View over the Church of the Nativity of St John the Bapist and the Imperial Palace.The legend has it that the Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist on Bor (pine hill) was the first Christian temple of Moscow. Approximately built in the 12th century, the wooden church was erected in the place of an ancient pagan temple. Such a practice was common at the time of the first christening of Russian tribes. The following fact serves as an indirect confirmation of this idea. In the mid-19th century, the church was rebuilt and there were found numerous bones of different animals under the floor of a stone altar, which could have been the remains of pagan sacrifices. The dedication of the church to St John the Baptist points at his connection with the pagan personage Kupala, whose celebration was on the eve of the saint’s day. 

Basing on the chroniclers’ note, the location of the church amid the pine woodland, that used to cover the Borovitsky Hill, could explain the term ‘on Bor’, added to the title of the church. 

According to chronicles, the wooden Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist on Bor had become synodical in the 14th century under the Metropolitan Peter. It was situated in the metropolitan’s court that was at that time on the top of the Kremlin Hill, not far from the Borovitskaya Tower.

In 1461, under the rule of Vasily II, a new stone church with a ground floor and a similar name was built. During this period, the territory by the Borovitskie Gates belonged to the court of the grand prince and the temple turned to be on its household part.

On the left - Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, in front – the Borovitskaya Tower, on the right – the Stables Court.The western façade of the Kremlin Palace with a superstructure of 1823, the Church of St John the Baptist is on the left.

After the grand fire of 1493, the church collapsed and, in 1508, under Vasily III, it was rebuilt in brick by Italian master Aloisio the New.

Starting from 1564, the church is mentioned together with the side chapel of St Varus that commemorated Prince Dmitry, who was called Varus at his birth.

The images of the temple on the maps of Moscow and the Kremlin of the late 16th – early 17th centuries are contradictory. However, in the majority of cases, its walls end up with three gables, the central cupola with a drum on the tented roof or without it is above the middle one. The side articulations are also crowned with small tented roofs or cupolas.

In 1737, the building suffered a fire, after which it was reconstructed by architect Ivan Michurin.

The watercolour of the early 1800s depicts the church with a roof of eight slopes, each façade crowned with a small gable. The central drum above the roof is topped by a dome with a small cupola. The church apses are covered with one rooftop. The pilasters divide the façades into three stack stands vertically, and two cornices divide them horizontally. A refectory with a small two-tier belfry on the rooftop adjoins the church from the West.

Designs and drawings of the first quarter of the 19th century picture the church already without a refectory and belfry. A porch was added to the western entrance. The church stands on a high basement, surrounded by a gallery with a stairway at the southwestern corner. A flat-arched side chapel with a semicircular apse and cupola on the drum adjoins the temple from the southern side.

Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. The western façade.Church of St John the Baptist, plan, section.Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist on Bor.

Studying the iconography of the building, which had existed up to the middle of the 19th century, the scientists came to the conclusion that fundamentally the temple of the early 15th century byAloisio the New had been preserved. A square solid church 10x10 metres with three prominent apses had four inner cross-shaped pillars, typical for the monuments of the early 16th century. The interior decoration with elements of the order system is similar to the one of the Archangel Cathedral, which was created at the same time and by the same author.

A simplified order system was also used on the façades of the building. The profiled cornice divided the façade into two tiers. Initially, three arched gables, also separated from the walls by a cornice, crowned each façade. The roofing of the temple upon the arched gables must have been original.

The preserved images of the church tell about its numerous reconstructions, the last one was obviously after 1812.

In 1847, when a new Kremlin Palace was built, the temple, called the church of St Varus at that time, was dismantled upon the order of Emperor Nicholas I since it disturbed the view over a newly built palace from the Zamoskvorechie district. The amateurs of ancientry tried to save the sanctuary from the destruction. They thought that the Kremlin panorama had become poorer after the church had been pulled down.

After the church was dismantled, the altar table of St John the Baptist was transferred to the Borovitskaya Tower, while the side chapel of St Varus was arranged in the Archangel Cathedral.

View over the Palace and the Cathedral Square from the East, the Church of St John the Baptist is on the left.