Monasteries and Convents

The Danilov Monastery

Since 1983, the Danilov Monastery has been the official residence of the Russian Patriarch and the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church. It also holds claim to being the oldest monastery in Moscow, founded in 1282, although its checkered history and current importance give it a quite modern air.

The Danilov Monastery

The monastery takes its name from its founder, Prince Daniil Aleksandrovich, the youngest son of the great Novogorod ruler Aleksander Nevsky, who was the first prince of the then tiny principality of Moscow from 1276 to 1303. He was canonized in the 17th Century. His son, Ivan I, moved the monastery, its icons and its monks, to the Kremlin in 1330, and it wasn't until the reign of Ivan IV (the Terrible) that the Danilov Monastery became active again, mostly as a defensive structure.

The oldest building in the monastery today is the Cathedral of the Holy Fathers, which dates from 1565 and holds the remains of St. Daniil, and icons of him and of Our Lady of Vladimir painted around the time of the church's construction. The Cathedral has a complex structure, divided into several parts, including two chapels and a refectory. The exterior is painted white, with green roofs and gold cupolas. The main church in the monastery, however, is the 1838 Trinity Cathedral, an imposing neoclassical building by Osip Bove, the chief architect of Moscow's reconstruction after the Napoleonic Wars.

The monastery has several times in its history been at the centre of fighting. In 1591, the armies of the Crimean Tartar Khan were defeated beneath its walls. Twenty years later, the monastery was set on fire by the second False Dimitriy, and the walls and many of the buildings had to be entirely rebuilt. The French invaders of 1812 took St. Daniil's silver tabernacle, and desecrated the church interiors. The greatest damage, however, was done after the Revolution.

The Bolshevik government began to close the monastery's churches when it came to power. However, the monks continued their work until 1930, when a youth detention centre was established on the site. The monastery was reconstructed, many of the original buildings were either demolished or fundamentally altered, and the monastery graveyard - which included the tombs of Nikolai Gogol and the great Moscow pianist and composer Nikolai Rubinstein - was destroyed.

In 1983, the monastery became the first to be returned to the Church by the Soviet government. A major reconstruction project began and, five years later, the seat of the Patriarch and the Holy Synod was transferred here from the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergei. Many of the buildings which are now contained in the monastery are recent additions, including the Residence of the Patriarch and the Millenium Chapel (1988 was the thousandth anniversary of Christianity in Russia). Restored buildings include the late eighteenth Gate-Church of St. Simeon, through which visitors enter the monastery, and which was pulled down in 1920. Its bells were sold to Harvard University, where they are still used - the Orthodox Church is trying hard to have them returned.

The  Novospassky Monastery

The Novospassky - or New Savior - Monastery lays claim to be the oldest in Moscow. This Monastery gets its name from the fact that it was originally located inside the Kremlin in the 14th Century and, possibly, before that occupied the sight of the modern Danilov Monastery. The monastery moved to the new site, on the banks of the Mocow, in 1491 on the orders of Ivan the Great.

The Novospassky Monastery

No structures from that period have survived. The monastery came under the patronage of the Sheremetev and Romanov boyars, and benefited from a complete overhaul when Mikhail Romanov became Tsar in 1612.

The central structure of the monastery, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior, dates from 1645, although in style it is most closely related too much earlier buildings such as the Kremlin Cathedral of the Assumption, on which it was partially modelled, as evidenced by its vast arched gables and helmet-shaped domes. The fine frescoes inside are original, and depict in detail the Romanov genealogical claim to the Tsar's throne, juxtaposing it with the descent of the Kings of Israel. Sadly, they are in chronic need of restoration. Annexed to the cathedral are two later structures, the two-tiered Church of the Veil of the Virgin (1675), which housed the monastery's refectory, and the neoclassical Church of the Sign (1795), which was erected by the Sheremetev family as their private tomb.

From the same period as the cathedral are the infirmary Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker and the house of Patriarch Filaret, who was in fact Mikhail Romanov's father, an influential politician forced to take holy orders by Boris Godunov. After Mikhail was elected Tsar by the boyars, Filaret returned to Moscow and ruled in tandem with his son, personally taking responsibility for reforming and improving the taxation system and pressing the claims of the church.

