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Author(s) of the publication: Yekaterina LYUMINA

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by Yekaterina LYUMINA, Cand. Sc. (History), Moscow Kremlin Museums

White stone sarcophagi with the remains of grand duchesses and tsarinas have formed a part of the Kremlin Memorial Complex since 1929.

They were transferred from the Cathedral of the Ascension of the Lord of the Ascension Convent, located within the Kremlin walls (for the cathedral had been condemned for demolition), to the Court Chamber-the basement part of the Archangel Cathedral.

Studies of the tombs were launched in the 1990s, and six years ago the Historical Necropolis working group was formed.

Yelena Glinskaya's portrait. Restored by N. Nikitin. 1990s.

стр. 84

With materials of research being accumulated it was resolved to organize a permanent exhibition on their basis in the southern annex of the Archangel Cathedral. The exhibition's introductory part, according to the complex program elaborated by our specialists, should be devoted to the history of the architectural ensemble, the convent's life and activity in the course of the past five centuries and to its main Cathedral of the Ascension of the Lord that serves as the place of burial for women of the royal family.

Chronicles provide very scarce and varying data of the convent's foundation. According to one of the sources, "in the same spring of 6915 (1407) Grand Princess Yevdokiya Dmitriyeva laid the foundation stone of the stone Church of the Holy Ascension inside the city ... in the same year on June 7 she died ... and was named Euphroxie as a nun and buried in the convent in the Church of the Ascension of the Lord, for it was she who had ordered its construction". Another chronicle runs as follows: "In the same winter of 6894 (1386) Christian Semen Yama died and was buried in Moscow in the Holy Ascension Convent", i.e., the latter existed on the above-mentioned date.

The convent functioned under the patronage of the ruling dynasty. Symbolically, the tsars' brides used to stay here before marriage, and grand princesses and tsarinas, wives and daughters of the most distinguished boyar families took the veil here. People used to visit the convent to pay tribute to their deceased ancestors on memory days, or for a blessing before setting out for a long journey or for pilgrimage.

The inventory of property in 1763, 1820, 1859, 1910, account books, clerical work papers of the 18th-20th centuries testify to the great wealth of this convent, possessing lands and peasants who resided there, and to the large investments into it. The documents show that there was a vestry there with valuable church utensils and expensive vestments. The nuns had collected quite an impressive library. They rewrote and bound books with their own hands. Over 30 such rare books dealing with liturgical subjects are kept in our museums, including those with the investment and ownership marks of the Ascension Convent. Moreover, the convent had a school of religious painting, a gold embroidery workshop and a school for maidens of noble families to learn reading, writing and all kinds of needlework.

Old documents reproduce the picture of day-to-day life in the convent: repairs and reconstruction of churches, restoration of icons, voluntary donations made for new icon mountings (oklads), and so on.

The Church of the Ascension of the Lord, modeled on the Moscow Kremlin's Archangel Cathedral, dominates in the entire architectural complex. Archpriest Alexander Pshenichnikov devoted a lot of time and effort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the studies of its destiny, and he put out several books at the convent's expense dealing with the subject. In our days researchers Vsevolod Vygolov and Andrei Batalov, among others, went on with research into the subject. They identify the following three stages in the history of the necropolis church. Stage I was launched in 1407, as mentioned above, when the construction of the church was started by Euphroxie of Moscow. Further work

Venerable Euphroxie of Moscow. Icon from the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Sokolniki. Late 19th-early 20th centuries.

стр. 85

Our Lady of Kazan. Armory craftsmen. Late 1670s-early 1680s.

стр. 86

Our Lady of Odigitria. Dionysius. 1482.

стр. 87

Interiors of the Cathedral of the Ascension. 19th-century engraving.

went on under the patronage of her daughter-in-law Sofia Vitovtovna, the wife of Vasily I (1389 - 1425); the church walls reached the vaults (the light drum with the dome had not been completed). And in this form it had stood until 1467, when Grand Duchess Maria Yaroslavovna (the widow of Vasily II, who ruled in 1425 - 1462) completed the construction and Metropolitan Philipp consecrated the new church. However, it was burnt down by the fire in 1475 and was dismantled "due to the state of decay".

Stage II in the church's history began in 1518. On the order of Grand Prince of Moscow Vasily III (1505 - 1533), a stone building was erected on the intact old foundation, and it was consecrated by Metropolitan Varlaam in 1520. Stage III set in sixty years later: "On orders of Tsar and Grand Prince Fyodor Ioannovich of All Russia", runs the Piskarevsky Chronicle*, "a stone church was built in Moscow, in the Kremlin-town, near the Ascension Convent. It has five domes and is larger than the old one." This entry completely corresponds to the report of a Catholic heirarch, who visited Moscow in the late 16th-early 17th century; Tsar Fyodor "has erected a great Cathedral of the Ascension inside Moscow with a large convent for a great number of maiden nuns, and there are coffins of grand duchesses and tsarinas inside the great cathedral".

In the centuries that followed the cathedral was badly damaged by fires and was renovated in the 18th century in the years of the rule of Peter I, Empresses Anna Ioannovna and Yelizaveta Petrovna. However, the cathedral saw the most dramatic events in the 20th century. The convent was closed down in 1918, and the nuns led by the prioress were transferred to the church of the Lefortovo hospital. And Mother of Our Lord Odigitria, the main wonderworking icon of the Cathedral of the Ascension of the Lord (restored in 1482 by the icon-painter Dionysius) was transferred to the Krestovaya (Mirrh-Making) Chamber of the 17th century Patriarch Palace by decision of the Commission for the Confiscation of Monastery Values. The icon was subsequently transferred, first, to the State Historical Museum and then to the State Tretyakov Gallery in 1930.

In April 1929 the Soviet Government adopted a decision to pull down the buildings of the Chudov Monastery and the Ascension Convent to clear space for the construction of the Military School of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee (VTsIK). In anticipation of such a turn of events, Nikolai Pomerantsev, the then manager of the

* The Piskarevsky Chronicle is a Russian chronicle of the early 17th century, describing events that took place in the period from the origin of the Old Rus state up to 1615. - Ed.

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View of the Ascension Convent. F. Alexeyev's workshop. Prior to 1808.

Kremlin Monuments Department, who stood at the head of the commission of scientific workers in charge of the Kremlin collections and the Historical Museum, spared no effort to ensure the assignment of funds required to save the unique relics. He made arrangements within extremely short time limits for architectural measurement, photography of monastery structures and the tombs of grand duchesses and tsarinas, removal of the white stone sarcophagi with their remains to the underground chamber of the southern annex of the Archangel Cathedral. It was owing to these actions-certainly a feat of sorts - that many ancient icons, archives documents, gems of decorative-and-applied art have been saved for posterity and are now kept in our collections.

The works of art of the Cathedral of the Ascension of the Lord deserve special attention. Pomerantsev had transferred the greater part of its iconostasis to the Church of the Twelve Apostles. But it was smaller than the convent church, so there was no room for all icons. The remaining part was distributed among the museum stocks and have never been displayed. However, they are of great interest, in particular, they serve as a testimony of the influence exerted by West European prints on Russian painting of the period (illustrations of the so-called Piskator's Bible* served as a model for them). These icons, painted circa 1679, have been restored in our days and will take the place of honor in the currently prepared exhibition. One of them, representing Great Martyr Catherine, is a specially revered icon devoted to the patroness of the Moscow house of grand princes.

Our Lady of Kazan, also held in high esteem at the convent, is among the most significant icons of the Cathedral of the Ascension, it is now on display in the Armory. The relic holder** containing hairs and a fragment of the veil of Our Lady, brought from Constantinople, had been fastened to its precious mounting, dating back to 1717. The icon representing Our Lady of Vladimir dating back to the 16th century, donated to the convent by Princess Anna Trubetskaya (1633), is currently kept at the Cathedral of the Dormition. It testifies to the fact that such old monuments of icon painting were kept in the family chapels of Russian houses.

Holy relics, historical and artistic monuments kept at the convent will represent one of the main sections of the future exhibition. Moscow tsars revered the memory of their ances-

* Piskator Nicholas - a Dutch publisher and engraver. He put out "The Illuminated Bible" in 1650 with etchings based on drawings by Dutch artists. - Ed.

** Relic holder - a small box for keeping the saints' relics. - Ed.

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Great Martyr Catherine. Armory craftsmen. 1686 (?).

Irina Godunova's shrine from the Cathedral of the Ascension. 1589.

tors. The Books of Entrance of Russian Tsars and Patriarchs includes entries of regular services held on the days of prayers for the dead women of the ruling house, of valuable contributions to the monastery for prayers for their souls. Regrettably, most of the treasures accumulated over the past five centuries have been irretrievably lost.

Nevertheless, over 200 objects of the collection have been preserved, such as liturgical utensils with inserted inscriptions, altar crosses, in particular, that have never been displayed before, consisting of several pectoral relic-holding crosses, some of them dating back to the 16th century. Moreover, our museum takes special pride in the unique set of hearse-cloths, small-size covers (covers for liturgical vessels), church vestments from the Cathedral of the Ascension. Put on display in the same exhibition section, they will reveal the special historical and artistic significance of the collection accumulated by the once wealthy convent.

Another subject of the currently prepared exhibition project is associated with the study of white stone sarcophagi, grave stones-epigraphy items-and objects from burials. Our specialists have carried out unprecedented scientific studies, something not to be found in any of European necropolises. Bone remains were examined according to a

стр. 90

Removal of the sarcophagus of Tsarina Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina in August 1929.

special program and the appearance of princesses and tsarinas was reproduced by applying the method of the sculptor and anthropologist Mikhail Gerassimov (1907 - 1970)*. At present the portraits of Yevdokiya Donskaya, Sophia Paleologus**, Yelena Glinskaya*** and Irina Godunova have been reconstructed. Comprehensive restoration of funereal objects is currently carried on; the textile structure, fiber nature, thread interweaving, soiling type and fabric dyeing methods are being revealed. Numerous relics of great interest both for researchers and lovers of Russia's history have been restored and conserved.

All those relics of the past have been kept since 1929, as mentioned above, in the underground part of the southern annex of the Archangel Cathedral (the late 15th-first half of the 17th centuries), that will also form an important part of the future exhibition. Research has been carried out in this building in order to reveal its artistic value with prospects for its use as a museum (with limited access for visitors). It should be admitted that this medieval historical and architectural monument is in a poor state: due to low-quality hydroinsulation and absence of ventilation, water constantly seeped through the brickwork of its walls and chamber vaults and froze, the sarcophagi being destroyed in the process.

In the course of restoration of the cathedral, engineering and construction works were preformed to eliminate the above-mentioned defects; on the basis of the data revealed as a result of research, the arched bulkheads above window apertures were reinforced, and so on. In the course of digging in the southwestern corner, where the staircase adjoined the arched opening, interesting architectural elements were revealed: a hinge for the door lock, closed up in the stone block, forged fittings for the hinge-plates, an original white stone cantilever under the small arch**** of the vault, vertical reference lines scratched on the stone that probably served for calculation, and so on. In short, the old premises have recovered their initial appearance.

The monasteries and convents demolished in the Moscow Kremlin offer an interesting subject for a multifaceted analysis currently attracting the attention of the academic community. And the primary task of a future permanent exhibition is to tell about one of them and show the historical and cultural monuments of this unique complex that have been salvaged by our scientific workers' heroic efforts.

The author expresses gratitude to Rimma Kostikova, the originator of the exhibition concept, for the supply of materials.

* See: M. Gerassimova, H. Medvedev, "Reincarnating Images of the Past" Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998. - Ed.

** See: S. Nikitin, T. Panova, "Sophia Paleologus and the Greek Profile of Ivan the Terrible" Science in Russia, No. 1, 1998. - Ed.

*** See: S. Nikitin, T. Panova, "Meet: Grand Duchess Yelena Glinskaya", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2000. - Ed.

**** A small arch formed by two curvilinear ribs (between the cylindrical vault and the opening fitted into it). - Ed.


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Yekaterina LYUMINA, NECROPOLIS OF REGAL WIVES // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 27.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/NECROPOLIS-OF-REGAL-WIVES (date of access: 06.12.2021).

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