Russia Religion Monasticism Monastery Ipatiev Monastery

Ipatiev Monastery

The Ipatiev Monastery is one of the country’s oldest and most famous cloisters. It stands on the bank of the River Kostroma, opposite the city of Kostroma in central Russia.

The Ipatiev Monastery was founded around 1330 by Chet-Murza, a Tatar prince who wished to serve Muscovy. Making his way to the city of Moscow, he was struck down by illness and forced to make a stop where the River Kostroma flowed into the River Volga.

The Virgin Mary appeared to Chet-Murza in a dream and promised that he would be healed if he founded a cloister on that spot in honour of St Philip and St Ipatius. When the emir reached Moscow, he converted to Christianity, taking the name of Zacharius. He was granted permission to open a cloister and returned to Kostroma to fulfil his promise.

Although he founded the Ipatiev Monastery and acted as its ktetor, Chet-Murza did not become a monk himself. Over the centuries, his descendants supported the abbey, transforming it into one of the largest in the country.

In 1304, the chronicles record the murder of Chet’s son, Alexander Zerno, during an uprising at the public assembly (veche) in Kostroma. Alexander had a son called Dmitry, who himself had a son called Ivan Zernov. His sons Fyodor Sabur and Ivan Godun were the heads of two famous Russian families – Saburov and Godunov.

The Ipatiev Monastery was often at the centre of national events. The first time was in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, when the Muscovite Civil War was concluded there. The war was fought between two rival grandsons of Dmitry Donskoi – Basil II and Basil the Cross-Eyed – for the throne of Muscovy and ended when the two men signed a peace treaty at the cloister in 1435.

In 1442, the Ipatiev Monastery was granted the right to transport goods across the River Kostroma. By the middle of the fifteenth century, the cloister owned two neighbouring villages. In 1562, it possessed almost a thousand acres of arable land.

The various descendants of Chet-Murza did not forget the monastery, making generous endowments when taking the habit or burying relatives there. The cloister received major endowments from Mikhail Saburov in the 1470s and Fyodor Saburov (brother of Solomonia Saburova, first wife of Basil III) in 1528.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, the Godunov family became the main ktetors of the Ipatiev Monastery. They transformed the cloister from a wooden abbey into a stone fortress with handsome new buildings and lavish interiors. Construction work was headed by Gury Stupishin.

The five-cupola Trinity Cathedral was built between 1558 and 1559, while a heated refectory with the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin was constructed between 1559 and 1564. Both churches were built in the centre of the monastery and had spacious cellars, which were used as family burial vaults. The tombs were decorated with ornamental shrouds and icons in precious settings.

In 1586, Dmitry and Boris Godunov began to replace the old oaken fence around the monastery with new stone walls. They were acting with the blessing of Tsar Feodor I and his wife, Irina Godunova. The Godunov family donated over one and a half thousand roubles towards the project, which finally ended in 1591.

The walls were 518 metres long, one and a half metres thick and up to seven metres in height. They formed an irregular rectangle with round corner towers and square entranceway towers in the middle of three sections (the eastern, southern and western sides).

The main gates facing Kostroma were crowned by two identical churches with tented roofs. They were named after the patron saints of the tsar and his wife – St Theodore Stratelates and St Irene.

In 1604, Dmitry Godunov financed the construction of a monumental belfry. A bell weighing ten tons, cast by Danila Matveyev at the request of Boris Godunov’s mother, was hung from the belfry. Vaulted premises for cells, a bakehouse and cellars were built along the monastery walls.

The construction work greatly enhanced the prestige of the Ipatiev Monastery. In 1598, the abbot was awarded the title of archimandrite, while the cloister became known as a lavra. Over half a century, the monastery managed to quadruple its land holdings, owning a total of 442 settlements.

The Romanov family took refuge in the Ipatiev Monastery after they were expelled from Moscow by Boris Godunov. During the Time of Troubles in the early seventeenth century, the monastery was occupied by the False Dmitry and a Polish army. The foreign invaders were finally driven out of the monastery in 1609 by the forces of waywode David Zherebtsov.

On 21 February 1613, Michael Romanov was unanimously elected tsar of Russia by the national assembly in Moscow. An embassy of bishops and boyars set off for the village of Domnino near Kostroma, where he was known to be living on his ancestral lands. A detachment of Poles attempted to get there first and kill Michael, but they were deliberately led into an impassable swamp by a local patriot called Ivan Susanin.

The following month, Michael Romanov was formally offered the crown in the Trinity Cathedral of the Ipatiev Monastery. One of his first actions as tsar was to move the remains of Ivan Susanin, who had been murdered by the Poles, into the cloister.

The Romanovs became the new patrons of the Ipatiev Monastery, which became the fourth richest in Russia. By the end of the seventeenth century, the cloister owned twelve thousand serfs, vast estates and homesteads in Moscow, Yaroslavl and Kostroma. An additional source of income was its monopoly on transporting goods and people across the River Volga and the River Kostroma. By 1701, there were eighty-five monks and over a hundred workers and servants.

Between 1621 and 1624, Michael Romanov strengthened the monastery walls, which were made three metres higher and one and a half metres thicker. This work was performed by local stonemasons under the guidance of a number of apprentices sent from Moscow, including Ivan Neverov.

Between 1642 and 1643, again at the initiative of the tsar, a square-shaped piece of land (“New Town”) was added to the west of the old wall (“Old Town”) and surrounded by a similar wall. The project was headed by an elder called Joasaphus, while the builders worked under a stonemason called Andrei Kuznets from the neighbouring sloboda of Bogoslovskaya.

The western line of the “New Town” became the official face of the monastery. Two round towers stood at the corners of the stockade, flanking a square-shaped, higher, middle tower. The latter was called the Green Tower and was specially built “at the command of the sovereign, Michael Fyodorovich, in memory of the place where he ascended to the Tsardom of Muscovy.”

In the middle of the seventeenth century, the main focus of attention was the belfry and the cathedral. In 1649, the gunpowder stored in the ground floor of the Trinity Cathedral exploded, completely destroying the building. An elder called Paphnutius headed construction of a new catholicon between 1650 and 1652.

The old cathedral had not been large (8.5 x 101 metres) and the new building was based on the large suburban churches of Yaroslavl. The monks had wanted to construct a larger place of worship, but the tsar told them to economise and spend the money they had saved on bolstering the monastery walls.

The Trinity Cathedral repeated the general composition of its predecessor. The new building was a five-cupola, four-pillar, cross-in-square church, constructed on a high ground floor with galleries on three sides. Only the second tier of the galleries was covered.

The building of the new cathedral coincided with the work on the walls and the reconstruction of the belfry. In the sixteenth century, the territory of the monastery was not large, covering an area approximately 140 in length and 120 metres breadth. The new cathedral, which was 32 x 34 metres in size, immediately became the main dominant.

The wide galleries are decorated with girdles and pilaster strips with square coffers, white-stoned fretwork, ceramic tiles and keel-shaped frames round the large windows, imparting a solemn and imperious air. The northern facade, which has a large porch with a tented roof at the main entrance, is particularly imposing.

The main square was located on this side, between the cathedral and the wings of the archieros’s block. This explains the presence of a blind arcade in the middle of the northern facade. Blind arcades were characteristic of large Russian churches, following the example of the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. There were originally paintings in the arched gables and between the columns of the girdle.

A side-chapel of St Philip the Apostle and St Ipatius the Martyr was opened in the deaconry. A passageway leads from there to the side-chapel of St Michael Maleinos on the gallery (its cupola was originally covered in green tiles on the outside).

The frescoes were painted over a period of three months in the summer of 1685 by an artel from Kostroma, headed by the leading artists of that time – Gury Nikitin and Sila Savin. The multi-coloured paintwork and the wealth of rhythmic lines and spatial perspectives in the backgrounds create a buoyant feeling of joy, reworking the motifs and forms of Mannerist and Baroque art.

The central cupola is decorated with a painting of the New Testament Trinity, also known as Paternity, because God the Father is represented as the Ancient of Days. The upper tier of frescoes along the cathedral walls tells the legend of the Old Testament Trinity, when three angels appeared to Abraham in the guise of travellers at the Oak of Mamre.

The next two rows depict compositions on Gospel subjects. Further down are scenes from the Acts of the Apostles, which are linked to the original founding of the monastery in honour of St Philip, one of Christ’s twelve disciples. The images of Russian saints on the pillars include the first two Romanov tsars – Michael and Alexis.

The western portal was flanked with paintings of the archangels Gabriel and Michael, guarding the entrance to the cathedral, and large compositions of Jacob’s Ladder and Judgement Day. These frescoes were painted in the 1650s.

The doors in the three portals leading to the cathedral came from the previous building. During the explosion of 1649, they were believed to have been damaged beyond repair, but were later restored. The decorative copper plates on the doors were commissioned by Dmitry Godunov in Moscow in the 1560s.