The other prominent building in the monastery is the vast bell tower through which visitors enter. Built between 1759 and 1785 by architect Ivan Zherebtsov, it has a wealth of late baroque ornamentation, and three of its four tiers demonstrate the different types of Greek column: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.

The small white chapel just north of the bell-tower contains the remains of a former nun of the Ivanovskiy Convent, Sister Inokinya Dosieeya, who is presumed to have been the illegitimate daughter of Empress Elizaveta and Count Razumovskiy. Although she probably spent most of her life in a convent, her identity was adopted by the elusive Princess Tarkanova, heroine of opera and cinema in the 1930's, a Polish imposter who was supposedly seduced by Count Orlov and lured back to Russia, only to be delivered to his mistress, Catherine the Great. The identification of Sister Inokinya as the real daughter would explain her burial here in the Romanov family cemetery.

The monastery was ransacked by Napoleon's troops, and suffered a variety of indignities under the Soviets, of which its penal role was the most abhorrent, but which also included time as an orphanage, a furniture workshop, and a 'rehab' centre for alcoholics. It was turned into a museum in 1968, and eventually returned to the church in 1991. Restoration is on-going, but the monastery remains fairly ragged from rough usage. This, combined with the low number of visitors and relative emptiness of the monastery, gives the place a tranquil charm of its own.

Novodevichy Convent

Founded in 1524 by Grand Duke Vasily III to celebrate the recapture of Smolensk from the Lithuanians, the Novodevichy Convent is one of the most beautiful sights in Moscow. It is particularly notable for its architectural harmony of which its position, on the banks of the Moskva River, allows excellent views. The convent is also famous for its New Cemetery, which became the most prestigious in the city in the last century and the final resting place for a number of great cultural and political figures, including Chekhov and Shostakovich.

Novodevichy Convent

The postcard loveliness belies the Convent's original function as one of the ring of fortresses that guarded the outskirts of the medieval city. Novedichy was positioned strategically to protect the main southern access road to the city at the point where it crossed the Moskva. The convent has enjoyed a prominent place throughout its history, in part as a repository for powerful and troublesome women, most famously the Regent Sophia, Peter the Great's half-sister, who did much to rebuild the convent in the 1680's before being confined here after the streltsy revolted in support of her in 1698. During Napoleon's invasion, the monastery weathered French efforts to blow it to pieces, thanks to some quick-thinking nuns who managed to extinguish the fuses on casks of gunpowder after the soldiers had fled. The convent also made notable appearances in 19th Century fiction, as the site of Pierre's proposed execution in War and Peace, and as the meeting place for Lyovin and Kitty in Anna Karenina (the Maiden Field, below the convent walls, was Moscow's most fashionable skating rink, frequented by Tolstoy).

After the Revolution, the Convent was turned into the Museum of the Emancipation of Women, but suffered less than many of its counterparts, and was one of the first to be returned to the Church in the patriotic fervor that followed victory in 1945. Nuns did not return here until 1994, however, and it is still much more of a tourist attraction than a working religious institution - for which we can only be grateful considering the wealth of treasures to be seen.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk is the oldest, and the most important, building in the convent. It was built at the time of the Convent's founding, although its dazzling onion domes were added over a century later. The interior is also impressive, with glorious frescoes dating from 1684 and painted by Dmitry Grigorev of Yaroslavl. There is also a fine five-tiered iconostasis dating from the same period, but in fact brought from the Assumption Church in Pokrovka, which was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.

Most of the other buildings of note date from Regent Sophia's time, including the red and white Church of the Assumption and the neighboring refectory, the soaring bell-tower and the north and south gate churches, all of which display variations of the same Moscow Baroque style, making the Convent one of the most resplendent examples of the period.

The cemetery next-door is well worth visiting also, not just to pay homage to the great and good buried here - Chekhov, Bulgakov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Eisenstein and Stanislavsky, to name but a few - but also to marvel at the extraordinary granite and metal monstrosities that crown the graves of various politicians and military commanders of the Soviet era. It is a fascinating experience.

The Andronikov Monastery

This medieval monastery, located on the banks of the Yauza River, contains the oldest surviving church in Moscow, and is perhaps most famous as the home and final resting place of the great 15th Century icon painter, Andrei Rublev, who is commemorated in the Museum of Ancient Russian Art.

