The Cathedral of the Annunciation is the oldest preserved stone building in Kazan. The architecture of the church harmoniously unites a number of traditions; its graceful appearance has survived intact even after the many restoration projects.
The wooden church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was built near the Khan’s palace immediately after the taking of Kazan, even before the establishment of the Diocese of Kazan.
In 1555, it was decided to build a stone church: the cathedral was built by master craftsmen from Pskov sent to Kazan by the personal order of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan Shiryay and Postnik Yakovlev were in charge of the building. At that time Yakovlev led building of another famous church – St. Basil in Red Square (Cathedral of Intercession). Like the Church of the Annunciation, it has five large cupolas and six internal columns.
Its construction took seven years and was completed in 1562. It was dedicated by the first Archbishop of Kazan and Sviyazhsk Gurius (Rugotin) In 1630, the relics of the holy man were taken to the Cathedral of the Annunciation, and right until the revolution they were the primary relict in the church.
As a result of later reconstruction work, in 1736, the church acquired new cupolas in place of the helmet shaped cupolas. The central cupola was gilded and typical of the Ukrainian baroque they were shaped in the form of a bud as if one “onion dome” were placed upon another.
There are two examples of this style in the Volga region – the cupolas of the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Cathedral of the Assumption in Sviyazhsk. The four side cupolas were built in an “onion” shape and painted in the typical blue colour and decorated with gilded stars.
It is remarkable that even after so many restorations, the Cathedral of the Annunciation has not lost its elegant appearance – even though it suffered from practically all the major fires in Kazan from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The cathedral still looks very much like it did in 1841.
In imperial times, the cathedral received many honourable guests: over the years, services in the church were attended by Peter the Great, Ekaterina II, Alexander Pushkin and Alexander II.
The list of important guests came to an end with the arrival of Soviet power. In 1918, the entrance to the Cathedral of the Annunciation, as well as all other buildings in the Kremlin, was closed.
The Diocesan administration was removed to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist , and the Kazan Cathedral of the Monastery of the Theotokos became the diocesan cathedral.
The ark containing the relics of Holy Gurias and the church sacristy, which contained the ancient Bibles, icons and archbishop’s robes, was removed thanks to the care of Peter Dulsky, the art historians and Professor Iristarkh Stratonov who had the courage to declare the value of the sacristy despite even the threat of execution. Now some of these items are kept in the Church of the Yaroslavl Miracle Workers in the Arsk Cemetery, and others in the National Museum of the Republic of Tatarstan. In 1925, the church was given to the museum department of the Kremlin and three years later the cathedral’s belfry was demolished. In 1929, the cathedral itself was threatened with demolition. However, this was avoided, although the building was assigned another function: the church became a vegetable store. Later it was assigned a more befitting function – that of the state archive of the Republic.
Restoration work on the cathedral began in 1977. By 1987, the external appearance of the cathedral had been restored (in accordance to the 1841 version), and the cupolas were rebuilt. The central cupola was once again gilded.
In 1995, thanks to the conscientious work of Mintimer Shaimiev, the cathedral was given to the Kazan Kremlin museum park, and two years later the state archive was removed to a new building. The next stage in the restoration was completed only in 2005, to mark the 450-th anniversary of the Kazan Diocese, and the first liturgy was led by Patriarch Alexy II.