The Donskoy Monastery

The monastery’s birth is related to a miracle and the monastery itself has become a miracle that keeps the memory of past centuries. It was built to serve as Moscow’s southern defence, so its purpose was both religious and military as a fortress monastery.

The Donskoy Monastery was founded in 1591 in honour of saving the city from the Crimean Khan Gaza II Girey’s invasion. The Khan had retreated without a fight which was estimated as a miracle. That year the Crimeans appeared in the most unprotected place – between the St. Daniel monastery and the Novo-Devichi Convent. The mobile fortress, so-called “Gulyai Gorod”, was built in order to repel an assault. An ambulatory church with the Icon of the Virgin Mary of the Don was established in the “Gulyai Gorod”. People called this icon the “Donskaya icon”. At the order of the Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich the monastery was founded near the old Kaluga Road where the “Gulyai Gorod” and the ambulatory church stood. Thus, it got its name from the Don Icon.

At first the temple had a helmet-shaped dome; the present onion-shaped dome and its drum were built in the 18th century. The aisles named after Sergius of Radonezh and Theodore Stratelates as well as a fratery were attached to the building by 1678. The construction of a tent-shaped belfry was completed a year after. In the Time of Troubles, when rebellion against Moscow authority was mobilised, the monastery was ravaged by Polish troops headed by the hetman Khodkevich. The monastery was utterly deserted for a long time after the ravage.

The sister of Peter I, Catherine, had made a vow to build a new cathedral of the Icon of the Virgin Mary of the Don and in order to carry out her vow a new cathedral was built near the old one during1684-1698. The new church was much bigger than the old one so it was called the “Bolshoi Cathedral” (big cathedral). The church was consecrated in August 1698. But the painting works were done only during the reign of Catherine II during 1782-1785.

The Donskoy Monastery’s role in the development of Russian culture was evident even in the middle of the 18th century. The Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy, the first institution of higher education in Moscow, was moved from the Zaikonospassky Monastery in 1747. The Donskaya religious school and a school of icon-painting were opened at the monastery. The Donskoy Monastery was famous for its musical culture. The Monastery’s choirs that used to perform at religious services were highly appreciated by the congregation and the Tsar’s court.

The Donskoy Monastery is one of few places where a unique cemetery with temples and burial vaults has been preserved.
The monastery had been returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in May 1991, at the 400th Anniversary of the monastery’s foundation. All the churches of the Donskoy monastery are restored by now. The monastery has again become one of the centres of Moscow’s spiritual life; all of its twelve churches are used for holding religious services.
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