Donskoy Monastery

Donskoy Monastery

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Donskoy Monastery is a major monastery
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

 in Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, founded in 1591 in commemoration of Moscow's deliverance from an imminent threat of Khan
Khan (title)
Khan is an originally Altaic and subsequently Central Asian title for a sovereign or military ruler, widely used by medieval nomadic Turko-Mongol tribes living to the north of China. 'Khan' is also seen as a title in the Xianbei confederation for their chief between 283 and 289...

 Kazy-Girey’s invasion. Commanding a highway to the Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

, the monastery was intended to defend southern approaches to the Moscow Kremlin
Moscow Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin , sometimes referred to as simply The Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River , Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square and the Alexander Garden...


Muscovite period

The monastery was built on the spot where Boris Godunov
Boris Godunov
Boris Fyodorovich Godunov was de facto regent of Russia from c. 1585 to 1598 and then the first non-Rurikid tsar from 1598 to 1605. The end of his reign saw Russia descend into the Time of Troubles.-Early years:...

's mobile fortress and Sergii Radonezhsky's field church with Theophan the Greek's
Theophanes the Greek
Theophanes the Greek was a Byzantine Greek artist and one of the greatest icon painters, or iconographers, of Muscovite Russia, and was noted as the teacher and mentor of the great Andrei Rublev.-Life and work:Theophanes was born in the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople...

An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

 Our Lady of the Don had been located. Legend
A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude...

 has it that Dmitry Donskoy had taken this icon with him to the Battle of Kulikovo
Battle of Kulikovo
The Battle of Kulikovo was a battle between Tatar Mamai and Muscovy Dmitriy and portrayed by Russian historiography as a stand-off between Russians and the Golden Horde. However, the political situation at the time was much more complicated and concerned the politics of the Northeastern Rus'...

 in 1380. The Tatars
Tatars are a Turkic speaking ethnic group , numbering roughly 7 million.The majority of Tatars live in the Russian Federation, with a population of around 5.5 million, about 2 million of which in the republic of Tatarstan.Significant minority populations are found in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan,...

 left without a fight and were defeated during their retreat.

Initially, the cloister
A cloister is a rectangular open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth...

 was rather poor and numbered only a few monk
A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of monks, while always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose...

s. As of 1629, the Donskoy Monastery possessed 20 wastelands and 16 peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

The household is "the basic residential unit in which economic production, consumption, inheritance, child rearing, and shelter are organized and carried out"; [the household] "may or may not be synonymous with family"....

s (20 peasants altogether). In 1612, it was taken for one day by the Polish-Lithuanian commander Jan Karol Chodkiewicz
Jan Karol Chodkiewicz
Jan Karol Chodkiewicz was a famous Lithuanian military commander and one of the most prominent noblemen of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.-Biography:...

. In 1618, Russian Streltsy
Streltsy were the units of Russian guardsmen in the 16th - early 18th centuries, armed with firearms. They are also collectively known as Marksman Troops .- Origins and organization :...

 defeated the Ukrainian
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 Cossacks of Petro Konashevych
Petro Konashevych
Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachnyi, , was a Hetman of Registered Cossacks and the Kosh Otaman of Zaporozhian Host from 1601–1618, a brilliant military leader both on land and sea. While being a Cossack Hetman, he transformed the Cossack Host into a regular military formation and imparted a statist...

 under the monastery walls.

In the mid-17th century the monastery was attached to the Andreyevsky Monastery. In 1678, however, its independence was reinstated and the cloister received rich donation
A donation is a gift given by physical or legal persons, typically for charitable purposes and/or to benefit a cause. A donation may take various forms, including cash, services, new or used goods including clothing, toys, food, and vehicles...

s, including more than 1,400 peasant households. In 1683, the Donskoy Monastery was elevated to the archmandrite level and given 20 desyatinas of the nearby pasturelands. Vidogoshchsky, Zhizdrinsky, Sharovkin, and Zheleznoborovsky monasteries were attached to the Donskoy Monastery between 1683 and 1685.

