Russia Religion Monasticism Monastery St Daniel Monastery in Moscow

St Daniel Monastery in Moscow

The St Daniel Monastery was founded by Prince Daniel of Moscow, the youngest son of St Alexander Nevsky, in honour of his celestial namesake, St Daniel the Stylite. The exact date of the establishment of the cloister is unknown, but is traditionally regarded as 1282.

The first indirect reference to the “monastery of St Daniel on the other side of the river,” with a church and the first archimandrite’s office in Moscow, is found in the entry for the year 1330 in the Trinity Chronicles, which were written in the early fifteenth century. Prior to the mid-sixteenth century, there is no other mention of the cloister in the chronicles, suggesting that it fell into dilapidation in the 1330s or 1340s. The purported reason is the “negligence” of the abbots of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in the Kremlin, to which the St Daniel Monastery was subordinated. Whatever the case, there is no other record of the cloister before the sixteenth century, except for the presence of a Church of St Daniel the Stylite near the “village of Danilovskoe.”

In the sixteenth century, at the initiative of Ivan the Terrible, monasticism was revived at the site in memory of Prince Daniel of Moscow. The Book of Generations claims that the prince had taken monastic vows, died and been buried in the cloister that he himself had founded. Both the Trinity Chronicles and the Laurentian Codex, however, give his place of burial as the “Church of St Michael on the River Moscow,” meaning the Archangel Cathedral in the Kremlin.

Although Prince Daniel was not canonised as a saint until the second half of the eighteenth century, he enjoyed a local cult as the forefather of all the grand princes of Moscow. Archaeological excavations on the territory of the monastery in the 1980s uncovered numerous graves and the remains of tombstones with inscriptions dating from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, indicating the presence of a cemetery on that spot.

In the sixteenth century, Ivan the Terrible established annual royal visits to the St Daniel Monastery, where the tsar, accompanied by the metropolitan and leading clergymen, held a requiem for Prince Daniel. In the 1550s and 1560s, the cloister was governed by a specially appointed deputy and then, until the end of the eighteenth century, by an abbot. On 23 August 1798, the office of archimandrite was restored to the abbey, remaining there until the early twentieth century.

The topography of the St Daniel Monastery at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can be seen on an engraving from an album by Isaac Abrahamszoon Massa, the Dutch envoy to Muscovy. Dating from 1606, this work depicts the defeat of the Crimean Tatars, led by Khan Gazi II Giray, at the walls of Moscow. In the foreground is the earliest surviving image of the St Daniel Monastery, which marked the southern boundaries of the city. A single-cupola church with corbel arches stands inside a stockade, on a stream flowing into the River Moscow.

Judging by the authentic depiction of the village of Kolomenskoe further down the river, the artist wished to realistically convey the surroundings. The monastery stands in an open space, in the basin where the River Danilovka (now dried up) flowed into the River Moscow. The village of Danilovskoe was on the other side of the river.

Lying on the southern approaches to Moscow, the St Daniel Monastery became an unwitting participant in battles for control of the city. These included the attacks of the Crimean khans Devlet I Giray in 1571 and Gazi II Giray in 1591, the Bolotnikov rebellion of 1606 and other events of the Time of Troubles in 1607 and 1610. As the cloister was located “to the side of the field” where the chief battles were fought, it was not considered a strategic target, saving the buildings from even worse devastation.

The monastery’s main problems were its low-lying location. An historical record from 1737 reads: “The cloister is right on the River Moscow, so the walls and towers have been greatly undermined by the spring floods, while the foundations have been damaged by the ice.” The abbey appeared for the first time on maps of Moscow in the late 1780s and early 1790s, when it was incorporated into Serpukhov District.

Built in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, the Church of St Daniel the Stylite was made of wood and had a rectangular frame. Although archaeological excavations have not uncovered any traces of this building, the exact location of the St Daniel Monastery has still been tentatively established.

