The Oldest Monasteries in Moscow: places of worship and fortresses

We want to introduce our readers to a rare and amazing page in the chronicles of our city – a city with an extensive history that has survived many raids and remained standing through the toughest years, which kept growing and becoming more beautiful over the course of several centuries. For the most part, Moscow was able to survive due to the monasteries, the construction of which was the brainchild of the rulers of the Moscow kingdom.

An interesting fact: the monasteries were erected in Moscow for more than just religious purposes. They were also a good protection mechanism for city residents during raids or fires. These monasteries are located in the south of Moscow, since attacks on the capital came mostly from the south and the west.

Novodevichy women’s convent

Address: Novodevichy Passage 1, m. Sportivnaya
Tel. : Diocesan Office: +7 (499) 246-0881, church: +7 (499) 245-3168, tour desk: +7 (499) 246-8526

Novodevichy, one of the oldest and most beautiful monasteries in Russia, has kept its unique ensemble of buildings from the 17th century. The monastery was never reconstructed, which is why it has managed to retain its original architectural beauty over the centuries.

Novodevichy Convent was founded in May of 1524 by the Grand Prince of Moscow Vasily III to commemorate the victory over Smolensk (1514), which had been under Lithuania’s control for over a hundred years. The event marked the unification and establishment of a single, independent Grand Duchy of Moscow. The reigning idea of the royal founder, the succession of the two kingdoms (Byzantium and Rus), is expressed in the fact that the main cathedral church of the monastery is dedicated to the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God, named Hodegetria. The image of Hodegetria was the main shrine of Constantinople and the sacred palladium of the Byzantine Empire.

At the order of Vasily II, the first abbess of the Novodevichy Convent was the famous ascetic of the Suzdal Pokrovsky Monastery, nun Elena. 18 nuns arrived with her from Suzdal. Their prayers and efforts at Novodevichy created the foundation of monastic life based on strict communal living.

From the second half of the 16th century to the end of the 17th century, the history of Novodevichy Monastery is closely tied to the fates of royal dynasties: the leaving Rurikids and the first Romanovs. In these walls, women from the royal family and elite households took their monastic vows. In 1549, Ivan the Terrible baptized (and, a year later, buried) his first-born daughter Anna. In 1564, Princess Juliana Paletskaya, the widow of Yuri Vasilievich, the King’s younger brother, took her monastic vows here. In 1582, Elena Sheremetyeva, the widow of his murdered son Ivan, took her monastic vows here as well. In 1598, after the death of Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, Queen Irina Godunova relocated to the monastery from the Kremlin. Godunov built the widow spacious chambers, which were named after her, along with a house church (now called Amvrosievskaya Church). He also erected giant stone walls around it, turning into a strong fortress that protected the West of Moscow. In the middle of the 17th century, thanks to the efforts of the first Romanovs - Tsars Mikhail, Alexis and Fedor - Novodevichy was fully restored, released from taxes to the treasury and endowed with an estate. It became the wealthiest monastery in Russia.

The monastery fully blossomed during the reign of Sofia Alekseyevna (1682-1689). It was during her reign that the monastery acquired its unique architectural ensemble, which still surprises visitors with the harmony of proportions, variety of shapes and exquisite decorations.

Not all women came to the monastery of their own free will. At the order of Peter the Great, his sister Sofia Alekseevna was confined here and forced to become a nun after the Streltsy uprising. Those who sided with her were executed in front of the monastery and their heads were mounted on the wall.

In 1727, Queen Elena, the first spouse of Peter the Great, came the live at the convent. She was forced to take her monastic vows at the order of Peter the Great in 1699.

In 1812, the Novodevichy Monastery was occupied by French troops for a full month. Miraculously, the monastery was not ruined. When they were retreating, the French wanted to blow up the Smolensk Cathedral and the Church of the Assumption. Fortunately, the attempt was not successful.

In the 18th century, as a result of the reforms enacted by Catherine the Great, the monastery was tripped of its estate and received a money and bread allowance. In the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the number of nuns at the monastery reached 300 people. The sisters worked in the church, bread room, dining room, and needlework shop, as well as took care of the cemetery. The monastery’s white and gold needle workers were especially famous.

Life at the monastery, which had remained largely the same over the centuries, was interrupted by the October Revolution of 1917. The charity and educational institutions were shut down, savings and land were confiscated, and the cells were handed over to Red Army soldiers and workers. In 1922, the monastery was abolished.

