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The first post-Second World War university seminar by Natalya Kovalenskaya offered the following, quite secondary, topic: "The Authentication of the Church of Pope Clement in Zamoskvorechye". It was not about the restoration of the Church's history or, still less, about its miserable state; it was only about the name of the architect who could have built it. Documents concerning this matter did not exist. The participants of the seminar were required only to perform comparative analysis of the possible candidates; it was disagreement on those candidates that had saved the Church from demolition ten years before.
The destruction of Moscow's churches, in the early 1930s, was a mass-scale one, but not a chaotic one. There existed a city renewal plan developed, among others, by the most experienced architects and by art historians. The committee responsible for reaching verdicts on whether to demolish or not based its decisions on certain rules. The 17th-century churches were considered to have no artistic or historic value in principle. As for the churches built in subsequent epochs, they were spared only if built by a right architect.
In the centre of the Zamoskvorechye neighbourhood, the following churches disappeared simultaneously: the Church of Paraskevi of Iconium, in Pyatnitskaya Street (an exit of the Novokuznetskaya underground station had to be built there, for some reason); the Church of Nicetas the Great Martyr, in Novokuznetskaya Street (a residential building for police workers was constructed there); the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God, where the playwright Aleksandr Ostrovsky was born (its site was allocated for a small park and a playground).
The same destiny would have awaited St. Clement's as well, if it had not been for the intervention of Academician Igor Grabar. As he himself would later tell his students, one of his arguments was a suggestion that the Church had been built by the famous Moscow architect Dmitry Ukhtomsky. The Red Gate, created by Ukhtomsky, were to be demolished, thereby making St. Climent's the only existing work by this architect. Besides that, it seemed possible to move the small park that was to replace the Church to the plot of the churchyard that faced Pyatnitskaya Street instead: one would only have to remove the church fence.
Despite the arguments being seemingly primitive, they worked: Grabar defended Moscow churches very rarely. The fence — the wonder of 18th-century smith art — was taken away. The park was laid out, later "decorated" with public toilets. The Church was handed over to the Russian State Library (then the Lenin Library) to be used as an additional book depository: by a decision of the management, the depository was filled with so called "seventh copies", with the only requirement for their storage being closed doors. The lantern drum's smashed windows were not repaired and the heating was not turned on. Huddled behind plywood screens in a corner of the refectory, a handful of employees protected themselves from severe frost with felt boots, cotton-wadded jackets and electric stoves.
Local residents remembered that St. Clement's was going to be shut down a short time before. Things like icons and books were piled onto carts and taken away: it turned out that the Church had its own vast library. However, there turned out to be very little precious church plate and attire, compared to neighbouring churches. Later, church documents confirmed that St. Clement's Parish was one of Zamoskvorechye's smallest and poorest. Its last curator was the merchant Lyamina who provided funds for the renovation of its wall painting and for the installation of a hot-water heating system and who regularly donated funds to St. Clement's Almshouse, a still-existing, three-storey brick block stretching along the Church's building.
The reasons that Kovalenskaya had provided for deciding in favour of St. Clement's Church (she was born and lived nearby) were accepted. And even more so given that Grabar himself undertook the supervision of the work and that he even arranged her access to the urban-development records, which were kept by the Novospassky Monastery's cathedral at that time. The records were piled up, there was no heating and virtually no lighting: people who worked there were given miner's lamps. Unfortunately, only the records dating from the late 18th century and later were kept, while the history of St. Clement's Church had started long before.
On the first map of Moscow, which came to be known as the Godunov Drawing, three churches are marked in Pyatnitskaya Street; their location precisely corresponds to three existing churches: the Church of SS. Theodore and Michael (the Chernigov Wonder-Workers), the Church of Holy Trinity in Vishnyakov and the Church of St. Clement. The latter was a church of a suburban quarter. Around it, merchants settled and eateries and small shops huddled together. The neighbouring meadow was used by Tatars to showcase and sell their herds of horses. While Bolshaya Ordynka Street was the beginning of a road to the Golden Horde and, later, to the Crimea, Pyatnitskaya Street emerged, most probably, in the late 14th or early 15th century, when the market activity expanded beyond the Kremlin's walls. It was also then that the wooden bridge over the river Moscow was moved further to the east: from the end of Bolshaya Ordynka Street to the end of Pyatnitskaya Street, which began at the bridge and ended at St. Clement's. Further, there were sprawling fields and the road to the city of Ryazan.
