Novodevichy Convent, also known as Bogoroditse-Smolensky
Monastery is probably the best-known cloister of Moscow.
Its name, sometimes translated as the New Maidens' Monastery,
was devised to differ from an ancient maidens'
convent in the Moscow Kremlin.
Unlike other Moscow cloisters, it has remained virtually
intact since the 17th century.
In 2004, it was proclaimed a UNESCO
World Heritage Site.
The Novodevichy Convent was founded in 1524 by Grand
Prince Vasili III in commemoration of the
conquest of Smolensk in 1514.
It was built as a fortress at a curve of the Moskva
River and became an important part of the southern
defensive belt of the capital, which had already
included a number of other monasteries.
Upon its founding, the Novodevichy Convent was
granted 3,000 rubles and the villages
of Akhabinevo and Troparevo.
Ivan the Terrible would later grant a number
of other villages to the convent.
The Novodevichy Convent was known to have sheltered
many ladies from the Russian royal families and
boyar clans, who had been forced to take the veil,
such as Feodor I's wife Irina Godunova (she was there
with her brother Boris Godunov until he became a ruler
himself), Sophia Alekseyevna (Peter the Great's sister),
Eudoxia Lopukhina (Peter the Great's
first wife), and others.
In 1610-1611, the Novodevichy Convent was captured
by a Polish unit under the command
of Aleksander Gosiewski.
Once the cloister was liberated, the tsar supplied
it with permanent guards (100 Streltsy in 1616,
350 soldiers in 1618).
By the end of the 17th century, the Novodevichy
Convent had already possessed 36 villages
(164,215 desyatinas of land) in 27 uyezds of Russia.
In 1744, it owned 14,489 peasants.
In the mid-17th century, they transferred the nuns
from other Ukrainian and Belarusian monasteries
to the Novodevichy Convent.
In 1721, some of the aged nuns, who had done away
with the Old Believers movement,
were given shelter there.
In 1724, the monastery housed a military hospital
for the soldiers and officers of the Russian army
and an orphanage for female foundlings.
By 1763, the convent housed 84 nuns, 35 lay sisters,
and 78 sick patients and servants.
Each year, the state provided the Novodevichy
Convent with 1,500 rubles, 1,300 quarters of bread,
and 680 rubles and 480 quarters of bread
for more than 250 abandoned children.
In 1812, Napoleon's army made an attempt to blow
up the convent, but the nuns managed to
save the cloister from destruction.
In Tolstoy's War and Peace, Pierre was to be
executed under the convent walls.
In another novel of his, Anna Karenina, Konstantin
Lyovin (the main character) meets his future
wife Kitty ice-skating near monastery walls.
Indeed, the Maiden's Field (as a meadow in front
of the convent came to be known) was the most
popular skating-rink in 19th-century Moscow.
Tolstoy himself enjoyed skating here, when he
lived nearby, in the district of Khamovniki.
In 1871, the Filatyev brothers donated money
for a shelter-school for the
orphans of "ignoble origins".
Also, the convent housed two almshouses
for nuns and lay sisters.
In early 1900s, the Cathedral was surveyed
and restored by architect and
preservationist Ivan Mashkov.
By 1917, there had been 51 nuns and 53 lay
sisters in the Novodevichy Convent.
Soviet period and beyond
In 1922, the Bolsheviks closed down the Novodevichy
Convent (the cathedral was the last to be closed,
in 1929) and turned it into the
Museum of Woman's Emancipation.
By 1926, the monastery had been transformed
into a history and art museum.
In 1934, it was affiliated with the
State Historical Museum.
Most of its facilities were turned into
apartments, which was what spared
the convent from destruction.
In 1943, when Stalin started to make
advances to the Russian Orthodox church,
he sanctioned the opening of the Moscow
Theological Courses at the convent.
Next year the courses were transformed
into the Moscow Theological Institute.
In 1945, the Soviets returned the
Assumption Cathedral to the believers.
The residence of the Metropolitan of
Krutitsy and Kolomna has been located in
the Novodevichy Convent since 1980.
In 1994, nuns returned to the convent, which
is currently under the authority of the
Metropolitan of Krutitsy and Kolomna.
Some of the churches and other monastic
buildings are still affiliated with the
State Historical Museum.
In 1995, they resumed service in the
convent on patron saint's days.
The oldest structure in the convent is the six-pillared
five-domed cathedral (picture), dedicated to the
icon Our Lady of Smolensk.
Extant documents date its construction to 1524-1525; yet
its lofty ground floor, magisterial proportions, and
projecting central gable are typical of monastery
cathedrals built at the behest of Ivan the Terrible.
Most scholars agree that the cathedral was rebuilt in
the 1550s or 1560s; it was formerly ringed by four
smaller chapels, in an arrangement reminiscent of the
Annunciation Cathedral in the Kremlin.
Its frescos are among the finest in Moscow.
The cathedral may be a focal point of the monastery,
but there are many other churches.
Most of them date from the 1680s, when the convent
was thoroughly renovated at the behest of the regent
Sophia Alexeyevna (who, ironically, would
be incarcerated there later).
The blood-red walls and crown-towers, two lofty
over-the-gates churches, a refectory, and residential
quarters were all designed in the Muscovite Baroque
style, supposedly by a certain Peter Potapov.
In the old cathedral, a new bowl for holy water and
gilded carved iconostasis were installed in 1685.
Its four tiers contain 16th-century icons endowed by
Boris Godunov; the fifth tier displays icons by leading
17th-century painters, Simeon Ushakov and Fyodor Zubov.
An arresting slender belltower, also commissioned by
Sophia, was built in six tiers to a height of 72 metres,
making it the highest structure in 18th-century Moscow
(after Ivan the Great Bell Tower).
This light octagonal column seems to unite all major
elements of the ensemble into one harmonious whole.