In the fall of 1994, monastic life at Novodevichy Convent resumed. The monastery hosts services on Sundays and holidays during the summer. There are currently 30 sisters living at the monastery, headed by Mother Superior Margarita (Feoktistova). Traditional monastery crafts are being revived, including icon painting, sewing and gold embroidery.

In 2004, the architectural ensemble of the Novodevichy Monastery was added to the list of UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites. The ancient monastery is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Moscow.

The monastery is open to visitors daily, from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

Svyato-Danilov men’s monastery

Address: Danilovsky Val 22, m. Tulskaya
Tel.: +7 (495) 958-1107, office and tour bureau: +7 (495) 958-0502

The Danilov Monastery is the oldest monastery in Moscow, and was built at the end of the 18th century with the personal funds of Prince Daniil of Moscow. Daniil was the son of the famous Russian Orthodox Church patriot Alexander Nevsky, who defeated the Swedes and Teutons while defending Russia’s borders.

Other legends claim that, prior to his death, Prince Daniil took monastic vows (in 1303) and was buried at the Danilov Monastery.

The existing monastery was founded, or reopened, by Ivan the Terrible in 1560, supposedly in the same place where the former necropolis stood.

In 1591, when the army of the Crimean Khan Kazi Giray approached Moscow, a Russian fortified mobile camp was set up by the monastery.

In the beginning of the 18th century, the monastery was enclosed by a brick wall with 7 towers. By 1710, the Danilov Monastery had 30 monks. In 1764, there were 12 monks with the abbot. In 1900, the number of monks totaled 17. In 1812, the monastery was raided. On the eve of the French invasion of Moscow, the sacristy was moved to Vologda, while the treasury was relocated to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. In the middle of the 19th century, the abbot’s post was combined with the post of dean of the Moscow diocesan monasteries. At the end of the 19th century, the monastery owned 178 tithings, several houses in Moscow and a stone courtyard. Starting in 1805, the monastery included a hospice for elderly women. In 1862, a hospice for elderly priests and their widows was added. By 1917, there were 19 monks and 4 students at the monastery. The monastery owned 164 acres of land. At the end of the 1920s, the Danilov bell tower was dismantled. The bells from the belfry were saved by the American industrialist and diplomat Charles Crane and remained at Harvard University until 2007. The monastery’s day-to-day life is managed by the Archimandrite. Like all modern monasteries in Russia, the Danilov Monastery is cenobitic in nature, which means there are communal prayers, work and meals.

Services are held daily. There is a Sunday school operating at the monastery, catechetical courses for adults, publishing, tour services and church workshops.

Donskoy men’s monastery

Address: Donskaya Ploshyad 1-3, m. Shabolovskaya
Tel.: +7 (495) 952-1481, +7 (495) 954-4024 Web:

Donskoy Monastery was founded in 1591. The monastery inherited its name from the icon ‘Our Lady of the Don,’ which miraculously rid Moscow of an invasion by Khan Kazi Giray’s troops. Legend has it that Sergei Radonezhsky used the icon to bless Prince Dmitry’s troops before the Kulikovskaya battle. Thanks to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Khan Kazi Giray’s troops were chased out of the city, and Crimean Tartars never dared to invade Moscow again.

The monastery was founded on the same place where the army waited for the battle to begin, where the small church camp with the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary also stood. After some time, an Our Lady of the Don Cathedral, which is now called the Small Cathedral, was erected. This is how the Monastery’s present name was derived. Overtime, a new place of worship emerged between the Danilov and Novodevichy monasteries, which completed the formation of the Moscow defensive ring. In the beginning of the 19th century, Donskoy Monastery became the most privileged and wealthy place of worship in Russia. It had tremendous influence over the country’s overall spiritual and political life. From 1799 until 1827, Donskoy Monastery housed the Spiritual and Censorship Committee, which was then relocated to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. A religious school was located at the monastery in 1834. In the beginning of 1909, a school for novices was opened here as well.

Since the 17th century, the monastery has served as a famous burial ground for some of the most well-known people in modern history. Among others, the people buried here include the Georgian kings David (1688), Alexander and Matthew (1711). The monastery became the last place of worship for the philosopher Pyotr Chaadaev, as well as the poets M. Kheraskov and A. Sumarokov. Writer V. Odoyevsky, historian V. Klyuchevsky and architect O. Bove are all buried here.

In the 1930s, the grave of artist V. Perov was transferred here from Danilovsky Cemetery. In 2000, the remains of writer I. Shmelev were buried here. In 2005, philosopher I. A. Ilyin and general A. I. Denikin were buried here as well. One of the latest burials took place here in 2008, when Russian writer A. Solzhenitsyn was buried here.

Novospassky men’s monastery

Address: Krestyanskaya Ploshad 10, m. Proletarskaya, Krestyanskaya Zastava
Tel: +7 (495) 676-9570 Web:

The oldest monastic cloister in Moscow. It was founded in the 17th century by Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow. His son, John Kalita, transferred to monastery to the Kremlin in 1330. Then, at the end of the 15th century, it was transferred to Krutitsky Hill on the bank of the Moscow River and became an important defense point, warding off multiple attacks on the city. The tall riverbank served as a kind of sentry point on the approaches to Moscow from the south. The monastery was named Spas na Novom, or Novospassky.

During the reign of Ivan the terrible, the monastery was turned into a mighty fortress. Enemies that made it to the fortress were made with cannon and rifle fire. At the same time, the monks made bonfires and boiled water tanks or hot tar, then poured it over the heads of enemies from the wall.

When Mikhail I ascended the throne, Novospassky Monastery began to blossom. Even Peter the Great, who had a reserved attitude toward religion and wasn’t fond of monasteries, gave an order to decorate the monastery with paintings in 1689 and ordered a bell weighing 1,100 pounds to be made for the monastery to be made in 1717. In 1759, the bell tower was laid – a magnificent structure that still greets visitors at the entrance to the monastery.

In 1812, the monastery was heavily looted. The French looted the sacristy, devastating and burning cells and other structures. In 1913, the 300-year anniversary of the Romanovs, Nicholas II visited the Novospassky Monastery. Back then, the monastery, which was located on the outskirts of Moscow, became the center of religious and moral education. Against the backdrop of a general loss of interest toward religion, the monastery hosted missionary classes and educated the illiterate. The Society of Church Singing and Sobriety, organized by the monastery, was attended by many. The number of people who prayed increased significantly, and the monastery had trouble accommodating everybody who came.

The monastery was closed in 1918. Restorations didn’t start until 1968. In 1990, the monastery was returned to the Patriarchate.

A lot of revered Orthodox shrines are kept here.

There is a Sunday school, as well as a choir school for boys. The Novospassky Men’s Choir is one of the best choirs in Moscow and actively gives concerts.

The Conception Convent
(Zachatyevsky Monastery)

Address: 2nd Zachatyevskiy Pereulok 2, m. Kropotkinskaya
Tel.: +7 (495) 695-1691, +7 (495) 695-1694 Web:

This is the oldest monastery for nuns in Moscow. It has risen from the ashes a total of five times. The monastery was erected in 1360 by Alexius, Metropolitan of Moscow. This was the first monastery exclusively for women and all other women’s monasteries were based on this model. People started to call the monastery “Starodevichy.” It was known for strict adherence to ecclesiastical statutes and the unwavering devotion of nuns.

The monastery burned down several times over the past few hundred years. During the terrible fire in 1547, the convent burnt down completely but was resurrected thanks to the efforts of nuns and popularity among the people.

The Conception Convent was visited by childless couples who were hoping to be cured. It is said that many were able to conceive afterward.

In August 1612, the Conception Convent in Moscow was destroyed, as its walls were the battleground during the war with the Poles. The monastery was restored and it stood unharmed for a long period of time afterward. The next time it was damaged was in 1812, during the war with the French. A few years after its founding, a refectory church of the Nativity of the Virgin was built here. In the future, construction activities were pretty intense. In 1696, the Church of Our Savior Not Made By Hands was erected here. Andrei Rimsky-Korsakov, a nobleman under Peter the Great, donated the funds for the construction. In 1766, a Church in the Name of the Burning Bush Icon was erected here over the graves of the two cofounders of the first monastery.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the main cathedral of the monastery, Rozhdestvenskiy Cathedral, was erected under architect Kazakov. The grandiose building had several chapels and was the most prominent work of architecture in the Conception Convent.

On November 25, 2010, on the 650th anniversary of the Conception Convent, a historical event took place – the consecration of the restored Cathedral of the monastery and the first Divine Liturgy, which was headed by Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’ Kirill.

The Barvikha in Moscow has a monastery courtyard where the wooden Church of the Holy Virgin has been restored. Service is held regularly, and there is a Sunday school for children and adults.




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