A few days ago I happened to be passing by Novodevichy monastery in the centre of Moscow. It’s not far from the UK visa centre where I applied for my long term visitor’s visa. So if you require a visa to travel to Great Britain, you should definitely combine your visit to the visa centre with exploring the Novodevichy Convent which is one of the most famous convents in Russia.
It was founded in 1524 by the Russian tzar Vasily III to commemorate the liberation of Smolensk from the Lithuanians. They say that the name of the convent – Novodevichy, or New Maiden’s – comes from the belief that right at this spot a few centuries ago Tatar-Mongols picked out young girls to take back to the Golden Horde.
The convent was planned as a fortress as it is located right by the Moscow river. There were two types of monasteries in Russia back then: the ones solely built for religious purposes, and those on the outskirts of cities, which had high walls and towers to keep watch over the city borders. Novodevichy monastery was there to protect the city from the South-West. Of course it was not the nuns who fought the enemy. In case of an attack a group of archers and soldiers would have been brought to the convent to fight the attackers.
Novodevichy convent is also famous for some of its nuns who came from royal or well off boyar families. Back in the old days undesirable women were forcefully sent to a monastery so that they don’t stand on the way of their husbands, brothers and so on. Basically, instead of getting divorced or executing a wife (quite like Henry VIII), Russian tzars would make their wives take a monastic vow, so convents served as mild and often rather comfortable jails for the unwanted.
The Novodevichy convent was re-built a few times during its history, like during the rule of the first Romanov tzar Alexei Mikhailovich, and during the ruling of his daughter Sofia. During the French Invasion of Russia in 1812 Novodevichy convent was set on fire by the French soldiers but luckily the nuns managed to save the monastery from burning down. In 1922 the convent ceased its existence as a religious place, and became a museum. That is VERY fortunate for us all that it was not destroyed by the Soviet regime like many other convents and churches in Russia! In 1944 some of the buildings of the cloister were given to the Theological Institute. After the Soviet Union collapsed Novodevichy convent became active again, and nuns returned there.
The convent’s rich history, the beauty of the architecture and of the park around it make it a must-see in Moscow.
Now I plan to visit some other active convents in Moscow, which my mom will be very happy about as she is very religious. Here are some of Monasteries on my list:
Andronikov Convent founded in 1360 (1)
Danilov Convent founded in 1200s (2)
Donskoi Convent founded in 1591 (3)
Zachatievsky Convent founded in 1547 (4)
and others. I don’t want to visit them all as after you’ve seen a few of them, they kind of start looking a bit the same… But familiarizing yourself with the story of a historical monument always makes it more interesting, and helps differentiate between them.
List of Monasteries in Moscow (in Russian)
Moscow.org offered a list of Moscow’s convents and their history (in Russian)
Featured image from pravmir.ru