Vladislav DARKEVICH, Dr. Sc. (Hist.),RAS Institute of Archeology
The history of the Novy Jerusalem Monastery of the Resurrection is linked with one of the outstanding and dramatic figures in the history of Russia - Patriarch Nikon (1652-1658). It was he - "the chosen and firmly established shepherd and mentor of souls", as he was respectfully addressed in messages by the ruling sovereign, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1645-1676) - who made the monastery a symbol of his convictions about the omnipotent power of ecclesiastical authority and its aesthetic principles. Over a period of one and a half centuries a whole constellation of celebrated architects and artists of the time was engaged on the construction of the cloister ensemble located near the town of Istra, some 58 kilometers west of Moscow.
That time, in the 17th century, when one's social status and wealth eclipsed any and all of personal virtues, it was the Church alone which offered an opportunity for the common folk to attain any position of prominence and gain popular respect and recognition.
The future Patriarch and "a bosom friend of the tsar" was born in May 1605 into a peasant family in the village of Valdemanovo near Nizhni Novgorod and was baptized with the name of Nikita. Exposed to the evil temper of his stepmother, the boy could bear it no more and fled from home to the Zheltovodsky Monastery of St. Macarius (in the Nizhni Novgorod gubernia). There he was placed into the care of some learned starets (elder) who encouraged him in the reading of sacred books and engaging in various monastic chores. It was at that time that the boy heard a prophesy about his future. When asked by a monk about his parents, the youth said: "I am a commoner." He heard in reply something he could never forget to the end of Ms life: "You shall be a great sovereign over the tsardom of Russia!"
Nikita returned to his father's house when he was 20. He attended the funeral of Ms father and got married, but the call of the Church and the lure of the Wisdom Divine prevailed over Ms worldly cares and lures. The author of the Life of Patriarch Nikon - his contemporary by the name of Ivan Shusherin - tells us that Nikita became a prominent village priest in a place called Lyskovo of the Nizhni Novgorod territory. When news of this learned young priest reached some Moscow merchants they arranged Ms transfer to the capital where he continued Ms parish service for the next 10 years. As fate would have it, his three children all died at a tender age, which their father took for a divine commandment to withdraw from the worldly cares. The future patriarch then moved to the remote Anzersky Skete on the islands of Solovki where he assumed obedience under an elderly monk Eleazar. At the age of 31 he took monastic vows with the name of Nikon and submitted himself to some harsh trials in complete solitude. He was tall and of a strong build which helped him through many and truly harsh circumstances in Ms life. His physical strength, however, called not only for feats of seclusion, but for some tangible practical achievements. After some time he fell out with the Father Superior and fled from the skete. Travelling in a small boat, which nearly perished in a storm, he reached the Island of Kiy near the estuary of the Onega River. When he became the Patriarch, he marked the spot of his bodily salvation with his personal cloister, called Krestny - of the Cross. From the Onega estuary Nikon walked over a distance of 120 versts to the Kozheozersk Wilderness (hermitage) near Kargopol. Three years later its brethren made him their hegumen, or Father Superior.
On his trip to Moscow in 1646 Nikon caught the eye of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich himself and impressed the sovereign to such an extent that he wished him made Father Superior of the Novospassky Monastery - the family burial place of the Romanovs. The tsar often visited the cloister to pray for the repose of the souls of his kin and spared no time for long conversations with Nikon. The Father Superior on his part took advantage of such meetings to petition the sovereign for some of the oppressed and the wrongfully aggrieved which built him in public eyes the reputation of a benevolent intercessor and protector.
In 1649 he received with the help of the tsar the post and rank of the Metropolitan of Novgorod the Great - the second in importance in the Russian church hierarchy which made it possible for him to have his say in wordly affairs. This included visiting
the local jails where he talked with the inmates and heard their complaints, and he also interfered in administrative matters and even offered advice to the tsar himself. This paved the way for tsar's "particular friend in the body and spirit" to the very summit of state authority When Patriarch losif passed away in 1652, Nikon, who was 47, became his successor. And through all these years he cherished the idea of the priority of the Church over the state-an idea which was alien to the Byzantine tradition and the ideals of Eastern Orthodoxy in general. Having received from the tsar an honourary title of "Great Sovereign", Nikon took it as a token of real power and authority. His cherished ambition was to see at the helm of the Church a patriarch with the same infinite power as the monarch himself. But he chose the tactics of persistent refusals to accept the post and finally all of those gathered for the election in the Dormition Cathedral, including the tsar and the boyars, swore on their knees to obey him in all matters as both "the archpastor and the superior father". In this way Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich - a deeply religious person and of a very cordial and responsive disposition by nature - placed Nikon in a position unrivalled by any of the patriarchs or metropolitans in all of the preceding decades of Russian history.
