The Cathedral of St Sophia in Novgorod was completed in 1050. Many online sources note that the style bears resemblance to the Western European Romanesque style. Is it possible that knowledge of this style managed to make its way to Novgorod or is it more likely that the similarities were a coincidence?

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    I would suggest finding other references that describe the church as Romanesque; the Russian version of that same Wikipedia page describes the cathedral as Byzantine style.
    – SPavel
    Commented May 18 at 20:25
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    The (much better) source you added would almost seem to answer the question? You can self answer your own question.
    – justCal
    Commented May 19 at 11:49
  • No, this is not a coincidence. This architectural style penetrated to Rus from Constantinople as a result of baptism. First it penetrated Kyiv, and then quickly spread to the rest of the territory controlled by Rus.
    – Alex
    Commented May 19 at 14:08
  • The first such church was built in Kyiv: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Tithes, unfortunately it does not survive, except some part of the foundation. See a better picture in the Ukrainian Wikipedia.
    – Alex
    Commented May 19 at 14:12

1 Answer 1


I'm not finding any recent English sources that answer this conclusively. As one expert puts it in an article about an icon found at Novgorod, "the issue of contact with the Romanesque West has always been marked by constant and desperate disputes." (Interestingly, that article traces possible Western influence by way of Jerusalem.) But a lot of the relevant research on both sides is in Russian and I will have to leave that for someone else to dive into.

In a 1934 lecture, the art historian Samuel Cross directly asserts that there are "western influences" that can be seen in the 11th century construction of Saint Sophia, but he doesn't provide direct evidence for this. He notes the famous Magdeburg doors covered with bronze plates made Germany in the 12th century (but which may have been installed at Saint Sophia as late as the 15th century). He also states that fourteenth-century churches in the same region were based on German models, and that "artizans from abroad cooperated in" building a Gothic-style palace at Novgorod in 1433. However, Cross never quite explains why he is convinced that the design of Saint Sophia specifically shows Western Romanesque influence, though clearly such transmission did happen in later centuries.

The question overlooks a third possibility which to me seems the most obvious possibility: not diffusion from the West nor coincidence, but a common root. Without a doubt, early medieval Russia was influenced by Byzantium. As the name Romanesque implies, it looked to the ancient Roman tradition and was not radically innovative (as key elements of Gothic construction were). Thus I would hesitate to accept or Cross' interpretation without strong evidence.

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