Church Made into a Swimming Pool?

In August I had the chance to visit one of the oldest and largest churches in St. Petersburg - the Lutheran Church of St. Peter and St. Paul on our main street Nevsky Prospect. Known by most as the German Lutheran Church, this congregation was started in the early 1800s by (you guessed it) German immigrants. By 1917, St. Peter Lutheran Church had 15,000 members.

And then the Revolution took place... All Lutherans in the city were persecuted and the churches basically dismantled during the next fifteen years. The Soviet government took over the buildings turning some into barns, granaries, movie theaters, and concert halls. St. Peter's had a different purpose in its future. They turned this church into a swimming pool for high-dive competitions.

Showing how deep the pool is
The church used to have the main floor worship area and two balconies to hold all the worshippers before 1917. When the Soviets took over the church, they built a huge concrete swimming pool from the basement up through the main floor and into the first balcony level. It had to be deep for the divers.

Bleachers in balcony
In the late 1990s, the church was returned to the congregation, including the emptied pool. The German Lutherans built a floor back in the church at the level that the pool water used to be. They now have room for only one balcony. And if you look carefully at the picture on the right, that balcony is filled with bleachers from the diving competitions yet. The church can't afford to replace them with church pews.

Outside of the cement pool
I was able to tour the basement area with the concrete swimming pool still there. How would a church ever be able to remove all that cement from the basement?

Bottom beams of the pool.

 The church now opens this under the pool area to visitors to show what the Soviets did to their worship space. The gigantic cement albatross sits about two feet off the basement floor with the supporting cement beams lit in spotlights.

Inside the former swimming pool
Shallow end of the pool
Young people have made the most of things and have decorated it with pictures and sayings. Maybe that's their way of fighting back against the repressive government of the past.

The youth group now use the inside of the pool area as a theater to show plays or art displays. Access to the inside of the pool has been cut through the thick cement with added staircases for safety.
Thickness of the cement around the pool

The church has dreams of restoring St. Peters to its original worship space. In reality, that is unlikely to happen. It is hard to fathom the amount of money that would be needed to demolish and discard the massive walls of this intrusion into their church. The Soviets did a great job of ruining something that was dedicated to God.

The Germans are using their situation to spread the Gospel to Russians who come to tour their church, however. I'll share more next week about this.


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