Pulling into the station at Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, early in the morning of Sunday 22nd May, one of the first things that struck me was that signs are written not only in Russian but in the local Tatar language, with its own alphabet. After paying for the privilege of a hot shower at the station, my first priority was to find the Catholic church for Mass; a new blue and white edifice, also dedicated to the Elevation of the Cross, owing its construction in part to the goodwill generated by Pope John Paul’s gift. I had a brief but pleasant talk with the young priest afterwards, who agreed to pray for my long-held intention to teach the Russian language. Then i made my way towards Our Lady’s monastery, but was drawn to an interesting-looking church on the way, with a blue and white onion dome atop an octagonal bell-tower. It turned out to be the Petropavlovski (Peter and Paul) cathedral, essentially two churches, one above the other, both distinguished by regal iconostases and beautiful frescoes. Before leaving i bought two little icon reproductions, one of Our Lady and one depicting SS Peter and Paul.
|Our Lady of Kazan|
Then i made for Kazan’s Kremlin, a UNESCO World Heritage site with much of its 16th century white-washed fortifications and bastions, as well as its cathedral, intact. Having said that, not least important is the elegant Qol’sharif Mosque, built in this century to replace one that was destroyed when Ivan the Terrible captured the site in 1552. But i particularly enjoyed my visit to the Annunciation Cathedral. A recording of superb choral music was an important part of this experience, but above all the frescoes, some telling the story of the icon, i suggest, give it an interior that could be set beside that of almost any ecclesiastical structure in the world.
|The Kremlin, Kazan, with mosque and (behind) cathedral.|
Afterwards i eventually found a suitable place to spend the night, out of sight under the ground floor balcony of an apartment block. Then next morning i stopped at a roadside cafe with an Arabic inscription above the entrance, serving as a reminder that Tatarstan is a major stronghold of Islam within Russia – hence the privileged position of the Mosque, inside the walls of the Kremlin. Curiously, as a backdrop to a news broadcast on TV there was the iconic black and white image of Bobby Moore, held aloft by his teammates in jubilation over England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup.