The solemn liturgy on the occasion of the Nativity of Christ was held on Monday in St. Nicholas Church in Shanghai, China. The liturgy was performed by the priest of the local Orthodox community, Father Ioann Shchelokov.
The Christmas liturgy was attended by members of Shanghai’s Chinese and Russian Orthodox communities, as well as many foreigners in the local Orthodox community: Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldova, Romania, the USA, Serbia, Ukraine and Ethiopia.
St. Nicholas Church was built in 1932 by Cossack general Thaddeus Lvovich Glebov (1887-1945), in the former French Concession of Shanghai at 16 rue Corneille, now known as Gāolán Lù. It was designed by the architect Alexander Ivanovich Yaron (1875-1935), and funded by White Russians who settled in China in the 1920s-1930s after the Russian Civil War.
The church was consecrated in 1934 in honour of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, patron saint of Nicholas II. St. Nicholas church was the first church monument to Russia’s last tsar in the history of Russian emigration.
In 1936, Yaron wrote: “… how much this holy building is a monument to the Russian heart, a monument to the sufferings endured by the Russian people during the revolution, the symbol of which is the torment and death of Tsar Martyr and His August Family”
Local authorities only permit worship in the church on Orthodox holidays. The rest of the time, the church which is listed as a state-protected historical building is not used as a place of worship.
The last time that a liturgy was held in the church was on 19th December 2018, on the occasion of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker’s Day. From 2015, no services were held until April 2018, when the Easter service was held, attended by more than 300 faithful.
In 1949, most of the Russian émigrés left Shanghai. The church was closed in 1955. It was first converted into a warehouse and then a laundry. It was spared desecration during the Cultural Revolution by a portrait of Mao Zedong, hung strategically from the dome. From May to October during EXPO 2010, its loft was reconsecrated to allow Russian Orthodox services to be held there. The church later hosted a French restaurant, Ashanti Dome, on the upper floor, and a Spanish tapas bar on the ground floor called Boca. The building was declared a protected monument in 1994.
Initially, the central dome of the mosaic work at the church was turquoise in colour, the four domes on the sides were dark blue with gold stars, and the dome under the bell tower was of the three colors of the Romanov house (white, orange and black). There are currently no crosses on the church, which were once gilded. Inside the church was notable for its rich decoration and carved iconostasis, the top row of icons of which were painted by icon painter Andrei Stepanovich Berezin. The original frescoes are believed to be preserved under layers of plaster.
During a recent interview, the Russian Consul General in Shanghai Alexey Evsikov, noted that local authorities have plans for the restoration of the church interiors in the near future. He noted that the building could be used as a platform for Russian-Chinese cultural exchanges.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 7 January 2019