The site of the cloister is traditionally associated with the Church of St Daniel the Stylite, which is clearly mentioned in documents dating from 1627 as the place of worship of the Danilovskaya sloboda. This means that it stood on the right (southern) side of the River Danilovka. But when the monastery was reopened by Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, the new cloister found itself on the other side of the river.

The reason for this discrepancy is simple. After the office of archimandrite was transferred to the Kremlin, the thirteenth-century monastery fell into dilapidation. Over the interceding years, an urban settlement grew up in its place. So when the cloister was revived in the sixteenth century, another place had to be found nearby. The Church of St Daniel the Stylite, which stood on the site of the old abbey, remained in use as a congregational church.

An analysis of the remains of the buildings, however, suggests that the original monastery was located on the left side of the river – on the territory now occupied by the Church of the Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. This would seem to imply an alternative history of the Church of St Daniel the Stylite. Leonid Belyaev writes that the reopening of the monastery in the sixteenth century, which began with the construction of a stone cathedral, “necessitated the transfer of the congregational church on the left bank of the river to the village on the right bank.”

The rebirth of the monastery under Ivan the Terrible was accompanied by the construction of a complex of stone buildings. The Book of Generations contains a separate chapter on the reopening of the St Daniel Monastery, including a description of the active role played by the tsar: “Seeing the neglected place of Danilovskoe ... Ivan IV ordered a church to be built there, cells to be erected, and a priory to be opened.”

The Church of the Holy Fathers was the first stone construction in the revived monastery. The entire project was overseen by Ivan the Terrible, who was present at the consecration of the building on 18 May 1561.

The reason behind the unusual decision to name the catholicon after the “Holy Fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils” was a recent administrative reform, dividing Moscow into seven religious districts. Although the new church was not a central place of worship, the status of the St Daniel Monastery as the home of the first archimandrite’s office in Moscow justified the decision to name it in honour of such an important event in the life of the capital. The Church of the Holy Fathers remained the monastery’s catholicon right up until the nineteenth century, even though the dedication lost its meaning after further municipal reforms in the eighteenth century.

The original appearance of the Church of the Holy Fathers can be reconstructed from the monastery inventory of 1701, an engraving by Peter Picard (1668/69–1773) and archaeological excavations undertaken between 1983 and 1986. The church was a white-stoned, pillar-less, quadrilateral structure with one cupola and three semicircular apses built close together. The corners had flat pilaster strips beginning at the foundations. The quadrilateral structure appears to have had a cruciform vault.

Peter Picard’s engraving shows four rows of keel-shaped corbel arches running along the top. The single cupola was covered in green tiling. A covered parvis adjoined the main quadrilateral volume on the west. The inventory of 1701 records that the interior had a five-tiered iconostasis.

The relics of Prince Daniel of Moscow were found during the time of Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nikon in the mid-seventeenth century and transferred to the Church of the Holy Fathers on 30 August 1652. At the same time, two new places of worship were consecrated – the Church of St Alexius of Rome (named after the tsar’s patron saint) and the Church of St Daniel the Stylite.

The Church of St Daniel the Stylite and the Church of St Simeon the Stylite are mentioned for the first time in 1712. From the late seventeenth century onwards, the cloister is sometimes named after the catholicon and referred to as the “Monastery of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.”

By the first third of the eighteenth century, the Church of the Holy Fathers had fallen into dilapidation and was dismantled following a decree issued by the Holy Synod in 1729. The sixteenth-century church was pulled down between 1729 and 1730. A surviving fragment of the lower section of the southern wall was incorporated into the northern gallery of the new catholicon. In the nineteenth century, many historians mistakenly believed that the later eighteenth-century building actually dated from the reign of Ivan the Terrible.

Besides the Church of the Holy Fathers, wooden cells were also built when the monastery was reopened in the sixteenth century. The front territory to the west and the eastern grounds on the River Moscow were protected by a wooden stockade, while the other sides were surrounded by a wattle fence. Outside the stockade stood stables and the Danilovskaya sloboda with the Church of St Daniel the Stylite.

