Church stories: Why Pushkin married in a refectory and the location of the secret community

Church stories: Why Pushkin married in a refectory and the location of the secret community
The Church of the Great Ascension presents material on the renovation of the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery (High Monastery of St Peter) and the Greater Church of the Ascension and on historical events connected with them.

The Naryshkin tomb, Mortier's residence and valuable relics

Vysokopetrovsky Monastery is a landmark of Ancient Rus architecture and a magnificent example of the Naryshkin Baroque that characterises almost an entire block near Petrovka Street. By the way, the street was named after the monastery. Its history is connected with important moments in the development of the Russian state: the rise of Moscow and the first emperor of Russia. It is noteworthy that both episodes include people named Peter, although they are separated by almost 400 years.

Saint Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow

One of the oldest monasteries in Moscow, Vysokopetrovsky Monastery, was founded in the early 14th century. It was named after the Apostles Peter and Paul and later after Saint Peter, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia.

In the 12th–14th centuries, all Russian principalities were controlled by the Golden Horde. There was no unified state or separate church. The Metropolitan of All Russia was elected by the Patriarch Church in Constantinople and answered to it, and his throne was located in Kiev. In 1324, Saint Peter transferred the throne to Moscow, because Kiev was constantly raided and burned. The atmosphere in Moscow under Ivan I Kalita was favourable, the financial outlook was good and the city was relatively secure. Many Russians began to move to the Moscow Principality, including Kirill and Maria, parents of Sergius of Radonezh, who would later play an important role in the creation of the Russian state.

The fact that the throne was moved in the early 14th century shows that Moscow was rising as the centre of spiritual life in Russia. Two years after moving to Moscow, Saint Peter passed away. He was buried in the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.

Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin

Italian architecture and Naryshkin Baroque

In 1497, Saint Peter’s remains were moved from the Kremlin to Vysokopetrovsky Monastery where they lie today. In the early 16thcentury, Vasili III ordered the building of a stone church to honour the metropolitan. It was designed by a specially-invited architect from Italy, Alevisio Lamberti da Montagnano (Aloisio the New). The construction was completed in 1517. The unusual dome (helmet-shaped with an octagonal tower) is still impressive today in its elegance and simplicity.

In the 17th century, Kirill Naryshkin, father of Natalya Naryshkina – Tsar Alexei’s second wife and mother of Peter the Great – lived not far from the monastery. During the 1682 uprising, Natalya’s brothers, Ivan and Afanasy, were killed and her father was forced to take the vows and exiled to Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery (St Cyril of Beloozero Monastery) where he died. After the Naryshkins had proven their status as the most influential family at the court, Ivan and Afanasy were buried in Vysokopetrovsky Monastery, which became the Naryshkins’ tomb. The stone Bogolyubovo Icon Cathedral was erected on the brothers’ graves in the late 17thcentury.

When Peter the Great took the throne in 1689, the monastery entered into its golden age. The monastery buildings of that time are good examples of Naryshkin Baroque. Back then, the walls of St Peter Church were decorated with frescoes that can still be seen today. In 1690, the construction of a belfry and a gateway church (the Gateway Church of the Intercession and the Kazan Chapel) began. The church is located right above the holy gate that leads to the monastery from Petrovka Street, and the belfry dominates the entire area.

In 1690, the construction of Sergius Refectory began in honour of Venerable Sergius of Radonezh. On the outside, the building resembles the refectory of the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius. The decorating was completed in 1697, and cells for monks were also built at this time. They are connected to the refectory by an archway.

In 1750, Peter the Great’s relatives built the Church of the Theotokos of Tolga. In the mid-18th century, the Church of Pachomius the Great, founder of the monasticism in Egypt, was added.

Difficult times and secret community

When Moscow was occupied by Napoleon’s troops, the monastery was ransacked. It served as residence to Marshal Mortier, military governor of Moscow. But the relics survived, because they had been removed before the French advanced. The main shrine – the St Peter Icon with a fragment of his remains – is still in the monastery today. Other relics include the miracle-working Our Lady of Kazan, the remains of Mitrophan of Voronezh, and fragments of the remains of Sergius of Radonezh, Saint Spyridon and Seraphim of Sarov. There is also the reliquary with the partial remains of 82 saints and venerable persons who strived in the caves of Kiev Pechersk Lavra.

