The Gothic Chapel
In 1829, after the building of the Cottage Palace had been completed, there arose a necessity to build a domestic church. The place for the future chapel was chosen by Nicholas I in the western part of Alexandria. He commissioned a design of the church from Karl-Friedrich Schinkel, a major nineteenth-century German architect. The construction of the church began in 1830 under the supervision of Adam Menelaws who was succeeded by Joseph Charlemagne. In the summer of 1834 the construction work was finished and on 3 July the church was consecrated to Grand Prince St Alexander Nevsky. The church has been commonly known as the Gothic Chapel because of its distinctly medieval architectural design.
The church is a small building, square in plan, with similar fronts completed with parapets, pierced rosette windows and lancet portals and decorated with the wrought-iron lacework of Gothic ornaments. It has the chancel projection with a tetrahedral apse on the east side.
The eight towers with spires are crowned with gilded Orthodox crosses. The fronts of the building are adorned with forty-three figures of saints produced from embossed copper after models by the sculptor Vasily Demuth-Malinovsky.
The wooden doors of the church lead directly to the hall. The carved and gilded single-tier iconostasis separates the chancel from the church hall. The choice and positioning of the icons conform to the canons of the Orthodox Church. Thus, the wings of the Holy Doors bear the traditional subjects of The Annunciation and The Four Evangelists; in the local tier, the image of the Saviour is at the right of the Holy Doors and that of the Virgin is at the left. The northern, deacon's door has the icon of the Archangel Michael, and the southern door bears the church icon of St Alexander Nevsky. Over the Holy Doors is the round central image of The Last Supper. The painting of the iconostasis as well as the altarpiece The Resurrection were produced by Timofei Neff in 1833. In the 1860s two copies from Neff's paintings, The Angel of Prayer and The Angel at the Tomb of God, produced on glass by the artist of the Imperial Glass Works G. Vasilyev, were set into the rosettes over the deacon's door.
Although the Chapel is an Orthodox church, the decoration of its interior is sustained in the Gothic style. The design of the iconostasis is based on lancet arches and traditional wall-paintings are replaced with stained-glass windows.
In 1834 the Chapel was provided with the church-plate produced by Russian jewellers and marked by a stylistic unity with its overall architectural design. Numerous icons were an indispensable part of the interior. Several generations of the Imperial family brought to the Chapel the holy images presented to them by official establishments, societies and private individuals. Unfortunately, these icons have not survived.
The Gothic Chapel was the private possession of the Romanov House. Every year, on arrival of His and Her Majesties to Peterhof, the church got alive. The divine liturgy was held there regularly on Sundays and festive days. Services were invariably ordered after any successful private enterprise, before and after travels and before wedding. The church was the venue for the marriages of the maids of honour to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. The services were performed by the protopresbyters and presbyters of the court churches of the SS Peter and Paul at the Great Peterhof Palace and the Church of the Vernicle in the Winter Palace.
The nineteenth century saw no major alterations in the Gothic Chapel. Its inner décor, however, was badly damaged during the Second World War. After restoration in 1997-98 the Gothic Chapel has regained its former appearance, with its fine iconostasis and stained-glass windows. The church has been revived today not only as a unique architectural monument but as an Orthodox relic too.
Not far from the Chapel is the burial place of the Peterhof master gardener Peter Ehrler. He supervised in the 1830s to 1850s the laying out of numerous Peterhof gardens and parks including those of Alexandria. Ehrler died in 1857 and was buried at Old Peterhof at the Cemetery of the Holy Trinity. In 1970 his body was transferred to the area of Alexandria.