Construction of a new stone ensemble began in the 1670s. This complex consisted of the Church of the Intercession of the Virgin with a side-chapel of St Daniel the Prophet and a refectory, belltower, vestry and burial vault. The ensemble was constructed to the south of the sixteenth-century catholicon, with a slight deviation of the east-west axis towards the south.

The complex was built on a high ground floor. The quadrilateral unit of the two churches had two small cupolas on dome-drums and was adjoined on the east by the refectory. The altars of both chapels were equal in size and marked on the outside by semicircular apses. The Church of the Intercession of the Virgin was in the south, while the side-chapel of St Daniel the Prophet was in the north.

The refectory was adjoined on the west by a parvis with a porch, flanked by the square chambers of the vestry. The two-tiered tented-roof belltower rose above the porch. The northern apse was adjoined by a square burial vault on a ground floor, which had a separate entrance. There were two memorial plates on the wall of the burial vault. The first contained information on the death of Prince Daniel, while the other, which still survives, commemorates the transfer of the prince’s relics to the Church of the Holy Fathers in 1652. The burial vault contained a small chapel dedicated to St Daniel of Moscow.

When the building was reconstructed, the upper section was dismantled and the entire premises were covered with new vaults all on the same level. This gave the quadrilateral structure an upper floor, which contained the Church of the Holy Fathers, moved here after the sixteenth-century cathedral was pulled down in 1729. As a result, this building became the monastery’s catholicon.

The building was surrounded on three sides by an open gallery. The southern and northern sides had two porches with staircases (dismantled in the early nineteenth century), providing access to the portals of the upper church. A faceted apse was built above the burial vault adjoining the north-west section. The exterior decor combined elements of Naryshkin and Late Petrine Baroque.

The upper Church of the Holy Fathers was consecrated on 31 August 1730. On the first floor, the Church of the Intercession of the Virgin with the side-chapel of St Daniel the Stylite has more or less survived in its original form (the side-chapel was dismantled and turned into a sacristy in 1858). The Church of the Holy Fathers was painted by the artel of Grigory Yakovlev in 1736. Shortly afterwards, the adjoining belltower was reduced to two tiers and the Church of St Daniel the Stylite was built in its place.

The new church was built on the vaults of the parvis, alongside the western section of the original refectory. A small refectory adjoining the main quadrilateral unit was erected above the former belltower. The galleries were reconstructed in the early nineteenth century. Two new side-chapels were added to their eastern section – the chapel of St Daniel of Moscow in the north and the chapel of St Boris and St Gleb in the south.

After the Patriotic War of 1812, the catholicon was restored and reconsecrated. In 1819, a composition depicting St Alexander Nevsky and his son, St Daniel of Moscow, was painted on the western facade of the church (on the wall of the refectory Church of St Daniel the Stylite). A new iconostasis was installed in 1826 and renovated in the middle of the nineteenth century. At the turn of the century, the family burial vault of the Lyapin merchants was opened in the north-eastern chamber. The architecture and decor were designed by Franz Albert Schechtel (the frescoes, stained-glass windows and carved oak panels have not survived). The burial vault was divided into two tiers, with a chapel at the top and a crypt at the bottom.

Prior to the 1670s, the monastery stockade was made of wood. The original holy gates on the northern side were reconstructed between 1683 and 1701, when the walls were built from stone. The gates had three arched entranceways and tower-like endings. Between 1731 and 1732, a church “under bells” was built above the gates. This became the new home of the altars of St Simeon the Stylite and St Daniel the Stylite, transferred from the dismantled sixteenth-century cathedral.

