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Novospassky Monastery, New Monastery of the Saviour (Moscow)

10 Krestianskaya Square, Moscow (tel.: +7 495 676-95-70), Metro stations: "Proletarskaya".


The New Monastery of the Saviour (Novospassky Monastery) is situated in the south-eastern part of the city, on the left high bank of the Moskva River, approximately five versts (5.3 km or 3.3 miles) away form the Kremlin.

The Monastery served as a fortress and protected Moscow against invasions of the Ploles, Lithuanians, and Tatars.

The Monastery was established in the 13th century, when Moscow, the capital of Russia and its uniting centre, was founded.

Originally, the Monastery dedicated to the Saviour was founded by St. Blessed Prince Daniel, son of St. Alexander Nevsky, on the site of the present Danilov Monastery. However, the Monastery of the Saviour did not stay long at this location. Son of St. Daniel, Ivan the Moneybag (Kalita) moved the Monastery to Kremlin Borovitsky Hill in 1330.

By the time of its foundation, it was the first monastery in the city.

When the Tatar khan Tokhtamysh invaded Moscow, the Monastery of the Saviour shared mournful fate of the whole city: it was looted and burned down, while its dean archmandrite Simeon was killed.

During the reign of Ivan III, a new period in the history of the Monastery began. When new buildings of the Kremlin Palace were being constructed, it appeared that Monastery was out of place there. It became closely surrounded by palace buildings.

The Grand Prince decided to move the Monastery to some other place, five versts away from the Kremlin, to the so called Vasilievsky or Vasiltsov Stan (eng.: camp) on the bank of the Moskva River.

It is supposed that Vasilievsky Stan was a watch point. It is well known from historical sources, that troops were usually located in high places. So, the Monastery would not hinder the use of the place for military purposes, since monasteries of the time often served as fortresses.

For his new location, the Monastery was named the New Monastery of the Saviour or Novospassky Monastery. The Transfiguration Church, known also as the Saviour Cathedral, remained to stay in the old place.

Original Monastery and its other buildings were made of wood, but in 1491, Ivan III laid the foundations of a stone cathedral dedicated to the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Moving the Monastery of the Saviour to the new place, Grand Prince Ivan III contributed its prosperity. His successors also paid their attention to it and supported the temple.

During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the New Monastery of the Saviour was transformed into a fortress and used as a watch military station, which defended the road to Moscow.

After Ivan the Terrible to the Times of Troubles, nothing is known about the Monastery and its condition, except for one fact. In 1591, during the invasion of the Crimean khan Gazi II Giray, the New Monastery of the Saviour was a reliable stronghold of Moscow.

In the Times of Troubles, the Monastery was devastated. Crowds of the Poles looted and raged in its walls. We can suppose that the Monastery was devastated more than any other Moscow monastery, since the Poles, the Lithuanians, and traitors to Russia made their way nearby its walls.

A new era in the history of the Monastery began since the time of Mikhail Romanov. The Monastery was surrounded by battlements. The Tsar also commanded General Peter Dashkov to protect the Monastery against Crimean and Nogai Tatars.

During the whole reign of Mikhail Romanov, the New Monastery of the Saviour was not only a religious place used to bury members of the imperial family, but it also played an important military and strategic role. Several times during that time, the Monastery was turned into a fortress. It happened in 1618, when the Polish Prince Wladyslaw IV Vasa invaded Moscow, and also in 1633 and 1634.

From 1640 to 1642, the wooden battlements were replaced with stone ones with towers. To construct such extensive buildings, Tsar Mikhail Romanov called for masons who founded a settlement near the Monastery.

After the stone fence was finished, the Transfiguration Cathedral was rebuilt. It has survived till our days. Tsar Alexis I built the Intercession Church.

The Monastery is especially interesting for images of ancient Greek philosophers and wise men, Homer, Orpheus, Plato, and others, at the church porch's column base. These characters seem to have no relation to Christianity. How did the images appear on the walls of the Orthodox Church? It is simple: artists wanted to underline that wisdom of even the greatest pagan wise men had never risen higher than the lowest steps of a Christian church.

The Transfiguration Cathedral was consecrated on 19 September 1649. Next year, a medical church of St. Nicholas was built in the north-western corner of the Monastery with support from Prince Yakov Cherkassky. A heated Intercession Church was built in 1673 to 1675. A miracle-working icon of the Saviour of Khlynov, brought there from Vyatka, was kept in the Church.

The Monastery's bell tower was built by a talented architect Ivan Zherebtsov (1724–1780). It is obvious that Zherebtsov was inspired by a bell tower of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Construction of the bell tower began in 1758. However, the allocated funds were sufficient to build only the base and the second tier. After that, the construction process stopped. The bell tower remained in that state for 17 years. In 1779, Zherebtsov resumed construction. The bell tower was finished as late as 1784. It is only three meters (9.8 ft) lower than the bell tower of Ivan the Great.