Imperial period

Since 1711, the Great Cathedral's vault was used for burials of Georgian
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

evichs of the Bagrationi family and Mingrelian dukes of the Dadiani
Dadiani was a Georgian family of nobles, dukes and princes, and a ruling dynasty of the western Georgian province of Samegrelo.- The House of Dadiani :...


In 1724, the monks and the property of the Andreyevsky Monastery were transferred to the Donskoy Monastery. By 1739, it had already possessed 880 households with 6,716 peasants, 14 windmill
A windmill is a machine which converts the energy of wind into rotational energy by means of vanes called sails or blades. Originally windmills were developed for milling grain for food production. In the course of history the windmill was adapted to many other industrial uses. An important...

s, and a few fisheries
Generally, a fishery is an entity engaged in raising or harvesting fish which is determined by some authority to be a fishery. According to the FAO, a fishery is typically defined in terms of the "people involved, species or type of fish, area of water or seabed, method of fishing, class of boats,...

. In 1747, the authorities wanted to transfer the Slavic Greek Latin Academy
Slavic Greek Latin Academy
Slavic Greek Latin Academy was the first higher education establishment in Moscow, Russia.-Beginnings:...

 to the Donskoy Monastery, but the cloister confined itself to paying salaries to the academic staff from its own treasury
A treasury is either*A government department related to finance and taxation.*A place where currency or precious items is/are kept....


Archbishop Ambrosius was killed within the monastery walls during the Plague Riot
Plague Riot
Plague Riot was a riot in Moscow in 1771 between September 15 and September 17, caused by an outbreak of bubonic plague.-History:...

 in 1771. In 1812, the French army ransacked the Donskoy Monastery, the most valuable things having been moved to Vologda
Vologda is a city and the administrative, cultural, and scientific center of Vologda Oblast, Russia, located on the Vologda River. The city is a major transport knot of the Northwest of Russia. Vologda is among the Russian cities possessing an especially valuable historical heritage...

 prior to that. There had been 48 monks and 2 novice
A novice is a person or creature who is new to a field or activity. The term is most commonly applied in religion and sports.-Buddhism:In many Buddhist orders, a man or woman who intends to take ordination must first become a novice, adopting part of the monastic code indicated in the vinaya and...

s in the monastery by 1917.

Soviet period and beyond

After the October Revolution
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

, the Donskoy Monastery was closed. In 1922–1925, Patriarch Tikhon
Tikhon of Moscow
Saint Tikhon of Moscow , born Vasily Ivanovich Bellavin , was the 11th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church during the early years of the Soviet Union, 1917 through 1925.-Early life:...

 was detained in this cloister after his arrest
An arrest is the act of depriving a person of his or her liberty usually in relation to the purported investigation and prevention of crime and presenting into the criminal justice system or harm to oneself or others...

. He chose to remain in this monastery after his release. Saint Tikhon's relics were discovered following his canonization in 1989. They are exhibited for veneration in the Great Cathedral in summer and in the Old Cathedral in winter.

In 1924, some of the facilities of the Donskoy Monastery were occupied by a penal colony
Penal colony
A penal colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general populace by placing them in a remote location, often an island or distant colonial territory...

 for children. In 1934, the Donskoy Monastery was transferred under the care of the Museum of Architecture of the Soviet Academy of Architecture. In 1964, the cloister became an affiliate of the Shchusev's Museum of Architecture.

The Soviets
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 moved the remnants of many demolished monasteries and cathedral
A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop...

s to the Donskoy Monastery, including the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker
Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas , also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra . Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker...

 in Stolpy, Church of the Assumption on Pokrovka Street in Moscow, Sukharev Tower
Sukharev Tower
The Sukharev Tower was one of the best known landmarks and symbols of Moscow until its destruction by the Soviet authorities in 1934. The tower was built in the Moscow baroque style at the intersection of the Garden Ring with the Sretenka street in 1692-1695.Tsar Peter the Great ordered the...

, and others.