The Andronikov Monastery

The Andronikov Monastery was founded in 1357 by Metrapolitan Alexei, and takes its name from its first hegumen (Orthodox abbot), St. Andronik. The Savior Cathedral, which was completed in 1427, became Moscow's oldest stone structure after the destruction of the Savior Cathedral in the Wood in the 1930's. It is a simple but attractive structure of pale brick, with layers of kokoshniki leading up to a green helmet-shaped dome. The interior was originally decorated with frecoes by Andrei Rublev and Daniil Cherniy, but only fragments have survived.

Opposite the Savior Cathedral stands the Refectory, a two-storey, tent-roofed structure built under Ivan the Terrible between 1504 and 1506. Joined to it is the Church of the Archangel Michael, which was begun in 1694 as a private chapel for the Lopukhin family. It took nearly forty years to complete after Yevdokiya Lopukhina, first wife of Peter the Great, fell from favor with the Tsar and was banished to a convent. To prevent them causing trouble, Peter had her family exiled to Siberia. This ensemble of buildings was once crowned by a magnificent neoclassical bell tower that, tragically, was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1929.

The monastery was, from its inception, a centre of book copying in Moscow. An impressive archive of manuscripts was kept there, but most were destroyed, either by fire in 1748 or by Napoleon's troops in 1812. Later in the 19th Century, a theological seminary was established there. After the Revolution, the monastery was swiftly closed, and became for a while one of the first penal colonies of the Vecheka (the forerunner of the KGB). Later it was allocated as housing for workers in a nearby factory. It was only saved from total destruction after World War Two, and was declared a national monument in 1947.

In 1960, the Museum of Art and Culture was established in the monastery. The main collection of icons is housed in the former residence of the hegumen, but there are various other displays in the monastery's various building. Now once again occupied by monks, the monastery is well worth visiting for an insight into medieval Orthodox culture.

The Donskoy Monastery

Founded in 1591 to commemorate Boris Godunov's repulsion of a Tartar invasion under Khan Kazy-Girey, the Donskoy Monastery is one of the most impressively fortified in Moscow, and has had a turbulent and fascinating history.

The Donskoy MonasteryGodunov roused his troops on the eve of battle by parading the icon Our Lady of the Don, which legend claimed had been carried by Dmitry Donskoy at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. When the Tartar forces fled after a brief skirmish, the decision was made to build a church to house the icon on the site and a monastery around it, which would also serve to protect the main highway from Moscow to the Crimea.

The original cathedral, now called the Old Cathedral or the Small Cathedral, was completed in 1593, and is a charming example of Moscow Baroque, painted soft red with typical kokoshniki - recessive rows of corbel arches that were a feature of Russian church architecture from the 12th Century - and topped with powder-blue onion domes. It now houses a copy of the icon, the original being on display in the Tretyakov Gallery.

The monastery was originally small and poor, and was abandoned altogether in the Time of Troubles after Godunov's death, and became an appendage of the Andronikov Monsatery. During the period it was again the scene of fighting, first when taken by the Polish for a day in 1612, and then when the streltsy defeated Ukranian Cossack forces beneath its walls in 1618. It was not until 1678, in the reign of Feodor III that the monastery regained its independence and began to prosper.

The Great or New Cathedral was begun in 1684 on the orders of Tsarina Sofia, Peter the Great's half-sister and regent for the early years of his reign. The cathedral has some unusual features which can be attributed to the fact that its builders were masons and artisans brought from Ukraine. According to Ukranian custom, the five domes of the cathedral are positioned to represent the four corners of the earth, a design which scandalized Old Believers, who gave it the name "The Antichrist's Altar". The impressive eight-tiered iconostasis was carved between 1688 and 1698, and centers on a sixteenth century copy of Lady of the Don. The frescoes in the cathedral were painted by Italian Antonio Claudio between 1782 and 1785, making them the first church paintings in Moscow to be executed by a foreigner.

At about the time of the construction of the New Cathedral, the walls of the monastery were also reconstructed in Moscow Baroque style. The high crenellated red walls, with twelve crowned towers built between 1686 and 1711, resemble those of the Novodevichy Convent. Of particular note is the soaring Gate-Church of the Tikhvin Virgin, which acts as the entrance to the monastery.

