St. Basil’s Cathedral turns 450 today, and a Google Doodle is marking the day by replacing the “l” in Google’s logo with the multi-colored Russian landmark that’s shaped like the flame of a bonfire rising into the sky.
The cathedral’s beginnings are the stuff legends are made of — conceived of in 1561 by Czar Ivan the Terrible to celebrate a victory over Mongol rulers, and audaciously constructed over the burial site of St. Basil, a “holy fool” whom Ivan feared. Two Russian architects are likely responsible for the church’s psychedelic design, though some maintain it was the work of an Italian architect, who was blinded after the cathedral’s completion so he could never build anything as majestic again.
The cathedral has served many purposes, including that of spiritual home. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Russians saw the church as a symbol of the Heavenly City on Earth and called it “Jerusalem.”
It has become a marker of endurance, having survived Napoleon Bonaparte’s attempts to destroy it in the 1800s (heavy rains didn’t allow it to burn), the efforts of early Communist leaders to destroy what they saw as an “obstacle” to Stalin’s military parades, weather damage and neglect for years, and the paving of the Red Square.
And it’s served as national symbol. Deputy Culture Minister Andrey Busygin told the AP this week “This cathedral is a shrine and a symbol of Russia. It’s a miracle it survived at all.”
For a decade, Russians have spent about 390 rubles ($14 million) to restore the church, and today they will open an exhibit devoted to their beloved national landmark, according to the AP.