The ledgers of the Patriarchy's finance department contain records of tax payments maid by the clergy of St. Clement's Church. However, when we get to the 1640s the first riddle emerges. According to the documents, the same clergy started paying taxes now for St. Clement's Church, now for the Church of Our Lady of the Sign, without a side-altar dedicated to Our Lady of the Sign having been set up at the old church.
In the 1650s, another St. Clement's priest, Bartholomew Leontyev, tried to obtain a "patrakhelnaya gramota", a charter that allowed church services to be performed by widowed priests; later, he went to the service of the tsar to participate in the Livonian campaign, which, after the siege of Riga, finished in 1656 with a truce. Father Bartholomew came back to his Moscow parish and, according to the documents, served at two churches.
The dimensions of the so called "monastery", which was just the land allocated to St. Clement's, were very modest: 12 sazhens (25.6 meters or 84 feet) along Klimentovsky Lane and 14 sazhens (29.9 meters or 98 feet) along Golikovsky Lane; for this reason, it is simply impossible to suppose that a second church was built on it. Nevertheless, the two churches stood side by side, and their history was recorded in the 17th-century Old Russian half-running hand on the back of the wonder-working icon of Our Lady of the Sign, which was kept at St. Clement's.
According to a tradition, in 1636 the Duma dyak Aleksandr Durov was slandered, wrongly accused and sentence to death. On the eve of his execution, his house icon of Our Lady of the Sign, which was with him in the prison, sent him a vision saying that there would be no execution and he would stay alive. That same night, after the same message from an icon was received by Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich, he immediately sent after Durov and pardoned him. After that, Durov fulfilled the vow that he made while in prison; the vow required that he build a stone church on the site of his house, decorating the church in various beautiful ways, dedicating it to Our Lady of the Sign, setting up a side-altar dedicated to St. Nicolas the Holy Hierarch and placing his house icons in the church.
Historical documents confirm the plausibility of this tradition. Indeed, Durov's house stood on a plot adjacent to the church land. It was on that church land that the Church of Our Lady of the Sign was built, right next to St. Clement's. The dyak Aleksandr, the founder of the Durov family, went to the Crimea in 1630 as part of an embassy (he had the title of podyachy ("sub-dyak") then), and later, occupying the position of the head of the Yamskoy Prikaz, which supplied the Russian army with horses, he participated in the Smolensk War as a member of the Grand Regiment of the boyar Mikhail Shein. Shein's failure in 1636 almost cost him his life.
The first months of the campaign were successful. Many towns and cities surrendered to the tsar. After a seven-month-long siege, the city of Smolensk was also about to surrender. The besieged did not have enough food reserves, which was exactly what Sein and Izmaylov, the Russian commanders, counted on. However, the military action started by the Crimeans changed everything. Leaving the army, many noblemen went away to protect their own estates. Having brought reinforcements, the Polish king Wladyslaw cut the road to Moscow. Now the famine started among the Russians. The commanders started negotiations with the enemy and made excessive concessions: the enemy received the entire transport and artillery, and the Russians had to retreat in the most shameful way, with their banners lowered before Wladyslaw.
For such a humiliation, Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich executed Shein, Artemy Izmailov and his son Vasily. In the course of the investigation, the dyak Durov was also accused.
Aleksandr Durov's death in 1671 put an end to his cares for the Church of Our Lady of the Sign, which in the end did not receive the permission to have its own clergy, because, as it was put, "the parish was too poor". However, it was in the Church of Our Lady of the Sign, which used to stand on the site of the present-day side-altar of Our Lady of the Sign (to the left of the main altar), that all church services took place, while St. Clement's was used only as a cemetery church. Traces of a very old graveyard and several tombstones, from the side of Pyatnitskaya Street, survived up until the late 1940s.