Similar plates were made at that time for the Annunciation Cathedral in the Kremlin, probably by the same masters. The images were applied using a process known as fire gilding, in which an amalgam of mercury and gold was exposed to heat to vaporise the mercury, leaving a film of gold attached to the copper base.

The doors of the Trinity Cathedral are double-hinged. Each door has four plates, which depict the evangelists, prophets and scenes from the New and Old Testaments. On the southern doors, below the scenes of the Annunciation, are images of Plato, Apollo and the sibyls – prophets who predicted the appearance of Christ. The doors were the last in a series of analogous works created in Rus from the thirteenth century onwards.

The five-tiered gilt iconostasis inside the cathedral was carved by local masters working under Pyotr Zolotaryov and Makar Bykov between 1756 and 1758. The upper three rows contain icons painted in the middle of the seventeenth century. The entire festival series and several of the local icons are the same age as the iconostasis. Like the frescoes, the iconostasis was renovated for the tercentenary of the House of Romanov in 1913.

The Godunov burial vault was located in the ground floor of the cathedral, beneath the galleries. There are a total of fourteen tombs. Up until the middle of the eighteenth century, there were another thirty-eight graves in the ground floor of the refectory Church of the Nativity of the Virgin. When the refectory was reconstructed, these remains were buried in a common grave under the Trinity Cathedral. The oldest tomb, which has a beautiful carved stone and inscription, is the grave of Vasily Josifovich Godunov (1561).

While the new Trinity Cathedral was being built, the belfry was enlarged at the commission of Alexei Godunov between 1646 and 1649. A square pillar with a tented roof was attached to its northern side, greatly increasing the scale of the entire composition.

The original belfry of 1604 was simple and expressive, consisting of three tiers of open arcades (three arches in each arcade) ending in three small tented roofs, with a clocktower in the southern arch of the second tier. The belfry had eighteen bells. The simple lines of the cornices and archivolts underlined the compactness of the whole composition.

The new pillar was crowned by an open octagonal superstructure with a high tented roof. The windows had decorative frames, while the parapet of the upper tier was embellished with square coffers. In 1647, a new bell weighing ten tons was cast on funds donated by Alexei Godunov. In 1852, the arched apertures of the lower tier were filled in, while two-storey galleries with an open arcade were added on the western side.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, an ensemble of utility and residential buildings was constructed along the monastery walls. Some of them adjoined the walls, while others left an enclosed space, known as the zasenie (“place in the shade”). The most important buildings were the blocks on the northern and eastern sides, which formed the archieros’s house.

The Holy Gates stood in the centre of the eastern wall. Up until the eighteenth century, they served as the main entrance to the monastery, where boats arrived from the city on the other side of the River Kostroma. The gates continued to fulfil this role even after the construction of the New Town and the Green Tower.

The treasurer’s chambers were constructed to the north of the Holy Gates, next to the wall. They were adjoined by the abbot’s cells, which ran along the northern wall. The abbot’s cells were built in the 1640s as a single-storey block, but a second floor was added in the 1670s and 1680s, followed by a third in the late seventeenth century. This work was performed by the stonemason Grigory Mazukhin, a serf of the Ipatiev Monastery.

The treasurer’s chambers were also built in several stages. The oldest section adjoins the Holy Gates and dates from the late sixteenth century (the first and second floors). Looking from outside the monastery, the facades of the second floor merge with the eastern wall. The two-storey block was built up in the first half of the seventeenth century, almost reaching the northern wall, leaving only a passageway covered by a cylindrical vault. The third floor added to the abbot’s cells in the late seventeenth century rose above the treasurer’s chambers as far as the eastern wall. The eastern end was decorated with a Baroque pediment.

The two churches above the entranceway were rebuilt in the late seventeenth century and renamed in honour of St Peter and St Paul. In 1744, the Kostroma episcopate moved its headquarters into the monastery, which became the official residence of the archieros. The gateway churches were dismantled in the 1770s and replaced with the domestic Chapel of Our Lady of Vladimir.

The archieros’s block was rebuilt between 1820 and 1822 by local architect Nikolai Metlin. A third floor was added to the treasurer’s cells. Their beautiful seventeenth-century western facade was enclosed by a new wall, meaning that the window frames and portals now looked onto the inner corridor running along the new facade.

In 1832, Konstantin Thon submitted a project for the general reconstruction of the archieros’s house. In 1840, it was decided to build new gates and a gateway church on the site of the old Holy Gates. The church was named in honour of St Chrysanthus and St Daria, whose feast day is celebrated on 19 May – the anniversary of Michael Romanov’s departure for Moscow in 1613 and the day on which Russian troops entered Paris in 1814.

