Saturday, August 6, 2011

Prayer and Tourism

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – Very few places in the world represent such a striking juxtaposition of prayer and tourism as St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievskii sobor). This magnificent and cavernous cathedral turned museum can hold up to 14,000 standing worshippers. Not only does a steady stream of tourists come and go everyday of the week except Wednesday when St. Isaac’s is closed, but locals come to pray on a regular basis as well. Observing them, I wondered what they thought of the sea of noisy tourists who seemed oblivious to the fact that there were actually people there to pray. Even in the area with the prayer candles, you could hear the echoes of voices and cameras. (Note: contrary to some information on the web, you can take photographs in the cathedral). But I guess St. Isaac’s belongs to St. Petersburg and its citizens -- a fact that the tourists can not take away.

Indeed St. Isaac’s has dominated the St. Petersburg skyline for over 150 years. Designed by French architect Auguste de Montferrand, St. Isaac’s Cathedral is the largest Russian Orthodox place of worship in St. Petersburg, and the largest domed cathedral in the world. It took 40 years to build and opened in 1858, the same year Montferrand died. Unfortunately, I don't think he ever got to pray there.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. You can contact her at

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