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November 23, 2021

The Novodevichye (Russian Новодевичий Монастырь) convent is also called Bogorodite-Smolenski Monastery, (богородице-смоленский монастырь). 

Registered at the UNESCO World Heritage since 2004, this is one of the most famous monasteries of Moscow, and although it is not the oldest, it is best preserved. 

The convent is a 10-minute walk from Sportivnaya Metro Station near the Moskva River.

  • Address: Novodevichye Proezd 1, Moscow
  • Open every day from 7 AM to 7 PM
  • prices: 300 RUB for the exhibitions – 100 Rub for The cathedral of Smolenskv – 300 Rub for the cemetery

Table of Contents

Construction and the first century of the monastery

The Convent of Novodevichye, named the icon of the Mother of God in Smolensk (the former monastery Devichi in Kremlin was called the monastery of Ascension), was founded in 1524 – 1525 by the Prince Vassily III of Moscow, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Smolensk conquest. 

In addition, a five-domed cathedral has been erected on the model of the Cathedral of Dormition in the Kremlin. The Smolensk Cathedral at the Novodevichye Convent’s first abbess of the monastery was Elena Devochkina of Suzdal, who was later canonized. After that, only noblewomen, representatives of royal or noble families, pronounced their wishes in the monastery. 

They made considerable donations to the monastery. Tsarevna Tatyana, the daughter of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich, the widow of the Tsar Fiodor Ioannovich, Irina Godounov, the Sisters of Peter the Great, Catherine and Eudocia, delivered their wishes here. 

The first stone wife, The Great Eudocia Lopukhina, was also buried there. For many of them, Novodevichye became a prison. In 1610, the Novodevichye convent fell into the hands of the Poles.

Once returned, the Tsar decided to affect permanent guards whose numbers did only increase over the years as the place was necessary for the defense of the city. More than 100 soldiers were assigned in 1616, 400 in 1618. 

The number of peasants allocated also multiplied from a hundred peasants in the 1530s to more than 14,000 in 1740. The peak of the construction of the Convent of Novodevichye is located in the 1680s; under the reign of Tsarina Sophia Alekseevna, new buildings were born. Almost all of the monastery, with the exception of the old cathedral, walls, and rooms of Irina, is realized in the new Baroque style Moscow of the time.

 In a short time, a high bell tower (attributed to the architect Yakov Boukhvostov), churches-doors on the North and South doors, a refectory close to the Church of the Dormition, and new niche ramparts appeared. 

After the overthrow, Tsarine Sophia was also imprisoned and died in 1704. The appearance of the monastery has hardly changed since. In 1724, a collection center for young girls found was opened at the monastery for 250 people.

A religious fortress

The cathedral is the central point of the monastic set that also includes many other important buildings. These frescoes are among the most refined; they relate episodes of the Old and New Testaments. 

The golden iconostasis was installed in 1683. Its five lodges contain some of the icons carried out by the most prominent Russian painters of the seventeenth century, including Simon Uchakov and Constantin Zubov. 

The major part of the buildings was built in the 1680s when the convent was renovated under the impulse of the Regent Sophie. 

The impressive red brick walls and the 12 turns show the defensive appearance of the monastery. Two churches overlooking the doors, the refectory, and the residential districts are all built in pure Baroque style Moscow. But the most impressive building is probably the steeple with a height of 72 meters. It was the highest building after Ivan’s bell tower.

Napoleon wanted to burn Novodevichye

During this period, the convent reached such a reputation that nuns from all Orthodox Europe came to find refuge. In addition, the monastery was a vital place in Moscow; it housed a military hospital, an orphanage for girls, and an immense religious complex. 

In 1812, all valuable goods of the monastery, sacristy, and church (including the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God) were evacuated to Vologda. On September 8, the French occupied the monastery: in the cells in the housing of Marshal Davout. 

On September 25, Napoleon visits the Novodevichye Monastery. On his order, the church of the beheading of John the Baptist, located on the east side of the monastery, was dynamited. Later, in memory of this temple, the Church of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council will be built and destroyed again in the 1930s. 

When leaving Moscow, the French tried to blow up the monastery itself, but according to the legend, most locks, which led to the barrels with gun powder, were wetted by the rain, and the rest was off by the nuns. 

Thus, the monastery was saved from imminent death. In 1871, it was established inside the monastery, a school for non-noble orphans, as well as two hospices. 

The convent also inspired great authors of Russian literature, such as Leon Tolstoy, who imagined some of his characters passing an essential moment of their lives or inside the monastery (War and Peace and Anna Karenina)

Soviet period to the present day

The Cemetery of the Novodevichye Convent was severely damaged during the Soviet era. Most of the tombstones were destroyed, but the tombs of the soldiers of the war of 1812 mainly remained intact. The breaker of Novodevichye was preserved during the Soviet years. 

It was first occupied by the “museum of the released woman” and then by part of the historic state museum. In the mid-twentieth century, theology courses were taught, and the churches of transfiguration and dormition were restored for divine services. 

Finally, the whole complex was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. A museum of the Moscow diocese is today in the monastery. 

The monastic community has started working again in 1994, and in 2010, the monastery was transferred to the diocese of Moscow. The entrance to the sanctuary is free. In addition, there is a museum that retains parts of old Russian art. 

In 2004, the architectural ensemble of the Novodevichye Convent was included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The former monastery is one of Moscow’s most visited tourist attractions. 

In summer, the Smolensky Cathedral is open to visitors. New exhibitions are being prepared, as well as restoration work.

The Novodevichye Monastery Cemetery

Like other Moscow monasteries (the monastery of Danilov or the Monastery of Donskoi), the breaker of Novodevichye was chosen by the Russian nobility as a burial place. 

In the cemetery, the writers Nicolas Gogol, Anton Tchekhov, Vladimir Maikovski, Leon Tolstoy, the director of Stanislavski theater, the Eisenstein filmmaker, the Scriabine and Prokofiev composers, and also Khrushchev. 

During the Soviet era, the highest state personalities, such as Peter Kropotkin, Nikita Khrushchev, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitry Shostakovich, Constantin Stanislavski, Fedor Chaliapin, were buried there. 

The cemetery is worth a visit; you will find typical statues of the Soviet era and representations of the buried people.

List of people buried at the Novodevichye Cemetery:

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