In 1841, the new church collapsed before it could be completed. It was rebuilt between 1852 and 1863 after a project by Konstantin Thon and a local architect called Grigoriev. The church was designed in the Neo-Russian style and imitated the composition and decor of the Green Tower. The facade facing the river is an eclectic fusion of historical portals, frames and square coffers with Neoclassical forms – pendant Corinthian columns on high rusticated pedestals and large high-relief figures of St Chrysanthus and St Daria flanking the entranceway. The two-storey southern (housekeeper’s) block at the Holy Gates was built slightly later, in the 1860s.

The north-western corner of the monastery was occupied by residential buildings. In the late sixteenth century, a block of monks’ cells was constructed along the northern wall. A second floor was added between 1758 and 1759.

The monks’ cells are adjoined by the bursar’s cells, which run along the western wall of the Old Town. The lower section of the bursar’s cells dates from the Godunov period of construction at the end of the sixteenth century. The second floor was added in the early seventeenth century. During the Time of Troubles, Michael Romanov lived there with his mother, Sister Martha (they are now known as the Romanov Chambers).

The historical importance of the Romanov Chambers explains their constant renovation over the centuries. In 1859, they were among the first in Russia to be restored by the architect Fyodor Richter, who rebuilt the main porch – albeit with mistakes. The walls of the upper floor were painted in imitation of diamond-pointed rustication in a checkerboard fashion.

Not far from the Romanov Chambers, gates leading to the New Town were built in the wall of the Old Town. On the other side of the gates, also at the wall, is the simple and monumental cellar block, constructed between 1586 and 1593. Further along the southern wall lie the buildings of the cooking house (early 17th century) and the candleworks designed by Konstantin Thon (1860s).

Only one historical construction survives on the territory of the New Town. This is the single-storey block of the Almshouse (later the Consistorium), which was built in the north-eastern corner in the 1670s. A second floor was added in the middle of the eighteenth century.

The eighteenth century brought an important change in the orientation of the entire architectural ensemble. In 1766, on the eve of the planned visit of Catherine the Great, it was decided that the main entrance on the eastern side, which faced Kostroma, was “difficult and inconvenient.” So part of the abbot’s block was pulled down in order to build new Baroque front gates in the centre of the northern wall.

The new gates were flanked by pavilions and decorated with a magnificent pediment and the empress’s monogram. Their architecture was slightly reminiscent of the Petrine Gates forming the entrance to the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg. This new addition added a colourful and contemporary note to the cloister, contributing to its stylistic diversity.

In 1913, the Ipatiev Monastery was at the centre of the nationwide celebrations marking the three-hundredth anniversary of the House of Romanov. Six years later, however, it shared the fate of virtually every other Russian abbey, when it was closed down by the new Communist government.

In 1958, during the Khrushchev Thaw, a museum of history and art was opened at the monastery. Thanks to the selfless devotion of the museum employees and restorers, all the buildings and many works of painting and applied art were carefully preserved and even restored. The territory of the New Town and to the north of the cloister was turned into a museum of wooden architecture. Ironically, the ensemble was probably never as well cared for as it was between the 1960s and 1980s.

The Ipatiev Monastery stands on the low bank of the River Volga, where it is constantly threatened by the spring floods. The greatest danger came in 1709, when the entire territory was under water and many buildings were badly damaged. After this catastrophe, a wooden dam on arched piers was constructed alongside the river (rebuilt in stone in 1837). Around the same time, an extensive park of lime, larch and oak trees was planted, providing a handsome backdrop to the historical ensemble.

In May 1993, the Ipatiev Monastery welcomed Patriarch Alexius II of Moscow and All Russia. Following this historical visit, an agreement was reached on the joint use of the monastery buildings by the religious and secular authorities.

The gradual transfer of the monastery buildings to the Kostroma diocese gathered pace in 2002. A special decree returning the cloister to the Russian Orthodox Church was drafted in 2004 and passed by the Russian government on 27 May 2006. A major contributory factor to this process was the visit of President Vladimir Putin to the monastery in May 2005.

On 15 May 2008, the Ipatiev Monastery was visited by his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, who spoke of the need to rebuild the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, which had been pulled down in the 1930s. Later that year, a new foundation stone was laid. In 2004, the Kostroma diocese opened the Church Museum of History and Archaeology at the monastery – a successor to the original museum founded back in 1913.

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