The church was built in the 12th century on a low-lying meadow at the confluence of the Nerl and Klyazma rivers. The location was chosen by Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky himself. According to a Russian legend, the prince ordered the church to be built to commemorate his slain son Izyaslav, and its construction was finished within one year.
The area is flooded every spring as waters rise by more than three meters, and so special precautions were taken when the church was being built. Builders initially laid a stone foundation at a depth of more than 1.5 meters (five feet), on which they constructed four-meter (13-foot) walls. The builders filled these walls with tightly packed soil and created an artificial mound around them. On this artificial hill the church itself was built.
During spring flooding, waters rise up almost to the foot of the building, making it look like it is standing on a small island. The church is built in white stone, and its elongated proportions make it look slender and light.