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Novospassky Monastery, Russia

Experienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyagerExperienced voyager Joshua Brook
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Situated in the southeastern Taganka region of Moscow, the Novospassky Monastery claims to be the oldest monastery in Moscow and is thought to have been founded in the 12th century during the reign of Prince Yury Dolgoruky, the founder of Moscow.

Dedicated to the Savior and established initially on the site of the present-day Danilov Monastery, Novospassky was transferred to the Kremlin complex in 1300 by Ivan The Terrible and then relocated back to its present site in 1490 by Ivan III, hence its name "New Monastery of the Savior" or "Novospassky Monastery". The monastery's original buildings were razed to the ground by the Tartars and most of the structures still standing today date from the 17th century, when thick fortress walls and bastions were built to protect the complex from further Tartar attacks during the Time of Troubles.

During the 20th century the monastery played a more sinister role in Russia's history, serving the Bolsheviks as a concentration camp, the NKVD as an archive, housing a furniture factory and finally a alcoholics' rehabilitation center, before eventually being returned to the church in 1991.

The monastery complex consists of a thick defensive wall with seven bastions surrounding a courtyard cluttered with various ecclesiastical and secular buildings.

As you pass through the monastery's main gateway, guarded by a gigantic four-tiered bell tower, you see that impressive medieval-style facade of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior.

Built in 1645 on the site of the original cathedral and designed to look like the Cathedral of the Dormition in the Kremlin, the church and its crypt served as the family vault of the Romanov boyars until Mikhail Romanov's ascension to the throne in 1613. The cathedral's exterior features huge arched gables and helmet-shaped domes and its interior is covered with frescoes charting the history of the sovereigns of Russian from St. Olga to Tsar Alexei, and images of the great Greek philosophers. The church's dominating gilt-framed iconostasis includes icons of the Image of Christ and Our Lady Of Smolensk, which was donated to the monastery by the mother of Tsar Mikhail, who became a nun there.

Elsewhere in the monastery complex visitors will find the faded orange Church of the Sign, which contains the tomb of Pasha Kovalyova, the serf girl whose controversial and secretive marriage to Count Nikolai Sheremetev sent shock waves through late 18th century Muscovite high society. The Count claimed to have fallen in love with Pasha when he saw her for the first time, leading a cow home from the woods on his Kuskovo Estate just outside Moscow. The young peasant girl was tutored in the dramatic arts and became a gifted opera singer who performed at the Count's sumptuous Ostankino Palace under the stage name of "Zhemchugova", from the Russian word for "pearl". After fourteen years of living together out of wedlock, the Count married his serf bride but buried her in the cathedral just three years later when she died shortly after giving birth to his child.

Another interesting story linked to the monastery is that of Princess Tarakanova, whose remains are interred in a small tent-roofed chapel to the north of the main cathedral. The Princess, Sister Inokeniya Dosieeya, was the illegitimate child of Empress Elizabeth and Count Razumovsky. On being sent abroad to be educated, a Polish adventuress emerged and tried to claim her identity and her right to inherit the throne. The impostor was revealed and imprisoned, but Empress Catherine the Great thought it best to lure Tarakanova back to the country and confine her to a nunnery for the good of Russia. To this task she entrusted her favorite lover, Count Orlov, who seduced the young heiress aboard a ship before locking her in her cabin and ensuring her return to Russia.

Although one version of the story insists that the unlucky princess was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress and drowned during a flood, she was in fact brought to the Ivanovsky Convent and confined there for 25 years until Catherine's death, whereupon she had come to accept her fate and chose to stay.

Also in the monastery complex visitors will see a large pond, near the western wall of the fortifications, which once supplied the resident monks with fish but whose banks were later used by the NKVD to bury foreign Communists secretly shot during the purges of the 1930s. More info on: www.moscow-taxi.com

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