However, both the churches were getting older with the same speed; for this reason, in the 1740s their dean asked the steward of a palace located within the parish borders to approach the owner, the boyar Aleksey Bestuzhev-Ryumin, with a request for help. Bestuzhev did not live in Moscow, since his very childhood staying either outside Russia or in St. Petersburg. He was a diplomat and a famous chemist who created several popular drugs: for example, the so called Bestuzhev drops were used by doctors to treat nervous exhaustion as late as the mid-20th century.
Always distinguished by his parsimony, Betsuzhev did not give any money for the renovation of the churches that time. However, a change of circumstances prompted him to pay his attention to his Moscow parish soon after.
First, Bestuzhev was summoned to the court of Empress Anna Ioannovna. Her favourite Ernst Johann von Biron saw Bestuzhev as a significant "counterweight" to another favourite, Heinrich Johann Friedrich Ostermann. Bestizhev's blind loyalty to Biron brought him to the camp of the enemies of Empress Anna Leopoldovna, who succeeded Anna Ioannovna. A death sentence to Bestuzhev followed, later mercifully changed to exile.
The exile however turned out to be a short one. At the instigation of her attendants, Anna Leopoldovna secretly, without an official announcement, summoned Bestuzhev back and assigned him with the task of ensuring that her family was safe while staying in power. Even here Bestuzhev demonstrated rare enthusiasm and skill, but a palace coup, which brought Empress Elisabeth to power, led to him being outlawed and sentenced to death for a second time. It is amazing how Bestuzhev managed to get acquitted for a second time and, moreover, to win Elisabeth's complete confidence; St. Clement's Church helped him in that.
The day of the coup fell on St. Clement's Day. The newly proclaimed Empress Elisabeth decided to mark this event with the construction of the Church of the Transfiguration, named so after the Preobrazhensky (Transfiguration) Regiment that had been the first to swear allegiance to the daughter of Peter the Great; this church was to be built in the Petersburg quarter of the regiment and to contain a side-altar dedicated to Pope Clement. The new cathedral was to become a sanctuary of Peter's family. This is why Elisabeth attached so much importance to the dedication of each of the numerous altars. A relatively small sum of money was allocated, and everybody who supported the new ruler were requested to add to it.
Bestuzhev could not help seizing such an opportunity. He announced that he intended to build another church dedicated to the Lord's Transfiguration, in Moscow, also with a side-altar of St. Clement and with the same number of altars. Bestuzhev also announced that he had at his disposal a huge sum of money (70,000 roubles), which was quite enough for the construction of a magnificent church, that Court Counsellor Voropayev had been appointed the supervisor of the construction works and that the foundation stone was to be laid during the coronation celebrations in Moscow. Most probably, Bestuzhev planned that the empress herself would be present, but all he managed to get was that the ceremony was presided over by Ambrose, the bishop of Vologda and the archbishop of Novgorod, who was one of the most influential members of the Sinod and was equally favoured by both Empress Anna Ioanovna and Empress Elisabeth.
After that, the enterprise progressed significantly slower. The money started arriving in very small amounts and irregularly. Voropayev had to constantly disturb the chancellor with reminders, which was largely useless: Betstuzhev had long concentrated on St. Petersburg, on Grand Duchess Catherine whom he wanted to see on the throne. As a result, by 1754 only the Church's main bulk with the facades had been completed. The parishioners continued to use the old St. Clement's Church, which they were allowed to keep temporarily. In 1756, they used their own funds to construct a heated refectory, which was however low and did not correspond to the style of the main church. And they could only dream of finishing the interior of the new St. Clement's. Nor could they ask the author for a cheaper solution, because he had already left Russian by that time.
Mentioning the name of Ukhtomsky to save St. Clement's, Grabar, as he himself would later admit, acted against his conscience, because he was sure that among the architects of the Moscow school there hadn't simply been a master capable of erecting a building in the French Rocaille style. A handwritten collected volume, found in the mid-19th century in the town of Verkhneuralsk, contained, among other material such as funny stories about minerals, stars and drugs, "The Tale of the Church of Pope Clement in Zamoskvorechye". Since it matched well the documents found in the archive, it became possible to trust their indications that Bestuzhev had selected a certain "court architect", with no name mentioned, to build his Moscow church.