This small quadrilateral building was the same size as the central portal of the gates and had a triple apse. Sometime before 1746, a belltower was added – a high octagonal belfry with a dome (recreated in 1983–84). The dome had two octagonal superstructures and was crowned by a small cupola. Open galleries were added to the eastern and western sides of the church, probably in the 1870s. The exterior decor of the main volume is similar to the archaic-style decor on the holy gates. In 1763, the altar of St Daniel the Stylite was moved to the second floor of the new catholicon, while the gateway church was consecrated in honour of St Simeon the Stylite.

The stone walls were constructed sometime around the mid-1690s. They are still wooden in the plan of 1692, whereas Peter Picard’s slightly later engraving shows stone walls and towers. The monastery took the form of an irregular rectangle with extended southern and northern sides. In the eighteenth century, the decagonal corner towers had domes with wooden lookout points beneath small cupolas. In the early nineteenth century, they were replaced by tented roofs.

As the territory of the monastery expanded, the western section of the wall was dismantled and rebuilt between 1869 and 1878. The new western wall had two corner towers and two gates, designed in the style of Old Russian architecture. By this time, there were a total of eight towers – New St Daniel’s Tower, Smithy Tower, St Alexius’s Tower, Abbot’s Tower, St George’s Tower, Hillside Tower, Patriarchal Tower and Synod Tower.

The Trinity Cathedral with the side-chapels of the Conception of St Anne in the south and St Alexius of Rome in the north stands at the centre of the modern architectural ensemble. Built between 1833 and 1838, this cross-in-square church was commissioned by Muscovite merchants Kumanin and Shetov, designed by Joseph Bové in the Empire style and completed by his younger brother Alessandro.

The monastery inventory of the mid-eighteenth century describes the abbot’s and friars’ cells as being made of stone: “Entering the holy gates, on the right are the friars’ cells consisting of one apartment ... and the abbot’s stone cells consisting of two apartments.” The dorter stands to the south-west of the holy gates. A third floor was added when the building was renovated in 1819. In the early twentieth century, the block was joined to the gateway church.

A block of treasurer’s (senior friars’) cells was built to the east of the holy gates in 1777 and reconstructed in 1872. In 1871, a new brick dorter was constructed in the western territory of the monastery (a further two floors were added in 1930). The main facade of this two-storey building looks onto the Trinity Cathedral.

Ever since 1627, the existence of the wooden Church of St Daniel the Stylite has been documented in the nearby Danilovskaya sloboda. In 1699, a member of the congregation called Fyodor Vasilyev financed its reconstruction in stone. The exterior of the church has been re-established in the course of archaeological excavations – a cruciform building with side protuberances and lopped corners.

Between 1832 and 1834, the stone church was rebuilt with new side-chapels of St Peter and St Paul, St Elijah the Prophet, St Nicholas the Miracle-Worker and St John Chrysostom. The new building was designed by Fyodor Shetaskov and financed by Ivan Rybnikov (a wealthy industrialist) and the rest of the congregation. The quadrilateral unit was crowned by a cupola on a high lantern dome-drum. The apse is located in a risalit with six pilasters and a pediment. Similar, but less protuberant, risalits decorate the northern and southern facades.

The Church of St Daniel the Stylite is adjoined on the west by a refectory with the same width as the main volume. A three-tiered belltower rises up above the entrance to the refectory. At the turn of the century, a number of other buildings lay outside the monastery walls – a utility yard, an almshouse, a congregational school, a hospice and the stone Chapel of St Daniel of Moscow.

The 1917 revolution began one of the darkest chapters in Russian history. Although this was a time of severe trials for the St Daniel Monastery, it was also a period of spiritual growth. On 1 May 1917, Archbishop Theodore (Pozdeyevsky) of Volokolamsk was appointed abbot of the St Daniel Monastery. Having previously served for eight years as the rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, he attracted many learned scholars to the cloister.

In 1918, the Communist government issued a decree separating the church from the state, stripping the monastery of the right to own property. The monks and the congregation were forced to register themselves as the “Danilovskaya community.”

