The bell tower of the Cathedral of the Epiphany is famous for its magnificent décor and is far more famous than the church next to which it was built. It serves as a monument to perseverance through faith. Its construction, which required four years and nearly two million bricks, also demanded great humility.
The bell tower of the Cathedral of the Epiphany is the tallest of Kazan’s historical buildings. The 74-meter tower literally overshadows the Cathedral of the Epiphany, which is part of the entire holy ensemble.
First guild merchant and honorary citizen of Kazan Ivan Krivonosov, who also served as the elder of the large Orthodox parish in the city, allocated funds for the construction of the bell tower.
Although the patron of the project is known, the question of who designed and built the bell tower is still somewhat controversial. According to some sources, the bell tower was designed and built by architect Genrikh Rush, although others contend that Mikhail Mikhailov served as the architect and manager of the project. Disputes concerning authorship stretch back to 1896, when the original draft of the project was sent as an exhibit to the All-Russian Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod, where it mysteriously vanished without a trace.
The construction of the bell tower began in 1893 with the laying of the foundation and ended only in 1897 with the removal of the last scaffolding. Nearly two million bricks were used to build the bell tower, as well as a lot more money, although most of the bell tower’s budget was spent on its décor.
The fanciful decoration of the bell tower far exceeded that of the Cathedral of the Epiphany or any other Orthodox building erected in Kazan. The decorations were inspired by Old Russian motifs, though they were reproduced with what at the time was a modern material, red bricks.
In the early 20th century, the bell tower was damaged by a lightning strike, which punctured a large hole in the side of the tower and set the ceiling of the third tier on fire. There was no serious damage, though. The tower was repaired and a lightning rod installed on its top.
In 1902, a chapel opened on the second floor of the bell tower. In 1904 it was dedicated to the memory of the third acquisition of the actual head of St. John the Baptist. A church shop was located on the first floor. There was also a special and rather large hall for “interviews” with Old Believers. This term, common in the business world, described an important event for the Orthodox community, when parishioners met with Old Believers in an attempt to overcome centuries of division between the different branches of Orthodoxy.
In the 20th century, the bell tower was declared an architectural monument. Currently it is home to an exhibition hall of ancient Russian art as part of the Republic of Tatarstan’s State Museum of Fine Arts. On the second tier of the bell tower is an open chamber choir named for F. I. Chaliapin, the great singer who was baptized in the Cathedral of the Epiphany as a child.