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Retro Japan: Nearly 120-yr-old Russian Orthodox church stands tall in old Kyoto

The iconostasis screen with its 30 religious icons including one of the Last Supper is seen inside the Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church in Kyoto's Nakagyo Ward on Dec. 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Takao Kitamura)=Click/tap photo for more images.

KYOTO -- The sight of the Russian-Byzantine-style Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church, nestled in a Nakagyo Ward neighborhood of Japan's ancient capital Kyoto, is a thing of beauty.

    The 22.3-meter-tall bell tower at the Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church is seen in Kyoto's Nakagyo Ward on Dec. 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Takao Kitamura)=Click/tap photo for more images.

    The "annunciation" in the name of the church -- the oldest surviving full-scale wooden Orthodox church in the country -- refers to the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she would have a son through a virgin birth.

    The structure was designed by Kyoto Prefecture architect Shigemitsu Matsumuro and completed in 1903, based on sample plans given by Nicholas of Japan, a Russian Orthodox missionary. Viewed from above it is in the shape of a cross, has a 22.3-meter-tall bell tower, and the cupola is adorned with a small onion dome.

    A solemn atmosphere prevails within, created by the iconostasis -- a screen bearing religious icons -- with 30 of the artworks, including of the Last Supper, all imported from Russia. The iconostasis delineates the nave from the sanctuary, where the priest prays.

    The church has come through some hard times. In the late days of World War II, the church bell was taken by the government for the metal, and the iconostasis was damaged during preparations to move it for fear the church would be burned down in an air raid. In recent years, it has drawn many Russians and other eastern Europeans to its hushed interior.

    (Japanese original by Takao Kitamura, Osaka Photo Department)

    The door to the enlightenment hall -- a space for the unbaptized to pray -- is seen in the Holy Annunciation Orthodox Church in Kyoto's Nakagyo Ward on Dec. 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Takao Kitamura)=Click/tap photo for more images.

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    The Japanese version of this article was originally published on Jan. 23, 2022.

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    This series explores Japan's architectural wonders and secrets of yesteryear. Read more Retro Japan articles here.

    Retro Japan in Photos: Russian Orthodox church in Kyoto projects solemn beauty

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