In the 14th century, Metropolitan Peter persuaded Ivan I (Ivan Kalita) that he should build a cathedral to the Holy Virgin in Moscow like the Cathedral of the Dormition in the capital city Vladimir. Construction of the cathedral began on August 4, 1326, and the cathedral was ended and sanctified on August 4, 1327. In that time Moscow became the capital of the Vladimir-Suzdal' principality, and later of all Rus.
Dormition cathedral of Ivan Kalita. Reconstruction by Sergey Zagraevsky
By the end of the 15th century the old cathedral had become dilapidated, and in 1472 the Moscow architects Kryvtsov and Myshkin began construction of a new cathedral. Two years later, the building was nearing completion when it suddenly collapsed because of an earthquake — an extremely rare event in Moscow.
Ivan III then invited Aristotele Fioravanti, a celebrated architect and engineer from Bologna, Italy, to come to Moscow and entrusted him with the task of building the cathedral from scratch in the traditions of Russian architecture. The cathedral in Vladimir was once again taken as a model for the building, and so Fioravanti travelled to Vladimir in order to study Russian methods of building. He designed a light and spacious masterpiece that combined the spirit of the Renaissance with Russian traditions.
The foundation for the new cathedral was laid in 1475, and in 1479 the new cathedral was consecrated by Metropolitan Geronty. The interiour was painted with frescoes and adorned with many holy images, including Theotokos of Vladimir and the Blachernitissa.
In 1547 the coronation of the first Russian Tsar, Ivan the Terrible, took place in this cathedral. From 1721 it was the scene of the coronation of the Russian emperors. The ritual installation of metropolitans and patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church also took place in this cathedral, and their tombs are to be found here. The patriarchate was abolished by Peter the Great and only restored after February Revolution of 1917.
On November 21, 1917 the cathedral was the setting for the installation of Tikhon (Belavin), the Moscow metropolitan, as patriarch. Subsequently he was canonized. After the transfer of the Bolshevik government to Moscow, services in the Kremlin cathedrals were prohibited. It was only with Lenin's special permission that the final Easter service was held in 1918. The final moments of this Easter service was the subject of an unfinished painting by Pavel Korin entitled Farewell to Rus.
There is a legend that in the winter of 1941, when the Nazis had already reached the threshold of Moscow, Joseph Stalin secretly ordered a service to be held in the Dormition Cathedral to pray for the country's salvation from the invading Germans. In 1990 the Dormition Cathedral was returned to the church, although a large museum still operates within it.