Sunday, February 21, 2016

Designer of Lenin’s Mausoleum was Orthodox Christian, Architectural Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – In what may constitute a last-ditch defense of keeping Lenin in the mausoleum on Red Square, a Russian architectural historian points out that the man who designed that building was an Orthodox Christian who before the revolution had served as chief architect of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

            Elena Ovsyannikova, a professor of architectural history at the Moscow Institute of Architecture, notes that Aleksey Shchusev infused his design with numerous Christian elements and thus laid the foundation for the quasi-religious cult of Lenin and then of Stalin in Soviet times (

            But at the same time, she says that his design reflected many other influences as well, including the European art deco movement and funerary practices extending back to the Egyptian pyramids. At the same time, however, she dismisses as an absurdity the notion that Lenin’s mausoleum has anything in common with the Babylonian ziggurat, as many think.

            Of course, Ovsyannikova continues, “in formally plastic terms, the Mausoleum of Lenin doesn’t resemble a church.” Rather it was “an innovative composition” fully in the spirit of the Russian and European avant-garde “which Shchusev knew well” and in which he had worked. “But Shchusev also had built a multitude of churches, many of them glorious.”

            Consequently, she says, “the memorial character of the building and the sarcophagus of Lenin turns us to religious forms. This is the Orthodox and general Christian tradition of respect for remains and their inclusion in a sarcophagus.  In a certain sense, the mummies of the pharaohs also are remains.”

            And “therefore with all its architectural innovation, the history of the Lenin Mausoleum goes back into the depths of history.”

            The Soviet leadership, the architectural historian notes, put restrictions on Shchusev: he could build the mausoleum only with stone mined in the USSR. And it also modified his design: he wanted the building to have many anterooms, but the authorities decided to keep it smaller and simpler than he had planned.

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