hidden europe 43

Russian Orthodox churches on the Riviera

by hidden europe

Picture above: The Russian Orthodox cathedral in Nice has recently been restored to the Moscow Patriarchate (photo © hidden europe).


Visitors to the Riviera are often surprised to find the striking Orthodox churches along the coast. From the red headlands of the Esterel Massif to Sanremo in Liguria, there is a hint of the east in the ecclesiastical landscape - a legacy of the history of Russian visitors to the region.

For many visitors to the Riviera, it is the distinctive Orthodox churches in a number of communities along the coast which are the most visible expression of Russia’s links with the region. Until 1859, when the Russian community in Nice secured its own church, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated on Russian ships berthed at Villefranche — at least when those vessels had their own Orthodox chaplain. Civilians were invited on board for the Sunday service. The only alternative was to make the long journey west along the coast to Marseille, where there was a thriving Greek Orthodox community which was open to visiting Russians. Following the 1859 church in Nice, others were built along the Riviera, most notably at Menton in 1892, Cannes in 1894 and Sanremo in 1913.

The rapidly growing Russian community in Nice quickly outgrew its first church in the city, and in 1899, Empress Maria Feodorovna provided support for the building of the grand St Nicholas’ Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice. It was consecrated in 1913, becoming the first Russian Orthodox church beyond the boundaries of the empire to be granted the privileges of cathedral status.

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