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Andronikov Monastery, Russia

Experienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyager Joshua Brook
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The Andronikov Monastery, located in the Taganka region of the city just a metro stop away from the Novospassky Monastery, was built in 1360 on the steep eastern bank of the Yauza River as part of Moscow's outer defensive ring of monastery-fortresses. The monastery was founded by Metropolitan Alexei, who vowed to do so if he survived a violent storm during his return sea journey from Constantinople. He promised to dedicate the monastery to the saint whose feast date coincided with his safe return to Moscow - which turned out to be Our Savior (in Russian Spas). The monastery's present-day name, Spaso-Andronikov Monastyr, combines that of The Savior (Spas) with that of its first abbot (Andronik), who was entrusted with the running of the monastery when Alexei was summoned to the Crimea to treat the ailing favorite wife of the Khan of the Kypchak Horde at Sarai. As a reward for this service Alexei was given land that the Khan owned in the Kremlin, on which Alexei built the Chudov Monastery. The monastery's most famous monk was undoubtedly the great 14th century icon painter, Andrei Rublev.

Rublev is thought to have been born about 1360, although we don't know where, and entered the icon workshop of the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergei outside Moscow as a young apprentice. He is believed to have worked under the supervision of the great icon painter, Theophanes the Greek, who immigrated to Rus form Constantinople and tutored the country's native icon painters in Byzantine styles and methods. This style of icon painting emphasized the spiritual essence of the work, rather than the accuracy of its subjects' proportions and the 14th century saw a tendency towards softer, more intimate iconographic works. To these Byzantine traditions Rublev added something that was uniquely Russian, a mystical sense of otherworldliness, illustrated in deep rich colors, gentle lines and faces which seemed to gaze lovingly at us from heaven itself. These are the characteristics that distinguish Rublev from the many other icon painters of his age, and although none of his works are identifiable as his by signature (as Russian painters, especially iconographers, did not sign their work until the 17th century), these stylistic factors and written evidence lead us to attribute some of the country's greatest iconographic works to this master of the genre. During the last decade of the 14th century Rublev created icons for the Zvenigorod Cathedral, approximately 40km northwest of Moscow, and in 1400 was commissioned to work on the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin and its namesake in the ancient Rus city of Vladimir. Written documentation provides no doubt that Rublev was the author of the famous Old Testament Trinity icon, which was painted between 1411 and 1422 and originally resided in the Holy Trinity Cathedral of St. Sergei, although today it is housed in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Rublev is said to have retired to the Andronikov Monastery, where he died in 1430 and was buried in the monastery crypt. He was canonized in 1989 by the Russian Orthodox Church and a statue erected to him in the park outside the monastery, which hosts an annual celebration in his honor on July 17th.

After the Revolution the monastery was turned into a prison camp and later a hostel for housing the workers of the nearby Hammer and Sickle factory. Although scheduled for demolition during the 1950s, a renewed interest in religion and the Orthodox faith saved the monastery and in 1960 it formally reopened as the Andrei Rublev Museum of Early Russian Art, in honor of the 600th anniversary of his birth.

The monastery itself is encircled by white stone crenellated ramparts with stout lookout towers added at three corners, built in the 17th century to replace the earlier high earthen ramparts topped with wooden palisade and blockhouses. Visitors enter the complex via the Holy Gate, flanked by turrets with cone-shaped wooden roofs, and immediately encounter the 17th century Abbot's Residence, ornately decorated with ceramic tiles. In the center of the compound stands the Cathedral of the Savior, built between 1425 and 1427 and one of the oldest stone buildings in Moscow. The church is decorated with frescoes by Rublev himself, traces of which still remain but are currently undergoing restoration. The cathedral's exterior shows the distinct influences of early medieval Vladimir architecture, including a helmet-shaped dome and triple apses. Along the west wall of the monastery stands the larger, multi-tiered structure of the Moscow Baroque Church of the Archangel Michael, an amalgamation of different buildings dating as far back as the turn of the 16th century and commissioned by Peter the Great's mother-in-law in honor of her grandson's birth. The monastery became a popular base for the Old Believers, a schismatic religious sect created when the Patriarch Nikon attempted to reform the Russian Orthodox Church under Peter's father, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich The original two-story Refectory was built between 1504 and 1506 and was added to with the creation of the main Baroque church in 1694. It was originally intended to be the private chapel and burial vault for the family of Yevdokiya Lopukhina, the first wife of Peter the Great, but just four years after construction began the Emperor forced his wife into a convent and exiled her family to Siberia, whereupon building work almost ground to a halt and the cathedral wasn't finished until 1731.

For those enticed by the Andrei Rublev Museum, the collection is housed in various buildings in the monastery complex. Although it does not actually possess any icons by the master painter himself (most of which are on display in Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery), it does boast a fine collection of 15th century works by the Rublev School, 17th century works from the ancient Rus city of Novogorod and an 18th century Our Lady of Tikhvin icon from the Donskoi Monastery. The museum also includes a separate exhibition of decorative and applied art, including jewelry, goblets, coins and religious vestments from medieval Rus onwards. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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