Without taking into account these special traits of Nikon's personality and his political views, one can hardly understand the roots of the church schism * which had such great and tragic role to play in the social history of Russia and its culture. Nor can one understand the ideological message, scale and particular character of the monastery ensembles erected under the guidance of the all-powerful Patriarch.
From what we see today, Nikon was blessed with a creative gift and a fine aesthetic taste which was combined with Ms thorough understanding of the importance of church architecture and art in general in the ideological strife and collisions of the period. And he started out by founding a monastery for himself which he proclaimed a new holy site. That was in keeping with some long-standing church traditions according to which church hierarchs usually started out by founding a new cloister and making it a popular place of public worship. For his cloister Nikon chose an island in the middle of Lake Valdai, surrounded by forests. He dedicated the monastery to the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God which is kept on Mount Athos. A special copy of the celebrated icon, adorned with gold and precious stones, was ordered for the main stone church of the new cloister and rumors began to spread among the faithful of miracles and healings happening within its walls.
Nikon's plans of elevating ecclesiastical authority included a grandiose project of building near Moscow an exact replica of the famous Jerusalem Church of the Resurrection-the central
* See: V. Molzinsky, "Old Belief and Russian Culture", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1999. - Ed .
Christian holy shrine which was then in the hands of the infidels. Nikon cherished the idea of making it possible for the Russian faithful to see with their own eyes the sites of the Lord's Passions even without going on an expensive and perilous pilgrimage to the East. The project launched by the Patriarch in 1656 was continued even after he fell out with the tsar. Having resigned his rank, Nikon left Moscow (1658) and withdrew to his favourite Voskresensky Monastery. There the disgraced and demoted patriarch focused his efforts on erecting stone buildings with the tsar continuing to provide lavish donations for the new construction. The construction came to a halt with the imprisonment of Nikon who was formally condemned by the Church Council of 1666-1667.
And he remained under punitive supervision in the Ferapontov Monastery * until 1676. The years after the death of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, when Joakim became the Patriarch, was the darkest page in the life of the disgraced Nikon. He was confined to the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery ** and the conditions of his confinement were even more harsh than before. In 1681, thanks to a personal intervention on his behalf of the aunt of Tsar Fyodor Alexeevich (1676-1682), Tatyana Mikhailovna, and Simeon Polotsky, an ecclesiastical figure and church writer, Nikon was transferred to the Monastery of the Resurrection. By that time he was already so ill and so advanced in years that he could hardly walk. The strain of the journey to his new place of confinement proved to be too much for the old man and he died during a stopover in Yaroslavl. The Tsar ordered his body to be brought to the Monastery of the Resurrection and laid to rest in the Church of St. John the Baptist in accordance with the wish of the deceased.
At this point, however, let us take a new look at the history of the Monastery of the Resurrection in Novy Jerusalem-a cloister whose very name was an embodiment of the ambitious cherished dreams of him who was once hailed as "the beloved offspring" of the Tsar.
...The small village of Safarovo - an estate of the boyar family of the Boborykins - was located on the Big Volokolamsk Road at a crossing over the Istra. In 1637 the landlord built there a Church of the Resurrection from which the village got its name (it later grew into a town of Voskresensk, which is "Resurrection" in Russian, and which is now called Istra). On his way from the Iversky Monastery at Valdai the patriarch often stopped there for the night, and he came to like the village for its picturesque location on a high bank of the Istra, covered with forest. He finally chose this spot of rare natural beauty for his ambitious project and bought Voskresenskoye and several nearby villages.
* See: V. Darkevich, "Frescoes of Dionisiy'' Science in Russia, No. 4, 2000.- Ed.
** See: V. Darkevich, "Northern Thebes'' Science In Russia, No. 3, 2000.- Ed.
In 1656 Nikon embarked on the implementation of his program with true zeal and enthusiasm. The builders cleared from forest a peninsula with a high cliff upon it, which was levelled out for a building site. They erected there a wooden church of the Resurrection with a refectory. The grounds of the new cloister were surrounded with a moat on three sides and the rampart was topped with timber walls fortified by eight towers. The formal blessing of the new church took place in October 1657 in the presence of the sovereign, his court and church hierarchs. Looking from a hill at the new monastery, the pious Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich is said to have exclaimed:
"It must have been truly God's will to choose this spot for a monastery because of its exceeding beauty, like that of Jerusalem."
And Nikon then proceeded to give his own names to spots and places around the cloister. The hill from which the tsar had enjoyed the panorama of the place was named Mount of Olives, the River Istra was renamed into Jordan, a hill on the opposite bank became Mount Tabor, a grove of trees between the river and the cloister became the Garden of Gethsemane and an oak tree close to the monastery grounds became the Oak of Mamre and so on.
