Wednesday, March 13, 2013

St. Basil's Cathedral Models

We learned about Russian architecture, and Sebby (especially) just LOVED the Russian Orthodox churches---especially St. Basil's Cathedral. He devoured every scrap of information we could get about it. So I thought and thought about how we could possibly make our own onion-dome models. The only ideas I could find online were just 2-D or involved modeling clay, which I didn't have on hand (and didn't want to buy). I spent hours trying to think of a solution, because I just felt like we HAD to do this. Finally I found instructions for making these paper ornaments, and I thought the beads and curls on top of them looked sort of like Russian Orthodox crosses:
This type of ornament is pretty easy to make, but it did take much trial and error before we really figured it out. Our biggest problem was trying to use wire and ribbon to lace the strips of paper onto. It was just too slippery and the paper wouldn't stay put. Once we started using pipe cleaners, it became MUCH less frustrating for everyone. Abe and Seb were able to make the "domes" with no help from me (after the first ones). Malachi could help me fan out the paper and choose the beads and slide them on. Daisy just watched and TRIED to do things. :)      

So, we just made a bunch of the round paper ornaments on pipe cleaners with beads on top. (You can slide the papers up and down the pipe cleaners to adjust the curvature of your domes.) We left long tails on the pipe cleaners so we could string them through the toilet paper tubes to form towers. Then we taped the towers on top of boxes to make the cathedrals.

Abe's model

I think these models turned out really awesome, but I should point out that for Sebby, their accuracy was not really sufficient. He first of all really wanted to make his favorite dome, which he calls the "Peppermint Dome" (you see it prominently in the picture below):
One of one-million depictions of the cathedral that Sebby drew

I told him we didn't have a way to make horizontal stripes, only vertical ones, and that would have to be close enough. He tried steadfastly to come up with a way:
but he wasn't satisfied with this, so he reluctantly conceded that point.

Then, he was unhappy with the shape of our (mostly spherical) domes. They did not, as he pointed out several times, have the characteristic of "convex, then concave" that true onion domes exhibit. (Neither do the domes of the Taj Mahal, which makes them less appealing, Sebby opines.) We had another book which showed how onion domes were constructed, with vertical struts inside and overlapping shingles on the outer supports. Seb tried to construct a "true" onion dome using this book as reference, with the result below:
This looked good, but it was very time-consuming, and Seb was unable to come up with a way to cover the outside so it could be decorated.

So, in the end, he settled for the original version. And he did try to stay as faithful to the real colors as possible (though he was forced to adapt them somewhat). He also made a taller support to more accurately depict the middle gold dome. And he was pleased with the results. But he couldn't help saying to me wistfully several times, "I wish we could have made REAL onion domes for our models . . . " Poor guy.


  1. Hi, I love these! The link for how to make the domes on the top is broken - could you please give me a brief explanation?

    1. Argh, I hate it when links go away! :( Here is another that will hopefully work.
      We did it basically as shown there, but instead of two brads threaded through the holes, we used one long piece of pipe cleaner going through both holes. (So the pipe cleaner ends up being like a fireman pole in the middle of your sphere.) Then we used beads on the pipe cleaner to keep the strips from sliding up or down, and twisted the ends of the pipe cleaner to hold the beads in place. Does that make sense? It sounds more complicated than it is. :)
      Good luck and let me know if you have trouble!


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