St. Petersburg restoration specialists offer to help China restore its Orthodox Churches

Restoration specialists in St. Petersburg are ready, willing and able to help restore the Orthodox churches of Shanghai built by Russian emigrants in the early 20th century, reports TASS Russian news agency. TASS received this information from Xenia Cherepanova, the head of the press service Committee for state control, use, and preservation of cultural and historical monuments.

The need for restoration work on the churches was recently discussed by the head of the Committee Sergei Markov and the Russian consul general of Shanghai Alexander Evsikov. They also discussed the possibility of returning the churches to their original use—church services. These churches include the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker and the Cathedral of the Icon of the Mother of God, “Suretey of Sinners.”

Xenia Cherepanova explained that the St. Petersburg specialists are concerned about the churches’ condition, since they have been used for several decades for other purposes very different from their original ones, and they are ready to offer assistance in bringing them back into good condition. “In China there is neither the experience nor the desire to properly restore European buildings, never mind Orthodox churches. We are ready to develop a project for scientific restoration, including methods and technology, and are ready to assist with qualified specialists,” Cherepanova said.

According to the specialists’ preliminary assessment, the church buildings are in satisfactory condition but need repairs and restoration of the original features. Cherepanova reported that there are, of course, no crosses. The façade is not in bad shape since the climate in Shangai is not harsh. The specialists have not been given access to the interior of the churches, but travellers have mentioned that the wall paintings were covered with whitewash and temporary room dividers have been set up, which can most likely be removed.

The churches of Shanghai

After the October revolution of 1917, many Russians immigrated to Shanghai. In 1935 they built the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker as a military-parish church, which received the status of a monument to the Emperor Nicholas II. The second cathedral, dedicated to the Icon of the Mother of God “Surety of Sinners” was the cathedral church of the Shanghai diocese of the Chinese Orthodox Church. The construction was completed during the bishopric of St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai.

In 1955, the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was closed. A laundry was set up inside it, then a storage facility, and in the late 1990s the cathedral narthex was turned into a restaurant and nightclub. In 1965, the Chinese government closed all Orthodox churches in Shanghai, and the buildings attached to the church were nationalized.

According the Committee’s information, in 2002 the Russian Club in Shanghai with the support of the General Consulate of Russia organized the collection of signatures on a petition to relocate the entertainment establishments out of the St. Nicholas Church and “Surety of Sinners” Cathedral. The Russian Club’s request, supported by the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church, was partially granted, but the churches remain closed for services.