From 1791 to 1795, at the north-western corner of the Cathedral, in the place of the early-17th-century church, the Our Lady of the Sign Church, a burial vault of the Sheremetevs, was constructed under the design of architect Yelizvoi Nazarov, who was an assistant and a relative of Vasili Bazhenov. In the Church, a grave of Praskovia Kovalyova-Zhemchugova-Sheremeteva (1768–1803), a famous serf actress and a wife of Count Nikolai Sheremetev, is among other headstones of the Sheremetev family.

In the 17th century, the Monastery was also used as a place of confinement for criminals and various heretics. Torture chambers and seclusions were arranged there. Reverend Dionysius, a famous defender of Russia and a dean of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, was banished there in 1618. He was slandered by enemies as a pretended heretic and locked up in the New Monastery of the Saviour, where he was starved and fumed.

Under Peter I, a big bell was cast for the Monastery. This showed a special attention paid by the Emperor to the Novospassky Monastery. Just then Russia was at war with Sweden. To order of the tsar, all unnecessary bells were melt down for canons, and it was also "prohibited to organize anything odd in the Monastery".

Since the end of the Peter I's reign, the Monastery began to fall into decay. To order of Ernst Johann von Biron, during the reign of Anna Ioannovna, handicapped soldiers, usually different by faith, were sent to the Monastery to be completely supported by it. It was a heavy burden for the Monastery.

Of all Russian tsars reigning in the 18th century, only Empress Elizabeth I was favourably disposed to the Monastery. She began to construct a large bell tower.

Under Catherine II, well known secularization happened. The Monastery was deprived of all estates. Building of the bell tower was frozen and resumed in twenty years only.

In 1812, the Monastery was looted and devastated by enemies first and then by the fire, which enveloped a part of the city adjacent to the Monastery.

Before the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Novospassky Monastery took one of the first places in the Moscow and was often visited by prayers, especially on holidays. The Monastery had seven temples:
– Transfiguration Church (unheated).
– Intercession Church with side chapels dedicated to St. Dimitry of Rostov and St. Barbara.
– St. Catherine's Church with side chapels dedicated to Our Lady of Pechorsk and St. Sabbas the Sanctified.
– Our Lady of the Sign Church.
– Church of St. Romanos the Melodist (burial vault of the Boyars Romanovs).
– Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh (in the bell tower).
– Church of St. Nicolas the Wonderworker.

Original wooden fence of the Monastery was destroyed during the Polish–Lithuanian invasion. During the first years of the Michael I's reign, the Monastery was again surrounded by a wooden fence, which was meant for defence purposes.

The real fence was made instead of the wooden one to the order of Michael I as well. Its construction was started in 1640 and finished in 1642. The fence is 367 sazhens (783 m or 856 yd) long and 3.5 sazhens (7.5 m or 8.2 yd) high. It looks like an irregular pentagon with five towers. The upper part of the towers and walls are equipped with loopholes.

The main gates of the Monastery are situated in the eastern part of the fence, under the bell tower. Other gates are near the south-eastern and south-western towers.

In terms of defence, the western wall of the Monastery, which faces the Moskva River, is of special interest. A pentagonal tower is built in its centre. It flanks the whole wall, while the corner towers do not go beyond the wall line. In their turn, they flank the southern and northern walls.

A similar defence system, but with a main revetment and side semi-revetments located in a moat, was commonly used in fortresses of the second half of the 19th century.

Painter Fyodor Rokotov (1735–1808), boyars Kolychyovs, princes Cherkasskys, Ursovs, and Lobanovs-Rostovskys are buried in the necropolis of the New Monastery of the Saviour. A nun of the Moscow Ivanovsky Convent Dosiphea, who was rumoured to be a real "Princess Tarakanoff", a daughter of Elizabeth of Russia and Alexey Razumovsky, is also buried in the Monastery. Mystery surrounding Dosiphea and many suspicious circumstance of her life made many people think about her "royal" origin. However, after the graves of the Transfiguration Church including the one of Dosiphea were researched in 1997 and 1998, it was found out that the "imperial daughter", the "woman with traces of a former beauty on her face" was just a small hunchbacked woman, handicapped from her childhood, who often starved and suffered from malnutrition in her early days.

In 1918, the New Monastery of the Saviour was shut down and transformed into a prison. Later, it was occupied by different institutions including a sobering-up centre and accomodations.

The Novospassky Monastery has functioned since 1991.

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Novospassky Monastery, New Monastery of the Saviour