It is absolutely obvious that the experienced diplomat and courtier must have turned to an architect singled out by the new empress. However, being a princess without funds of any significance, Elisabeth worked only with Pietro Antonio Trezzini, who rebuilt her house in Torgovaya Square in the town of Aleksandrov (then Aleksandrova Village). Pietro Antonio Trezzini was a son of Domenico Trezzini; his father was St. Petersburg's first architect, who built Ss. Peter and Paul Fortress, the cathedral of the same name in the Fortress and the Summer Palace (according to a legend, Pietro was also a godson of Peter the Great and was born in St. Petersburg).
Elisabeth assigned the construction of the Transfiguration Cathedral in the Preobrazhensky Regiment's quarter, to Mikhail Zemtsov, a favourite of Peter the Great who granted him a pension; almost at the same time she involved Trezzini in the construction. However, Zemtsov passed away soon after. The entire project went under Trezzini's control. So, wasn't it him, Elisabeth's attendant and almost her personal friend, that Bestuzhev "identified" when starting him diplomatic game of the Moscow church? Documents confirmed that: it was Trezzini indeed.
However, this friendship between an architect and a princess did not evolve into a friendship between an architect and an empress. Soon after, Elisabeth started giving an obvious preference to Count Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, a favourite of Anna Ioannovna.
Rastrelli became the principal director of construction. Not only Trezzini no longer received new orders, but also the projects started by him were reassigned to the count one by one. Deeply offended, Trezzini made his last attempt to attract the empress's attention. Having been dispatched by her to Italy on the errand of restoring the scholarship program for Russian artists that had been established by Peter the Great, he sent a letter, laying out his conditions for continuing his service in Russia. The letter would never be answered. "Peter's godson" would disappear from Russia's horizon forever. And the one who cared the least about his fate was Bestuzhev.
In the late 1750s, the chancellor got into another fine mess. Having bet on the future Catherine the Great, he started an imprudent correspondence with her. Elisabeth sentenced the chancellor to death, stripping him of all his titles and all his property. However, this time the death sentence was changed to exile: the village of Goretovo, not so far from Moscow.
The chancellor knew no despair. Having moved to Goretovo, he found some money and sent it to Moscow to be used to complete St. Clement's: the empress were sure to be reminded of his loyalty, because construction works in central Zamoskvorechye could not remain unnoticed.
However, at that moment Catherine the Great ascended to the throne, immediately bringing Bestuzhev back to the court. With the former chancellor's participation in the construction of St. Clement's becoming downright dangerous, Bestuzhev abruptly stoped giving money for its completion. The construction was suspended yet again.
The Church was consecrated only after Bestuzhev's death. St. Clement's did not manage to accumulate any wealth; in addition, in 1812, during Napoleon's invasion of Russia, the Church lost even the little that the parishioners had managed to collect. The poverty of St. Clement's Parish was so extreme that Moscow Diocese Directorate included the Church in the list of the 14 churches that needed help most, providing it with a non-recurrent aid to start church services. A significant sum was also collected for St. Clement's by the nobility of Kostroma Governorate. All this allowed the Church to consecrate its most venerated side-altar, St. Clement's altar, in 1813. The others had to wait.
In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, St. Clement's received a lot of attention from historians; this happened thanks to the significant effort put in by Father Alexius Parusnikov, its dean that was greatly loved in Zamoskvorechye. He established a live relationship with the Diocese and the Society for Church Antiquities and published a booklet on the Church's history. Meanwhile, the Church still had just a few clergy: the dean, a deacon and two parish clerks. In the years leading to the 1917 Russian Revolution, the churchwarden was merely a certain Maksimov, the keeper of the drapery establishment situated at the Church. Nevertheless, Father Alexius managed to open the Church Trusteeship at the Church and to support the Parish's almshouse. The scarcity of the available funds was not an obstacle.
Today, it seems almost impossible: a neglected church amidst fast-growing architectural monsters. A neglected one, even despite its significance for the history of Russian art. And even despite the fact that in his play "Minin-Sukhoruk" Aleksandr Ostrovsky set his main scene by St. Clement's or, to be more precise, by St. Clement's Fortress in Ordynskaya Road.
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