On 20 February 1919, the Danilovskaya community signed a concord with the Moscow Soviet, recognising its rights to the Church of the Holy Fathers, the Trinity Cathedral, the belltower with the Church of St Simeon the Stylite and the chapel on Bolshaya Tulskaya Street. The agreement was signed by ninety-six people, sixteen of whom were monks.

As Father Superior Theodore was continuously arrested, he appointed deputies to govern the community. Even though he was in a state of almost permanent imprisonment, the group maintained regular contacts with the abbot and always sought his blessing on matters of special importance. The ordinations of new monks, deacons and priests continued. In July 1923, the community numbered over 1,100 people.

After the closure of such important cloisters in central Russia as the St Sergius Monastery of the Trinity and the Optina Hermitage, the St Daniel Monastery became the new spiritual heart of Russia. The abbey’s churches were always filled with worshippers, while the service was often taken by several archpriests, who closely followed the monastery’s typikon. Father Superior Theodore headed the opposition based around the cloister to the “Living Church” – a grass-roots movement for religious reform infiltrated by the Communist government with the aim of spreading dissent among believers.

In another attempt to undermine the Russian Orthodox Church, the Soviet authorities launched a campaign to seize all religious valuables. Over 120 icons and gonfalons were removed from the Trinity Cathedral, while 164 objects were confiscated from the Church of the Holy Fathers. In 1919, the Church of St Simeon the Stylite was closed down, followed by the chapel on Bolshaya Tulskaya Street in 1926. In spring 1929, the cemetery was vandalised.

In 1927, the NKVD moved into the monastery, opening a detention centre for the children of political prisoners. In October 1929, the Trinity Cathedral was closed down and converted into a flour warehouse. Divine services continued in the Church of the Intercession beneath the Church of the Holy Fathers. In April 1930, the Danilovskaya community was served by eighteen priests – the largest body of Orthodox clergymen in the whole of Moscow.

On 6 October 1930, the community was denied access to all remaining monastery buildings. The following day, the relics of St Daniel of Moscow were transferred from the Church of the Holy Fathers to the congregational Church of the Resurrection at the walls of the St Daniel Monastery (where divine services continued until 1932). One night, they were removed from the church and taken away to an unknown destination.

The deliberate destruction of the monastery buildings began in 1930. The belltower was pulled down and the gateway church was vandalised. The Church of the Holy Fathers lost its roof and the side-chapel of St Daniel the Stylite, while workshops were opened inside the building. The cupola and the southern and northern porticos of the Trinity Cathedral were destroyed. Inside the cathedral, the NKVD detention facility opened a canteen, a cinema and a sports hall. Industrial buildings were constructed on the burial grounds.

In autumn 1982, in the run-up to the thousandth anniversary of the adoption of Christianity in Rus, Patriarch Pimen (Izvekov) of Moscow and All Russia asked the government to return one of the Moscow monasteries to the Russian Orthodox Church. On 5 May 1983, the historical ensemble of the St Daniel Monastery and the adjoining land were officially awarded to the Moscow Patriarchy. The cloister became the headquarters of the patriarchy, which was permitted to build new auxiliary premises.

Regular church services began to be held at the monastery on 3 September 1983. An icon-painting studio was opened and run by Father Superior Zinon (Fyodor). With the help of another monk, Vyacheslav Savinykh, the abbot painted icons for the iconostases in the lower side-chapels of the Church of the Holy Fathers. A five-tier iconostasis was installed in the main part of the church, with icons painted by masters from Kostroma in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The belltower was rebuilt in 1985. A year later, the Trinity Cathedral was reconsecrated. In 1988, two new side-chapels were opened in the ground floor of the Trinity Cathedral – the Chapel of St Seraphim of Sarov and the Chapel of St John the Baptist. The monastery walls, towers and the hospital block were rebuilt, while a new dorter was designed by G. Golubchikov.

