The Church of Ascension in Kolomenskoye, Moscow, an early tented roof church.

A tented roof is a type of roof widely used in 16th and 17th century Russian architecture for churches. It is like a polygonal spire but differs in purpose in that it is typically used to roof the main internal space of a church, rather than an auxiliary structure. The same architectural form is also applied to belltowers.

It is either:

  • a polygonal roof made of wood, where wood logs are laid both parallel to the sides of the roof, and across the corners to form squinches, which makes the roof high and rather pointed.
  • a roof of similar shape (thin, pointed, nearly conical), made of brick or stone. The lower sections of such a roof are usually constructed of a series of roofed small dormers with gables of semi-circular or onion shape.

These types of churches are typically Russian and are never found in other Eastern Orthodox countries. Some scholars, however, argue that tented roofs have much in common with European Gothic spires, and even tend to call this style 'Russian Gothic'.

Tented roofs are thought to have originated in the Russian North, as they prevented snow from piling up on wooden buildings during long winters. In wooden churches (even modern ones) this type of roof is still very popular. The earliest specimen of such a church was recently transported to an abbey in Vologda. Another notable example is an 18th century church in Kondopoga, Karelia).

Church ostrov

The rocket-like church at Ostrov near Moscow is considered typical for Boris Godunov's reign.

The Ascension church of Kolomenskoye, built in 1532 to commemorate the birth of the first Russian Tsar Ivan IV, often is considered the first tented roof church. However, the recent studies show that the earliest use of the stone tented roof was in the Trinity Church in Alexandrov, built in 1510s.[1]

Tented roof design was prone to most unusual interpretations. Some scholars, for example, view hipped roofs of this variety as phallic symbols. It's more likely, however, that this type of design symbolised high ambitions of the nascent Russian state and liberation of the Russian art from Byzantine canons after Constantinople's fall to the Turks.

Tented churches were exceedingly popular during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Two prime examples dating from his reign employ several tents of exotic shapes and colours arranged in a complicated design. These are the Church of St. John the Baptist in Kolomenskoye (1547) and Saint Basil's Cathedral on the Red Square (1561). The latter church unites nine hipped roofs in a striking circular composition.

Hodegetria church, Vyazma

Hodegetria church in Vyazma is one of three major churches with three tents placed in a row.

In the seventeenth century tented roofs were placed in a row, sometimes producing astonishing decorative effects. The first instance of this type is the Marvellous Church in Uglich, whose three graceful tents remind one of three burning candles. They also became a typical architectural solution for church belltowers. In the Nativity church at Putinki (Moscow) this trend was pushed to its limit, as there are five major and three minor tents used in the construction.

It is said that Patriarch Nikon, who often passed near Putinki church on his way to the Trinity, considered the monument to be in violation of canonical rules of Byzantine architecture and proscribed building tented churches altogether. During his time at office, many beautiful tented churches were demolished, notably the ones in Staritsa and the Moscow Kremlin. Only in the late 19th century was the ban lifted, and the tented roof design was revived in such remarkable monuments as the Church of the Savior on Blood in St. Petersburg and St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral in Peterhof.


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The original article was at Tented roof. The list of authors can be seen in the history for that page. The text of Wikipedia is available under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.