1935—a school was built there the following year—and the church was finally closed on 30 July 1938 (the St. Peter and Paul church had met the same fate nine days earlier). The church was plundered after its closure, and many items, including the main altar and the organ, were irretrievably lost. The church was used for several months as a vegetable store, and was then reconstructed as a hostel and its interior divided into four floors.

Pictures of the Kuhn organ in Moscow Cathedral make it clear that this instrument is not the one shown on the stamp. I have been able to find no information on the earlier pipe organ other than the tantalizing tidbit recorded above. One wonders about its manufacture but also about its fate.

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