Between 1985 and 1988, the new residence of the patriarch and the Holy Synod was built in the western territory of the monastery. The complex included the Chapel of All Russian Saints, designed by a team of architects headed by Yury Rabayev. The two-storey residence combined modern Soviet architecture with the traditional layout of a late medieval palace. The facade was decorated with a mosaic above the portal with an image of the Holy Mandylion by Yevgeny Klyucharyov.

The first deputy of the revived monastery was archimandrite Eulogius (Smirnov), who now holds the post of archbishop of Vladimir and Suzdal. From 1992 to the present day, the cloister has been headed by archimandrite Alexius (Polikarpov).

On 4 September 1997, a statue of Prince Daniel of Moscow was opened and consecrated by Patriarch Alexius II. The monument was built on St Daniel’s Square, near the monastery. On 17 March 1998, the Chapel of St Daniel was consecrated on the same spot.

The monastery has restored the Church of the Sign in the village of Dolmatovo in Moscow Region. The cloister has also opened the Skete of St Sergius of Radonezh in Ryazan Region.

The holiest objects in the monastery collection were the relics of St Daniel of Moscow, which were discovered in 1652. The inventory of 1701 states that the shrine with the saint’s remains stood in front of the iconostasis in the south-eastern corner of the Church of the Holy Fathers. In 1763, it was moved to the arch by the left kliros, between the central section of the church and the northern side-chapel. The wooden shrine had a silver gilt setting, created on funds donated by Prince Fyodor Golitsyn.

In 1812, invading French soldiers removed the setting and plundered the contents. A new silver shrine was made in 1817 after a design by Y. Kaftannikov. The subsequent fate of the relics after 1932 is unknown. On 29 May 1986, part of the prince’s relics once belonging to Father Superior Theodore (Pozdeyevsky) were returned to the cloister from the United States, where they had been carefully preserved by his spiritual brethren.

In 1987, a museum was opened at the monastery. The collection includes many exhibits tracing the lives of the various abbots and monks, the cult of St Seraphim of Sarov and the history of the Optina Hermitage. A special section is devoted to objects discovered during excavations of the monastery cemetery – pectoral crosses, panagias, enamel icons, works carved from wood or mother-of-pearl, chalices and unguentaria (glass or porcelain vessels for storing unction).

The final act in the restoration of the St Daniel Monastery was the return of its bells. The historical ensemble of bells was put together over the course of several centuries. One bell was endowed to the monastery by Ivan the Terrible in the second half of the sixteenth century. In 1682, two more were donated by Tsar Feodor III. One of them has survived and is now in the Ivan the Great Belltower in the Kremlin (unfortunately, it has a vertical crack).

Another bell weighing approximately one ton was cast at the monastery in the late seventeenth century. There were eight bells in 1859 and fourteen by the end of the nineteenth century. The largest bell, weighing around thirteen tons, was cast at the Finland Foundry in Moscow in 1890. Several more appeared in the early twentieth century. The largest weighed six tons and was called the Polyunctuous Bell. In 1907, the entire ensemble consisted of eighteen bells.

In 1930, the bells were acquired by the American industrialist Charles R. Crane, who donated them to Harvard University. After the monastery was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, hope for the restoration of the bells appeared. In 1985, Father Superior Eulogius wrote to the American ambassador to the USSR, Arthur Hartman, who replied that the bells had survived and could possibly be returned to Russia.

Although the initial aim was to restore the bells to the monastery in 1988, during the nationwide celebrations marking the thousandth anniversary of the adoption of Christianity, the dialogue was interrupted until 2003. Finally, in March 2007, an exchange agreement was signed in the patriarch’s residence, with Harvard University agreeing to return the original bells to the St Daniel Monastery.

On 10 September 2008, the bells were welcomed back to Moscow. On 12 September – the anniversary of the discovery of the relics of St Daniel of Moscow – they returned to the monastery in a solemn ceremony attended by Patriarch Alexius II and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

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