Restoration of the Church of the Most Holy Mother of God (Vladivostok, Russia) by Mathew Alderman

Our good friend Matthew Alderman of Matthew Alderman Studios did a fabulous job some time ago (2006-2008) helping to restore the interior of the old Latin Rite Proto-Cathedral of the Most Holy Mother of God (Ecclesia Cathedralis Deiparae Sanctissimae) in Vladivostok, Russia. This project deserves special mention. I was privileged to visit here twice and I can testify how much this renovation project meant to the local Catholic community. For a previous article I wrote on the church, see here

Architecture has been defined quite rightly as "the gift of one generation to the next." Indeed, this stately church, constructed in 1908 by Polish and other East European immigrants in the Far East of Russia, is a gift that has been cherished and passed on from one generation to the next. By God's grace, it escaped death in a corner of the world where many churches did not survive the Communist purge. 

Architectural watercolors by Matthew Alderman

This stately edifice was designed by Polish architect Wlodzimierz de Planson and was completed in 1921. It has an incredible story, having been created a cathedral in 1923 (a title it held until 2002), it was later confiscated by Soviet authorities in 1935 and was only returned to Catholic hands in 1994. In the late 1930s the Soviets gutted the interior to make it useful, adding interior concrete and rebar floors, turning the structure into a state archive. Local historians have mused it may have been spared destruction because it was a relatively new building at the time. Below is what the church looked like with its original interior design (the pulpit has yet to be restored). 

Image of the interior before the Revolution arrived in the Far East

Working with a tight budget and with limited time, Matthew did a stellar job helping to restore the interior; a miracle he was able to accomplish so much, including the restoration of the baptistry. Images of the project can be seen here. Basing his designs on the Polish brick Gothic style, Matthew was able to successfully craft a fitting interior of carpenter Gothic, in its own style, with a soaring reredos in a smallish sanctuary with limited floor space. Below is what the church looked like before Matthew's timely intervention. 

The sanctuary before restoration with original crucifix restored

The gilded and painted wooden reredos behind the altar was crafted by hand thanks to seasonal laborers from China. The reredos design included an organ screen that was imported from a parish that closed in the United States. The statue of Our Lady came from a convent in California and the white marble crucifix, made of Carrara from Italy, is the only object from the original church interior that survived the Revolution. The crucifix was returned to Catholic hands in 1996, whereas it had previously been buried in the ground and later was on display for many years at a local art academy. A new marble altar was also designed by Matthew and installed with great solemnity. 

God bless and reward Matthew for giving his time and expertise pro bono for this wonderful cause, helping to rebuild a lost and forgotten treasure in a renowned port city on the Sea of Japan at the end of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Indeed, Vladivostok was described by Pope John Paul II as that city, "unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). I would be remiss if I did not also thank the two wonderful American missioner priests who have dedicated their lives to the Catholics of the Far East of Russia since their arrival in Vladivostok in 1992. 

These fine men are Fr. Myron Effing of Indiana and Fr. Daniel Maurer of Michigan, who spearheaded the legacy project over a period of years of planning and fundraising. Heaven knows the sacrifices these two pioneers have made for their over 30 years of service to the Latin Rite Catholics of Eastern Russia. Divine Providence led them to reach out to Matthew, making their dream a reality for generations of local Catholics well into the future. 

The work continues and more work will inevitably be done in the future to continue to beautify the church, including hopefully interior stencil work with colorful Gothic Revival motifs. Donations are always welcome. Vladivostok is located in by far the largest geographic diocese in the world. To donate securely, please see here. Salvator Mundi, salva Russiam!

Architectural sketch by Matthew Alderman


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