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Famous Monasteries II

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Solovetsky Monastery, Russia

Solovetsky Monastery is a monastery on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. Solovetsky Monastery was founded in the late 1420s by monks Zosima and Savvatiy of Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Monastery quickly enlarged its estate, which was situated on the shores of the White Sea and the rivers falling into it. Solovetsky Monastery extended its producing and commercial activity, becoming an economic and political center of the White Sea region. Archmandrites of the Monastery were appointed by the tsar himself and the patriarch. In 1765, Solovetsky Monastery became stauropegic and it subordinated directly to the Synod.

Solovetsky Monastery's "business" activity included saltworks (in the 1660s, it owned 54 of them), seafood production, trapping, fishery, mica works, ironworks, pearl works etc., which had engaged many people dependent on the Monastery. By the 17th century, Solovetsky Monastery had already had some 350 monks, 600-700 servants, artisans and peasants. In the 1650s and 1660s, the Monastery was one of the strongholds of the Raskol. The Solovetsky Monastery Uprising of 1668-1676 was aimed at Nikon's ecclesiastic reform and took on an anti-feudal nature.

Together with the Sumskoy and Kemsky stockades, Solovetsky Monastery represented an important frontier fortress with dozens of cannons and a strong garrison. In the 16th - 17th centuries, the Monastery succeeded a number of times in repelling the attacks of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the Swedes (in 1571, 1582 and 1611). In 1854, Solovetsky Monastery was attacked by three English ships. After 9 hours of shelling on the 6th and the 7th of July, the vessels left with nothing. Between the 16th and the early 20th centuries, the Monastery was also a place of exile for the opponents of autocracy and official Orthodoxy and a center of christianization in the north of Russia. The Monastery also had a huge depository of manuscripts and old books. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet authorities closed down the Monastery and incorporated many of the buildings into Solovki, one of the earliest forced-labor camps of the GULag during the 1920s and 1930s. The camp was mainly used for cutting trees, and when the trees were over, the camp was closed. Before the Second World War a sea cadet school was opened on the island.

The architectural ensemble of the Solovetsky Monastery is located on the shores of the Prosperity Bay on the Solovetsky Island. The territory of the Solovetsky Monastery is surrounded by massive walls (height - 8 to 11 m, thickness - 4 to 6 m) with 7 gates and 8 towers (built in 1584-1594 by an architect named Trifon), made mainly of huge boulders up to 5 m in length. There are also cult edifices on the Monastery's grounds (the principal ones are interconnected with roofed and arched passages), surrounded by multiple household buildings and living quarters, including a refectory (a 500 sq m chamber) with the Uspensky Cathedral (built in 1552-1557), Preobrazhensky Cathedral (1556-1564), Church of Annunciation (15961601), stone chambers (1615), watermill (early 17th century), bell tower (1777), and Church of Nicholas (1834).

Today, the Solovetsky Monastery is a historical and architecural museum. It is one of the first Russian sites to have been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. A small brotherhood of monks appeared in the monastery again and now it has about ten monks. During last several years the monastery was strongly repaired, but it is still under reconstruction.
Solovetsky Monastery, Russia - Official Site

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, North Russia

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, properly translated in English as The Assumption monastery of St Cyril, has always rivaled the Solovetsky Monastery as the strongest fortress and the richest landowner of the Russian North. The Monastery was founded in 1397 on the bank of the Siverskoe Lake, to the south from the town of Beloozero, in the present-day Vologda region. Its founder, Saint Kirill of Beloozero, following the advice of his teacher, Saint Sergius of Radonezh, first dug a cave here, then built a wooden Assumption chapel and a log house for other monks.

