The Silver Shrine of St Alexander Nevsky: Sarcophagus

Russia, St Petersburg, 1746-1751

The silver shrine of St Alexander Nevsky is a masterpiece of the Russian art of jewellery. This monument was created between 1746 and 1752 to glorify the patron saint of St Petersburg following Empress Elizabeth Petrovna's decree, to a design developed by the court artists Georg Christoph Grooth and Louis Caravaque. Involved in the work were the best woodcarvers and silversmiths of the period.
The shrine is composed of a silver sarcophagus, two decorative groups of military trophies, two candlesticks and a large five-tier pyramid. The sarcophagus is embellished with an embossed Baroque ornament and bas-reliefs depicting Alexander Nevsky's victories over the Swedes on the Neva in 1240, liberation of Pskov in 1242 and his triumph over the German warriors on Lake Peipus (Battle on the Ice) in 1242. Its sides are adorned with reliefs showing Alexander Nevsky's arrival in the Gorodets Monastery and his death in 1263. Fitted in the shrine was a wooden reliquary (1694-1695) with the relics of St Alexander Nevsky. In 1724, after the end of the Great Northern War (1700-1721), Peter the Great issued a decree to move it to the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery from the Nativity of the Mother of God Monastery in Vladimir. The shields supported by the angels on the pyramid bear inscriptions compiled by Mikhail Lomonosov: “To GOD the Almighty and to His faithful servant, the Sainted Grand Prince ALEXANDER NEVSKY, zealous protector of the Russians, who scorned the threats of the tormentor.”
The inscription on the left one states that the relics of St Alexander Nevsky, “who tamed barbarism in the East and overthrew jealousy in the West”, were transferred by Peter the Great “to the place of the old and new victories” (meaning to the Neva banks). According to the inscription on the right shield, the shrine was erected by Empress Elizabeth Petrovna out of the first silver mined under her blessed reign' in 1750.
Initially placed in the St Alexander Nevsky Church, the shrine was later moved to the Holy Trinity Cathedral built in 1790. In 1922, after the October revolution, the silver shrine of St Alexander Nevsky faced the risk of remelting. A struggle to preserve it was initiated by museum representatives, notably Sergey Troynitsky, Director of the Hermitage Museum, Nikolay Sychev, Director of the Russian Museum, and Alexandre Benois, Hermitage curator, whose collective efforts saved it from destruction. In the same year the shrine was handed over to the Hermitage Museum for permanent storage, while the relics were sent to Moscow (to return to the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery in 1989).
In 1930 the issue of remelting the shrine was brought up anew, with Sergey Troynitsky contributing to its preservation for future generations. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) the shrine of St Alexander Nevsky was evacuated to Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg) along with other Hermitage exhibits. After making its way back to the museum, it was put in the Concert Hall of the Winter Palace in 1949.
On 10 May 2023, the State Hermitage and the Alexander Nevsky Monastery of the Holy Trinity concluded an agreement on the transfer of the memorial complex of the tomb of Alexander Nevsky for use for a limited time without compensation. The State Hermitage is handing over the memorial for a period of 49 years with the possibility of further extension. The document has been approved and agreed by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. The tomb is the property of the state and a part of the Museum Fund of the Russian Federation.


The Silver Shrine of St Alexander Nevsky: Sarcophagus

Place of creation:



embossing, engraving, riveting, grinding


266х123 cm; silver weight ca. 1500 kg

Acquisition date:

Entered the Hermitage in 1922; handed over by the All-Russian Public Committee for Relief for Starving; originally in the Saint Alexander Nevsky Lavra

Inventory Number: