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Danilov Monastery, Russia

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The Danilov Monastery purports to be the oldest in Moscow and was founded in 1282 by Prince Daniil Moskovsky, the youngest Son of Alexander Nevsky. Daniil was the first Grand Prince of the new Muscovite Rus and was buried here in the monastery in 1303 and later canonized. Like the city's other monasteries (Novodevichy, Donskoy, Simonov, Novospassky and Andronikov), which were all built between the 13th and 16th centuries, Danilov was not merely a center of religious and spiritual life and a seat of scholarly learning, but a powerful defensive fortress whose walls defended Moscow from attacks by enemy Tartars, Lithuanians and Poles.

Moscow's six major monasteries were all protected by thick, high walls and towers that together formed a defensive half-ring around the city. In 1591 Danilov Monastery played a crucial part in defending the capital of Rus from raids by the Crimean Tartars led by Khan Kazy Girei. In December 1606, the monastery was again the site of a major battle, when the Russian peasant army led by Ivan Bolotnikov fought valiantly but unvictoriously against the troops of Tsar Vasily Shuisky.

Monastic activities continued at Danilov until it became neglected and fell into disrepair during the reign of Ivan Kalita, the son of its founder. The ruler of Rus transferred the monastery's monks and icons from the crumbling buildings and neglected cemetery into the Kremlin in 1330 and they only returned some 200 years later when the Grand Princes and later Ivan the Terrible chose to revive the site. Legend has it that in the late 15th century, while riding along the Moscow River with his retinue, Grand Prince Ivan III passed the place where Prince Daniil's grave once stood. Suddenly one of the horses stumbled and its rider fell off and an apparition appeared to the fallen rider, who claimed to be Prince Danill Moskovsky himself, and chided the ruler of Rus for neglecting his grave and the monastery he founded. From that time on the Grand Princes of Rus remembered their dead ancestor in regular prayers and Ivan the Terrible set about restoring the monastery. A few years later the fearsome Russian ruler decreed the construction of a Cathedral to the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Holy Father and together with his sons Ivan and Fyodor attended its consecration in 1560. The cathedral is a complex structure, painted entirely white, and ornamented with a deep porch topped by a green dome and a refectory with arched windows that leads through to two chapels. The northern one is dedicated to St. Daniil and the southern one to the Saints Boris and Gleb. The interior of the cathedral is home to the old Vladimirskaya Icon of the Mother of God, which features original portraits of Ivan the Terrible, his son Ivan, and Makarii, the then Metropolitan of Moscow.

The monastery was home not only to monks, but the refuge of many laymen, including the writer Gogol, the musician Rubinshtein and the philosophers Samarin and Khomyakov, founders of the 19th century Slavophile movement, all of whom were buried in the monastery's cemetery.

After 1917 the monastery was one of the last to be closed down and became the refuge of many priests who had been evicted by the Bolsheviks from their own churches and who disagreed with the ethics of the new regime. They became known as "Danilovtsy". In 1930 the monastery was closed and many of its oldest relics and icons disappeared and have never been recovered. In 1931 a statue of Lenin was erected in the central courtyard of the monastery and the buildings were converted into a juvenile reform center. In May of that year the remains of Gogol, Rubinshtein, the Khomyakovs and the poet Nikolai Yazykov, were exhumed from their graves and reburied in Novodevichy Cemetery, and the churchyard destroyed to make room for the construction of new buildings to house the inmates of the reformatory. Most of the inmates of the institution were children whose parents had been arrested or shot during Stalin's purges of the 1930s.

It was only in 1983, over fifty years after its closure, that Daniilov Monastery was returned to the Church and became the official residence of the Moscow Patriarch and the seat of the Holy Synod, which had previously been housed at the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergei, just outside Moscow. In exchange for the return of the monastery, the Church was pressured into financing the establishment of another juvenile reform center elsewhere in the city.

Today many of the monastery's original structures are still standing and have been renovated and augmented with new buildings to house the modern residence of the Patriarch and the administration buildings of the Synod. The monastery's impressive surviving brick walls and towers were added to the monastery complex in the 17th century. Visitors enter the monastery ramparts through the Gate-Church of St. Simeon the Stylite, which was built in 1732 but reconstructed after being torn down in the 1920s by Soviet authorities and its bells sold to Harvard University. The gateway is painted a soft pink, guarded by stout columns and an elaborate cornice and topped by a triple-tiered bell tower decorated with pictures of the Saints. Inside the compound stands the austere Trinity Cathedral, built in 1833 by the architect Osip Bove and featuring plain yellow portico-ed walls topped by a single green cupola. Visitors will also notice the gold-domed Millennium Chapel, adorned with a quadruple arch and built on the site of the earlier statue of Lenin to mark the millennial anniversary of the establishment of Christianity in Russian in 1988. It was impossible to restore the graves destroyed when the cemetery was obliterated by the Bolsheviks, but the newly erected chapel stands as a memorial headstone for all those buried in the monastery grounds. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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