Donskoi Monastery - Dedicated to an Icon

Boris Godunov erected the Donskoi Monastery in 1591 in honor of the Donskaya Icon of the Mother of God that he believed delivered Moscow from the Crimean Khan Khazi-Girei. The Donskaya Icon of the Mother of God had accompanied Grand Prince Dimitry Ivanovich to Kulikovo to fight the Mongols and due to the icon’s presence, Godunov believed, the Grand Prince was able to win their battle in 1380. The Grand Prince was blessed by St. Sergei Radonezhsky, and after the victory at Kulikovo, the Prince and the icon became known as Donskoi. Godunov had used the icon to encourage and to fill his troops with a victorious spirit on the eve of his battle. After parading the icon to his troops, he left the icon in the field chapel for the duration of the battle. Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich had prayed to the icon, and according to legend, a vision appeared to him, to foretell of the coming victory. The very next day, the Tartars fled the battlefield in terror, and this caused the Russian army to erect a church to house the icon, and built the Donskoi Monastery on the site of the field chapel. Since them, the Donskoi Monastery has been the site of a varied and dramatic history.

During the 16th century, the monastery was abandoned and robbed. Tsar Alexei did restore the church but it wasn’t until the attacks from the Tatars, that Regent Sofia and Prince Golitsyn reinforced its fortifications. Peter the Great continued construction between the years1684 and 1783, which led to erection of the Great Cathedral and the massive defensive walls. The Donskoi Monastery had also become a popular burial ground by the 18th century, with many Georgian and Golitsyn princes and royals being laid to rest here, including Saint Gerain of the Muscovite Dead. The remains of the 19th century artist, Vasily Perov, was transferred to the Donskoi Monastery in 1930, and other famous people such as Pushkin’s grandparents and Tolstoy’s grandmother were all buried here. Many of Moscow’s aristocratic families had built small churches and chapels on the Donskoi Monastery’s cemetery ground, to host their dead and the generations to come.

The Donskoi Monastery was closed in 1917, just after the Revolution, and its monks were evicted in 1929 when the monastery was transformed into a Museum of Atheism. The Orthodox Patriarch Tikhon was imprisoned in two cells in the monastery, by the Bolsheviks, when they turned the building into a prison. Tikhon remained imprisoned here, till his death on 7 April 1925. After his funeral, the cathedral was devastated by a fire and everything but the Donskaya Icon of the Mother of God, was burnt. Tikhons remains were also found intact and he was placed in the cathedral, in a dedicated shrine.

The Donskoi Monastery was also the site where Stalins’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva was secretly baptized by priest Nikolau Golubtsov. It also housed the first Russian crematorium but the Russian Orthodox Church never prohibited cremations. The official Museum of Russian Architecture existed here from the 1934 as the monastery survived the destruction that was cast upon Moscow during the Soviet times. Donskoi Monastery can definitely be defined as an important site in the history of Moscow churches.


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