Being a member of the influential Velyaminov clan of boyars, Kirill relinquished the office of father superior of the greatest cloister in medieval Moscow - the Simonov monastery. His ties with the ruling elite were still close, however, as his letters to sons of Dmitri Donskoi clearly demonstrate. It seems that the Muscovite rulers regarded Kirill's monastery as an important strategic point, both for Northern trade and in their struggle with the Novgorod Republic. In the 16th century, the monastery was the second richest landowner in Russia, after Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra. Ivan the Terrible not only had his own cell in the cloister, but also planned to take monastic vows here. During the political struggles, the Monastery sided with nestiazhateli, who disapproved of church landlordism. The leader of the movement, Nil Sorsky, founded a separate monastery nearby. The cloister was also important as a political prison. Among the Muscovite politicians exiled here were Vassian Patrikeyev, Tsar Simeon Bekbulatovich, Patriarch Nikon, and the great boyar Boris Morozov.

The vast area of the Monastery contains buildings from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The Assumption cathedral, built by Rostov masters in 1497, features many old and precious icons. A lot of valuable objects kept in the cathedral treasury are personal gifts of the tsars who visited the monastery. There are 10 other churches within the cloister, most of them dating from the 16th century. The Monastery walls, 732-meter long and 7-meter thick, were constructed in 1654-80. They incorporate parts of the earlier citadel, which helped to withstand the Polish siege in 1612. The walls feature numerous towers, each built to a particular design. The most remarkable are the Chasuble, the Tent-like, the Vologda, and the Smithy towers. View of the Monastery in 1909. By the 20th century, the town of Kirillov had grown nearby. After the Bolsheviks had the Monastery turned into museum (1924), the library and some other treasures were transferred to Moscow or St Petersburg. These included the oldest extant copies of the 12th-century Daniel's Pilgrimage and the Zadonshchina. The monks were readmitted into the Monastery in 1998. Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, Russia

Alexander Nevsky Lavra, St. Petersburg

Alexander Nevsky Monastery was founded by Peter the Great in 1710 at the southern end of the Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg to house the relics of Alexander Nevsky, patron saint of the newly-founded Russian capital. In 1797, it was raised to the rank of lavra, previously bestowed only upon Kiev Monastery of the Caves and the Trinity Monastery of St Sergius.

The Monastery structures include two baroque churches, designed by father and son Trezzini and built in 1717-22 and 1742-50, respectively; a majestic Neoclassical cathedral, built in 1778-90 to a design by Ivan Starov and consecrated to the Holy Trinity; and numerous structures of lesser importance. It also contains the Lazarev and Tikhvin Cemeteries, where ornate tombs of Mikhail Lomonosov, Alexander Suvorov, Nikolay Karamzin, Modest Mussorgsky, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and other famous Russians are preserved.

Novodevichy Convent, Moscow

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 monasteries, it has remained virtually intact since the 17th century. In 2004, it was proclaimed the World Heritage Site.

Muscovite Period: 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.

Imperial Period: Novodevichy Convent in winter 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 in 19th-century Moscow. Tolstoy himself enjoyed skating here, when he lived nearby, in the district of Khamovniki. In 1871, the Filatiev brothers donated money for a shelter-school for the orphans of "ignoble origins". Also, the convent housed two almshouses for nuns and lay sisters. By 1917, there had been 51 nuns and 53 lay sisters in the Novodevichy Convent.

Soviet period & 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. Actually, this 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 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.

Monuments:The oldest structure in the convent is the huge five-domed Cathedral, supposedly built by an Italian architect in 1524-25 and dedicated to the holy icon Our Lady of Smolensk. Its frescos are among the finest in Moscow. Executed in a canonical, monumental style, they date mostly from Ivan the Terrible's reign. A baroque golden-carved iconostasis was installed in 1683-85. Its five tiers contain icons from the best painters of 17th-century Russia, including Simeon Ushakov and Konstantin Zubov. The Cathedral may be a focal point of the Monastery, but there are many other churches. Most of them date from the 1680sA slender and lofty bell tower is probably the most arresting of these structures. Built in 6 tiers to a height of 72 meters, it used to be the highest structure in Moscow after Ivan the Great Bell Tower.

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