When the monastery was established, Boris Godunov personally laid the foundation stone of its cathedral, consecrated in 1593 to the holy image of Our Lady of the Don. This diminutive structure, quite typical for Godunov's reign, has a single dome crowning three tiers of zakomara. In the 1670s, they added two symmetrical annexes, and a refectory
A refectory is a dining room, especially in monasteries, boarding schools and academic institutions. One of the places the term is most often used today is in graduate seminaries...

 leading to a tented belltower. Its iconostasis
In Eastern Christianity an iconostasis is a wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the sanctuary in a church. Iconostasis also refers to a portable icon stand that can be placed anywhere within a church...

, executed in 1662, formerly adorned one of Moscow churches demolished by the Communists. From 1930 to 1946, the cathedral was closed for services and housed a factory.

The New (or the Great) Cathedral, also dedicated to the Virgin of the Don, was started in 1684 as a votive church of Tsarevna Sophia Alekseyevna
Sophia Alekseyevna
Sophia Alekseyevna was a regent of Russian Tsardom who allied herself with a singularly capable courtier and politician, Prince Vasily Galitzine, to install herself as a regent during the minority of her brothers, Peter the Great and Ivan V...

. After she fell into disgrace, its construction was funded by private donations. The masons and artisans were invited from Ukraine, which explains some of the cathedral's unusual features. For the first time in Moscow, the five domes were arranged according to the four corners of the Earth (as was the Ukrainian custom). The Old Believers
Old Believers
In the context of Russian Orthodox church history, the Old Believers separated after 1666 from the official Russian Orthodox Church as a protest against church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon between 1652–66...

 felt offended by this and called the cathedral "Antichrist
The term or title antichrist, in Christian theology, refers to a leader who fulfills Biblical prophecies concerning an adversary of Christ, while resembling him in a deceptive manner...

's Altar
An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

". Eight tiers of its ornate baroque iconostasis were carved by Kremlin masters in 1688–1698. The iconostasis' central piece is a copy of the Virgin of the Don, as painted in the mid-16th century. The cathedral frescoes are the first in Moscow to be painted by a foreigner. They were executed by Antonio Claudio in 1782–1785.

After the monastery lost its defensive importance, its walls were reshaped in the red-and-white Muscovite baroque style, reminiscent of the Novodevichy Convent
Novodevichy Convent
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 within the Moscow Kremlin. Unlike other Moscow cloisters, it has...

. Eight square and four circular towers with red-blood crowns were put up in 1686–1711. The Holy Gates of the monastery (1693) are topped with the Tikhvin church (1713–1714), noted for its wrought iron grille. A lofty belfry was erected over the western gates from 1730–1753 after designs by Pietro Antonio Trezzini and other prominent architects.


Several families of high aristocracy chose the Donskoy monastery as location of their burial vaults
A tomb is a repository for the remains of the dead. It is generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes...

. The Alexander Svirsky
Alexander-Svirsky Monastery
Alexander-Svirsky Monastery is a Russian Orthodox monastery situated deep in the woods of the Leningrad Oblast, just south from its border with the Republic of Karelia...

 Church, for instance, was constructed in 1796–1798 as a sepulchre of Princes Zubov
Zubov was a Russian noble family which rose to the highest offices of state in the 1790s, when Platon Zubov succeeded Count Orlov and Prince Potemkin as the favourite of Catherine II of Russia....

. Princes Galitzine
For Orthodox clergyman and theologian, see Alexander Golitzin.The Galitzines are one of the largest and noblest princely houses of Russia. Since the extinction of the Korecki family in the 17th century, the Golitsyns have claimed dynastic seniority in the House of Gediminas...

 were buried in the Archangel Church (1714–1809), whereas the Church of St. John Chrysostom (1881–1891) marks the Petrushin family vault.

Tikhon of Moscow
Tikhon of Moscow
Saint Tikhon of Moscow , born Vasily Ivanovich Bellavin , was the 11th Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church during the early years of the Soviet Union, 1917 through 1925.-Early life:...

 is also buried at the Monastery.

