Kazan, Russia

  • Date
  • 23 August 1999

Kazan is the capital of the Tatar Autonymous Region. Since this city remained intact during World War II, beautiful pre-Revolutionary architecture still stands. No old mosques remain, though, since the 16th century czar demanded all mosques destroyed. As well he said all Muslims must convert to Christianity and be baptized. Many Tatars refused. All their property was taken from them.

The restored Cathedral of St. Paul and Peter, built in the 1700s after Peter the Great visited Kazan, is extraordinary with a wall lined by scores of pictures reflecting the stages of Christ’s life. The priest in the cathedral allowed me to take photographs after I pled repeatedly. After taking perhaps five shots, I was stopped by one of the church babushkas. I pointed to the door where I’d seen the priest depart and tried to explain through sign language that he had given me approval to photograph the wonderful cathedral. She was adamant that I stop, but still I continued shooting photos. Then the older woman forced the camera from my face, guaranteeing I took not another photograph. She startled me with her blow. Finally, a young 20-something Russian man explained that the priest had given me permission. The babushka said I must ask God for permission, not the priest, and I should ask forgiveness for my actions. The young Russian spoke to her again and finally the self-appointed church enforcer went away and tended to other church matters.

One of the things I keep asking myself as I enter these extraordinary cathedrals is why the people in them are so reluctant to let people photograph inside. If a service is underway, I do not ask permission. But otherwise, I do not understand. Why not share with the world such beauty reflecting deep devotion to God? Without fail when I ask why I am not allowed to photograph, they never have a reason.