The churches of the monastery were closed after the October Revolution, but a secret monastic community existed nearby in 1920–1950. For example, there was a priory dedicated to the Icon of Our Lady of the Sign in an apartment in Pechatnikov Pereulok.

Services were restored in 1991, and monasticism in 2009.

Renewal of the monastery

The monastery’s 700th anniversary was marked in 2010. In 2011, the Moscow Government approved a large church renovation programme that included Vysokopetrovsky Monastery. The project began in 2016. Four buildings are to be completed this year (another two have already been restored).

The walls, floors, ceilings and frescoes have been revamped in the oldest church, the Church of Saint Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow. The foundation and bricks were strengthened, the porch restored and the facades renovated and decorated with frescoes. The church has a remarkable dome, made with wooden petals. The paths and stairs of the porch have been covered with granite tiles and the walls have been decorated in 16th century style.

The repair of the ceiling, drainage system, facades, walls and the promenade fence are underway in Pachomius the Great Church. Experts are restoring the decorations and interiors and renovating floors, doors and windows. The renovation of the quadrangle and the apse as well as the white-stone decor, the roof of the quadrangle, covering, cupolas and knobs is nearing completion in the Sergius Refectory. The walls, ceilings, gateway and stylobate of the belfry and the gateway church have been strengthened and the drainage and skirting renewed. In addition, experts have restored doors and windows and renovated the facades, ceilings, staircases and stucco decorations.

The Greater Church of the Ascension: From wooden church to Moscow’s most famous one

Another most famous church in Moscow – the Church of the Ascension in Storozhki, also known as the Greater Church of the Ascension – is also connected with the Naryshkin. The first church was built there in the mid-16th century. Natalya Naryshkina’s 17thcentury palace was located nearby. The wooden church was replaced by the stone Ascension Church in 1685, on her orders.

In the late 18th century, Count Grigory Potemkin decided to build a new church next to the old one. The construction began in 1798 and lasted for almost 50 years, involving many famous architects.

Five centuries of Russian history: Legendary church where Alexander Pushkin got married

Pushkin and Goncharova

By 1831, the old church had been dismantled and services were held at the new church. The Goncharov family, who lived nearby, often went to this church. On 18 February 1831, Natalya Goncharova and Alexander Pushkin, a valet de chamber, walked down the St Nicolas side altar of the church, which was not yet complete. Memorial services in honour of Pushkin are held annually at the Greater Church of the Ascension.

After the construction was complete in 1836, a year before Pushkin’s death, a decision was made not to add a new belfry as was originally planned because a tent-shaped one remained from the previous church. This was functional up until 1937. On 19 September 1848, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow consecrated the new church.

Garage, laboratory and renovation

In 1931, the church was closed but the building survived. At first, it housed a garage, and in the 1960s, a laboratory of high-voltage gas discharge tubes was situated there. In 1987, it was given to the Russian Orthodox Church. On 23 September 1990, Patriarch Alexy II conducted the first service there.The renovation of the Greater Church of the Ascension began about that time.

For over 10 years, the artist Alexei Artemyev was in charge of renovating murals in the church. A belfry was built in 2002–2004. Large-scale works began from 2010 onwards, as part of the Moscow renovation programme. In 2012, a ramp and a staircase were built and the brickwork was reinforced in the refectory ceilings and walls, as well as in seven fence pillars. In 2017–2018, paintings on the walls and ceilings of two chapels, the central altar and the section under the dome were restored. Experts have also repaired the artificial marble and the stucco decorations.

Renovation of Moscow churches

Moscow churches are renovated within a Moscow government programme which provides grants for the restoration of places of worship and landmarks. The programme’s biggest advantage is that the funds are allocated both for federal and regional landmarks. Between 2011 and 2018, 52 landmarks were repaired or renovated. This included a total revamp of 33 sites. This year, Moscow allocated money for the repair of 17 landmarks, including monasteries and individual churches.

Among them are such famous places as the Nativity and St John convents, Novospassky Monastery, Church of the Simeon the Stylite, Church of the Joy of All Who Sorrow Icon, Church of John the Baptist, Church of St Florus and St Laurus, Church of St Nicholas in Khamovniki and the Greater and Smaller Churches of the Ascension.