The plague that ravaged Moscow in 1771 not only brought riots to the monastery - during which Ambrosius, Archbishop of Moscow, who had fled from the Kremlin, was bludgeoned to death by an angry mob - it also led to an edict from Catherine the Great that no cemetery be located within the city limits. Seven Orthodox cemeteries were then established around the city, and the Donskoy Cemetery became the most prestigious. Among the great families that began to use the cemetery were the princes Golitsyn and Zubov, who built private chapels - the Alexander Svirsky Church and the Archangel Church respectively - within the grounds of the monastery.

The monastery was closed soon after the Revolution, and it was chosen by the Bolshevik government as the site for a Museum of Atheism, opened in the Great Cathedral in 1929. Patriarch Tikhon, who was invested in 1917, was held prisoner in the monastery from 1922 to 1923, and buried in an unmarked grave there. The monastery's hospital became the city's first crematorium, and a branch of the Shchusev Architectural Museum was established at the monastery to house (in semi-secret) sculptures and ornaments from destroyed churches. Services in the Old Cathedral resumed in 1946, but only in 1992 was the monastery returned to the Church. Soon after this event, which was marked by the reburial of Tikhon, a fire destroyed all the icons in the Great Cathedral. The monastery is still undergoing restoration work, but is an active institution with a publishing house and a studio for icon restoration.

The Zaikonospassky Monastery

Situated on Nikolskaya Ulitsa, a few minutes walk from Red Square, the Zaikonospassky Monastery was founded in 1600 by Boris Godunov, and became famous as the site of the Slavo-Greco-Latin Academy, the first higher education institution in Moscow, which was established in 1687 by order of Feodor III.

The Zaikonospassky Monastery

The monastery's name refers to the rows of icon sellers that used to ply their trade before the gates of the monastery, initially providing the institution's funding. The buildings that can be seen today centre on the baroque Savior Cathedral, originally erected in 1660-61 and significantly reconstructed in the early 18th Century. The red and white cathedral has an attractive octagonal bell tower, topped with a gilded finial, and is connected via an arcade to the monks' quarters which also date from the 17th Century.

The Academy, which became one of the most important enlightenment centers in Russia, was originally staffed by monks from Kiev and Greece, who brought to Moscow standards of culture and learning that were unmatched elsewhere in Russia at the time, and similar to the contemporary universities of Western Europe. Among the Academy's celebrated students were Vasily Trediakovsky, the poet and academic credited as one of the founders of classical Russian literature, Dmitriy Kantemir, the litterateur, historian, statesman and Moldovan national hero, architect Vasiliy Bazhenov, who designed the Pashkov House, and the great Russian polymath Mikhail Lomonosov, who went on to found the Moscow University. Although initially, the Academy taught a broad range of subjects, and prepared students for careers in the civil service, medicine and law as well as the church, it eventually became the Ecclesiastical Academy, and was transferred to the Trinity Monastery at Sergiev Posaad in 1814.

The Zaikonospassky Monastery has been used as an archive since the Revolution, and its historic buildings are still undergoing restoration work. Except for the fine cathedral, little remains of architectural interest on the site of the monastery, but its proximity to Red Square makes it an easy place to visit briefly while sightseeing.

The Krutitsy Monastery

The Krutitsy MonasterySitting on the steep south bank of the Moskva River (the name derives from krutoy, the Russian word for 'steep'), this Krutitsy Monastery was one of the most important religious centers in medieval Russia, but suffered centuries of neglect before being saved by the great architect and restorer Pyotr Baranovsky, who established his workshops here after the Second World War. The result of his efforts is a unique collection of early Russian architecture that has retained its original aspect almost entirely unaltered.

The Monastery was built in 1454 as the residence of the "Bishops of the Tsars and the Don", who had since 1261 held a seat in the Mongol-Tartar capital of Saray, ministering to Orthodox Christians in the lands of the Golden Horde. When the Horde collapsed, the seat moved to the village of Krutitsy, near Moscow. In the mid 16th Century, the bishops of Krutitsy were promoted to the rank of metropolitan, and their domain stretched to churches all along the banks of the Don and the Lower Volga. At the height of their powers, the metropolitans of Krutitsy controlled over 1,000 churches. In 1738, however, the bishopric was merged with that of Moscow, and the Krutitsy Monastery was abandoned. The site was later used, first by Catherine the Great, as a military prison, where Alexander Hertzen was probably the most famous inmate.