Old Donskoy Cemetery

The old necropolis
A necropolis is a large cemetery or burial ground, usually including structural tombs. The word comes from the Greek νεκρόπολις - nekropolis, literally meaning "city of the dead"...

 in the south-eastern part of the monastery's cloister is remarkable for its ornate tomb
A tomb is a repository for the remains of the dead. It is generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes...

s, executed by some of the best Russian sculptors. They mark the graves of the poets Mikhail Kheraskov
Mikhail Kheraskov
Mikhail Matveyevich Kheraskov was regarded as the most important Russian poet by Catherine the Great and her contemporaries.Kheraskov's father was a Romanian boyar who settled in the Ukraine...

 and Alexander Sumarokov
Alexander Sumarokov
Alexander Petrovich Sumarokov was a Russian poet and playwright who single-handedly created classical theatre in Russia, thus assisting Mikhail Lomonosov to inaugurate the reign of classicism in Russian literature....

, the philosophers Pyotr Chaadaev
Pyotr Chaadaev
Pyotr or Petr Yakovlevich Chaadayev was a Russian philosopher born in Moscow.Chaadayev wrote eight "Philosophical Letters" about Russia in French between 1826-1831, which circulated in Russia as manuscript for many years...

 and Ivan Ilyin
Ivan Ilyin
Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin was a Russian religious and political philosopher, White emigre publicist and an ideologue of the Russian All-Military Union.-Young years:...

, the historians Mikhail Shcherbatov
Mikhail Shcherbatov
Prince Mikhailo Mikhailovich Shcherbatov was a leading ideologue and exponent of the Russian Enlightenment, on the par with Mikhail Lomonosov and Nikolay Novikov. His view of human nature and social progress is kindred to Swift's pessimism. He was known as a statesman, historian, writer and...

 and Vasily Klyuchevsky
Vasily Klyuchevsky
Vasily Osipovich Klyuchevsky dominated Russian historiography at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He is still regarded as one of three most reputable Russian historians, alongside Nikolay Karamzin and Sergey Solovyov.-Early life:...

, the critic Vladimir Odoyevsky, the architect Osip Bove, the painter Vasily Perov
Vasily Perov
Vasily Grigorevich Perov ; 2 January 1834 – 10 June 1882) was a Russian painter and one of the founding members of Peredvizhniki, a group of Russian realist painters....

, the courtier Alexander Dmitriev-Mamonov
Alexander Dmitriev-Mamonov
Count Alexander Matveyevich Dmitriev-Mamonov was a lover of Catherine II of Russia from 1786 to 1789....

, the actress Faina Ranevskaya
Faina Ranevskaya
Faina Georgievna Ranevskaya is recognized as one of the greatest Soviet Russian actors in both tragedy and comedy. She was also famous for her aphorisms....

, the general Anton Denikin, and the aviator Nikolay Zhukovsky. Some of the tombs were transferred by Soviet authorities to the Tretyakov Gallery
Tretyakov Gallery
The State Tretyakov Gallery is an art gallery in Moscow, Russia, the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world.The gallery's history starts in 1856 when the Moscow merchant Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov acquired works by Russian artists of his day with the aim of creating a collection,...

, where no one can see them now.

The notorious noblewoman Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova who was officially convicted of the torture and murder of 38 serfs--and perhaps many more--in a sensational trial during the reign of Catherine II, is buried in her ancestral tomb at Donskoy Monastery.

New Donskoy Cemetery

A large new necropolis was inaugurated in the 20th century just outside the monastery walls. Sergey Muromtsev
Sergey Muromtsev
Sergei Andreevich Muromtsev was a Russian lawyer and politician, and chairman of the First Imperial Duma in 1906....

 was among the first notables to be interred there. After the Russian Revolution, scores of Soviet soldiers killed during the Battle of Moscow
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow is the name given by Soviet historians to two periods of strategically significant fighting on a sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, capital of...

 and people executed by NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 were secretly buried as well. In 1927 the former church of St. Seraphim, situated at the New Donskoy Cemetery, was rebuilt to become the first crematorium in Moscow. Most of the mortal remains buried at the New Donskoy Cemetery are therefore interred in urns. The church featured extended vaults which seemed suitable to accommodate the technical equipment for the cremation of bodies. The new crematorium was opened in October 1927 and most of the individuals buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis
Kremlin Wall Necropolis
Burials in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Moscow began in November 1917, when 240 pro-Bolshevik victims of the October Revolution were buried in mass graves on Red Square. It is centered on both sides of Lenin's Mausoleum, initially built in wood in 1924 and rebuilt in granite in 1929–1930...

