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Novodevichy Convent: convent, fortress and prison
May 20, 2009 15:45


Novodevichy Convent is situated in the south-western part of Moscow on the bank of the Moskva River . The religious house founded in 1525 has been a witness of a few historical events during its existence. The architectural ensemble is very notable for its structural integrity. The buildings were constructed in the 16th – 17th centuries. The artistic features of them are obvious. Nowadays a branch of the State Historical Museum is situated there displaying its collection of paintings and applied arts.

The convent appeared in connection with the winning of a considerable victory. In 1514 the Russian forces headed by Vasily the 3rd, the Grand Prince of Muscovia annexed the Old Russian town of Smolensk, controlled by the Lithuanians. Before the campaign Vasily had made a vow to build a convent in case of the victory. The Grand Prince kept his word. Elena Devochkina, a nun from the Intersession Convent in Susdal became the first abbess of the convent.

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The cathedral of the new monastery is associated with the conquest of Smolensk. It is consecrated to the wonder-working icon of The Our Lady Hodegethria, a relict of Smolensk, called consequently “Smolenskaya”. According to a legend the icon was brought to Smolensk from Constantinople in the 11th century. Such a devotion is significant for the official culture of the Late Middle Ages in Russia (the 16-17th centuries in Russia are considered the Late Middle Ages in the historical science). In the spiritual life of that time great attention was paid to the patriotic theme. Additionally, a particular attitude to the images in the medieval Russian culture is in the picture. Going back to the Smolensk icon, its copy, made in 1456, became the main sanctity of the new convent.

The nuns of the Novodevichy were women from noble families, being in disgrace or simply dowagers. Because of that the convent held exceptional position among others. In was an aristocratic convent. Many noble persons are buried there.

In January 1598 Irina Godunova, the widow of Tsar Fiodor (the latest from Rurikovich dynasty) and Crown Princess, took the veil in the Novodevichy. Her brother, Boris Godunov who was a virtual ruler of the country even in the lifetime of the late Tsar resided in the convent in this regard. He was there from January to April. In February the people of Moscow flocked the convent three times to offer the throne to Godunov. He accepted the crown being supported by Iov, the first Patriarch of Russia (Before 1589 Russia didn’t officially have its own Patriarch).

 

Boris Godunov rewarded the convent. First of all, the Smolensk Cathedral was restored and decorated. Supposedly the first stone wall which replaced the wooden one was also built by his commission. New fortifications protected the convent, strategically placed at the point where the Smolensk road reached the fords of the Moskva River. This step is not original. In the middle ages monasteries were fortresses and great attention was paid to the places where to found them and to the fortifications. The most of them could stand a long siege, especially the monasteries near the boarded zone: Pskovo-Pechersky, Solovetsky, and Kirillov-Belozersky. By the way, initially the assignment of the walls is rather symbolical.

In the early 17th century, during the so-called Time of Troubles the Novodevichy Monastery was laid waste. But by the middle of the century it became the richest convent of Russia. It was so mainly because of the nuns, coming from the richest stratum of society.

 

The time of the peak prosperity was the last quarter of the 17th century. It was Tsarevna Sophia, who governed Russia in the name of her juvenile brothers, Peter and Ivan. She lavished the convent with donations and adorned it with new buildings of stone. The best master craftsmen of the time decorated the buildings. It was that time, when the ensemble acquired its outer architectural character. The main cathedral however (dates) refers to the 16th century. Sophia made two attempts to become the real governor but in vain. She was forced to take the veil and spent her last days as a nun under the name of Susanna.

There are no prizes for guessing that under Tsar Peter the Great the convent fell out of graces for a long time…

 

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Source:
    Novodevichy convent. Tourists guide

Yulia Buzykina

 

 


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