The structures of the Krutitsy Monastery are all made from red brick, cut and layered to create elaborate decorations, and are dominated by the Holy Gate barbican, erected in the 1690's, which became an inspiration for the Russian revivalists of the 19th Century. Its influence can be clearly seen in the building of the State Historical Museum on Red Square. The tent roofed chapels and walkways also enclose the Cathedral of the Assumption, which combines the old 16th Century church and the new cathedral of 1683, which houses the metropolitans' burial vaults. Also of note is the Teremok, a box-like arched structure decorated with brightly-colored ornamental tiles.

Though small and somewhat neglected, the Krutitsy Monastery is a unique ensemble of purely Russian architecture that is well worth visiting in conjunction with the nearby Novospassky Monastery.

The Nikolo-Perervinsky Monastery

This monastery, which lies in the far south of Moscow on the banks of the Moskva River, dates back to the late 14th Century, although little is known of its history until the first written mention in 1623. However, it came to prominence under the early Romanovs, and was directly connected with some of the most important figures in the Orthodox Church in the modern age. It also contains one of the last major churches to be built in the Moscow region before the Revolution - the enormous New Cathedral (The Cathedral of the Iberian Icon of the Virgin, consecrated in 1908). Services resumed in the Old Cathedral in 1991, and the monastery has since become one of the most active in Moscow.

The Nikolo-Perervinsky Monastery

The Old or St. Nicholas Cathedral was consecrated in 1700 by Patriarch Adrian, the last priest to hold the office before Peter the Great's reforms of the church, which replaced the patriarchy with a Holy Synod. Adrian established his summer residence in the monastery, and oversaw the construction of the cathedral, a layered white building in the Moscow Baroque style with an elegant bell tower and extremely rich interiors that were added in the late 18th Century under the auspices of Metropolitan Platon, who also founded a seminary in the monastery.

The New Cathedral, designed by architect Pyotr Vinogradov, was built on the instructions of Metropolitan Vladimir to honor the famous Icon of the Iberian Virgin, which from the 17th Century was housed in the specially built Iberian Chapel on Red Square. The white, black-domed cathedral, which combines neoclassical austerity with elements of Russian revivalism and has space for over 3,000 worshippers, was an extraordinary project for the time, considering the distance of the monastery from the centre of Moscow and its relative unimportance in the Church hierarchy.

Perhaps because of its distance from the city centre, the monastery was not immediately closed by the Bolshevik government. Instead, it was slowly stripped of its treasures and functions and, unlike other religious institutions, suffered its worst degradations in the post-war decades. It wasn't until the nineties that any restoration began, but the monastery is now fully working again, with a seminary and a number of charitable institutions attached to it.

The Epiphany Monastery

The Epiphany MonasteryLegend has it that this Kitai Gorod monastery was established by Grand Duke Daniil, first Prince of Moscow, in the late 13th Century, making it the oldest in the city. The first hegumen (Orthodox Abbot) of the monastery is recorded as being Stefan, the older brother of St. Sergei of Radonezh, the highly venerated 14th Century saint who founded the Trinity Monastey in Sergiev Posad.

The first stone church was built on the site in 1342, and the monastery rapidly became one of the most important in Moscow, patronized by the Grand Dukes and later the Tsars. Ivan the Terrible was particularly generous to the institution, presenting the monks with money, lands and special taxation rights. For a short while in the middle of the 17th Century, the monastery housed the school of the Greek Likhud brothers, who went on to found the celebrated Slavo-Greco-Latin Academy in the neighbouring Zaikonospasskiy Monastery. The monastery suffered its fair share of disasters, too - sacked by the White Horde in 1382, and damaged by fire at least four times in its long history. Even before the Revolution, the monastery had been used for commercial purposes, with the monks renting out parts of the territory to haberdashers as early as the 18th Century, and establishing a dokhodniy dom - a kind of early business centre - within the cloisters in 1909. When the Bolsheviks came to power, the monastery was used first as a campus for the Mining Academy, and later as a metal works. In the 1950's, many of the monastery's buildings were destroyed to make way for an administrative block.

Restoration work began in the 1980's and, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the monastery was officially returned to the Church. Restoration was speedy and well-funded, and the buildings that can be seen today include the striking Moscow Baroque Epiphany Cathedral, consecrated in 1696, and monks' cells and the abbot's chambers dating from the same period. The 1739 bell tower has also survived.

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