 were cremated here. Until the mid 1970s the Donskoy crematorium remained the only one of its kind in Moscow. Notable people whose remains are interred at the New Donskoy Cemetery include
  • Rudolf Abel (1903–1971)
  • Anna Abrikosova
    Anna Abrikosova
    Anna Ivanovna Abrikosova — was a prominent figure in the Russian Catholic Church, and a Religious Sister of the Third Order of St. Dominic. Since 2002, her life has been under scrutiny for possible beatification by the Holy See...

     (1882-1936, cremated and secretly buried).
  • Isaak Babel (d. 1940, executed and secretly buried).
  • Lev Kopelev
    Lev Kopelev
    Lev Zalmanovich Kopelev was a Soviet author and a dissident.- Biography :...

  • Solomon Mikhoels
    Solomon Mikhoels
    Solomon Mikhoels ; was a Soviet Jewish actor and the artistic director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater. Mikhoels served as the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee during the Second World War...

  • Konon Molody
    Konon Molody
    Konon Trofimovich Molody was a Soviet intelligence officer, better known in the West as Gordon Arnold Lonsdale. He was an illegal resident spy during the Cold War and the mastermind of the Portland Spy Ring....

  • Sergey Muromtsev
    Sergey Muromtsev
    Sergei Andreevich Muromtsev was a Russian lawyer and politician, and chairman of the First Imperial Duma in 1906....

  • Faina Ranevskaya
    Faina Ranevskaya
    Faina Georgievna Ranevskaya is recognized as one of the greatest Soviet Russian actors in both tragedy and comedy. She was also famous for her aphorisms....

  • Pavel Sudoplatov
    Pavel Sudoplatov
    Lieutenant General Pavel Anatolyevich Sudoplatov was a member of the intelligence services of the Soviet Union who rose to the rank of lieutenant general...

  • Vasily Blücher (1889–1938, executed and secretly buried)
  • Alexander Ilyich Yegorov (1883–1939, executed and secretly buried)
  • Stanislav Kosior
    Stanislav Kosior
    Stanislav Vikentyevich Kosior, sometimes spelled Kossior was one of three Kosior brothers, Polish-born Soviet politicians. He was General Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, deputy prime minister of the USSR, and a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union...

     (1889–1939, executed and secretly buried)
  • Vsevolod Meyerhold
    Vsevolod Meyerhold
    Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold was a great Russian and Soviet theatre director, actor and theatrical producer. His provocative experiments dealing with physical being and symbolism in an unconventional theatre setting made him one of the seminal forces in modern international theatre.-Early...

     (1874–1940, executed and secretly buried)
  • Evgeny Miller (1867–1938, executed and secretly buried)
  • Oleg Penkovsky
    Oleg Penkovsky
    Oleg Vladimirovich Penkovsky, codenamed HERO ; April 23, 1919, Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, Soviet Russia, – May 16, 1963, Soviet Union), was a colonel with Soviet military intelligence in the late 1950s and early 1960s who informed the United Kingdom and the United States about the Soviet Union...

     (1919–1963, executed and secretly buried)
  • Mikhail Tukhachevsky
    Mikhail Tukhachevsky
    Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky was a Marshal of the Soviet Union, commander in chief of the Red Army , and one of the most prominent victims of Joseph Stalin's Great Purge.-Early life:...

     (1893–1937, executed and secretly buried)
  • Nikolai Yezhov
    Nikolai Yezhov
    Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov or Ezhov was a senior figure in the NKVD under Joseph Stalin during the period of the Great Purge. His reign is sometimes known as the "Yezhovshchina" , "the Yezhov era", a term that began to be used during the de-Stalinization campaign of the 1950s...

    (1895–1940, executed and secretly buried)

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