For the people of Russia the monastery-fortress on the Istra was meant to become a center of religious attraction and ecclesiastical authority. The biblical tradition was also sealed in the names of access roads and towers of the cloister, like the tower Church of the Entrance to Jerusalem, the towers of Sion and Gethsemane, of the House of David, of Elizabeth, of Damascus and so on, and also in the names of sections of the Resurrection Cathedral itself.
The laying of the foundation stone of the cathedral took place on September 1, 1658 without the usual pomp and after Nikon's self-imposed resignation. But pulling some really powerful economic strings and being a brilliant organizer, the former Patriarch enlisted on his Istra project literally hundreds of gifted craftsmen from all over Muscovy and its neighbours. This accounts for some novel artistic and aesthetic principles manifested in the architecture of the monastery and its distinct style. For example, the rotunda of the cathedral was topped with a vast tent-like hipped roof-something not in line with the Orthodox tradition. The main altar of the Church of the Resurrection had five sections with five communion tables for all of the five ecumenical patriarchs. The one in the middle was chosen by Nikon for himself as a sign of his priority and prevailing authority among all others.
The ex-patriarch was the first to start a working day on the building site and the last to lay down his tools. He helped digging ponds near the cloister, bred fish, built mills, planted orchards and gardens and toiled on a par with ordinary workmen. He also started a school for the children of monastery lay brothers in which kids were taught to read and write and had special classes of
icon-painting and various skills. On church feasts he took the role of the archpastor and, clad in simple and modest clothes and carrying Ms archpastoral staff in Ms hand, he celebrated Divine Liturgy which was followed by a common fraternal repast. Nor was he oblivious of acts of mercy, which had favour in the eyes of the tsar. The cloister accepted all strangers, providing them with free food and accommodations for three days and nights. When some tired soldiers happened to come by, Nikon personally attended to them at the dinner table and even washed their feet in keeping with the Gospel tradition.
The builders engaged by Nikon possessed mature technical skills, used books on architecture and must have had perfect command of technical drawings. Among technical books kept at the monastery during the construction of the cathedral there were even some translated building manuals, like "Book of samples of pillars for churches and chambers, or stone bridges and other supports structures for various occasions". The craftsmen who designed the Resurrection Cathedral could have been using some "models"-souvenirs brought by pilgrims from Jerusalem. But it is more likely, however, that, as was proved by investigations by art expert M. Ilyin, they used a book by the Italian architect Bemardino Amico published in Florence in 1626 which contained blueprints of the Jerusalem Temple and which more or less accurately matched the original. A scholar is usually impressed with the similarities of the compositions of the two temples. But taking as their basis the general layout and functional allocation of different sections of the Jerusalem Temple, the Russian craftsmen designed and built a structure of their own in the artistic traditions of Early Rus. The original architectural concept is matched by no less original and lavish decor.
The construction of the cathedral was headed by Master Averkiy Mokeev who had been brought up on the splendid architectural forms of the 16th century and whose gift had been vividly revealed during the construction of the Valdai Monastery The cathedral on the Istra is based on the layout of the Jerusalem prototype with some of the auxiliary sections and premises being scrapped. And the number of side-chapels was brought up to 29, instead of 14 as in the original. And according to some preliminary plans their number had to be 365- by the number of days in a year. And, needless to say, the vast cathedral bore but some remote resemblance to the Jerusalem original. Its main part is the Church of the Resurrection with four pillars and topped with a mighty dome resting on a crosswise base. Attached to it from the east is a cave Church of Sts. Constantine and Helena whose domes spring up as if right from under the ground. One can enter the church by a staircase with 33 steps-the number of years of Christ's life on earth. Towering
to the west of the main part of the building is a rotunda which was originally topped with a stone hipped roof which spanned a vast space of 22 meters and was linked with the main building by an arch. It is interesting to note that Nikon, who had been earlier opposed to hipped roofs for Russian churches as something contrary to the canon, ended up by ordering the construction of the biggest ever stone structure of this type in the whole history of Russian architecture. The iconostases of the eastern side-chapels and the facing of the cubicle (side-chapel of the Tomb) located in the center of the rotunda were executed from many-coloured tiles.
The interior of the cathedral also produced an unforgettable impression on a visitor. The mighty pylons, which support with arched ceilings, surround the altar in a semicircle-rather like a theater stage. Behind the altar there was the synthronon with an amphitheater of steps leading up towards it. In the center there stood the chair-throne of the patriarch where Nikon would sit, clad in his solemn archpastoral vestments and surrounded by a throng of clergy. The splendid decor of the cathedral rivals some of the best examples of secular monumental architecture and Nikon used for his project some of the principles which played a leading role in the whole of Russian architecture of the 17th century/
The main material for both the exterior and the interior decoration of the cathedral, as different from the marble facing of the Jerusalem prototype, were glazed multicoloured tiles. The portals, jambs and lintels of doors and windows and the belt-like cornices were shining with a rainbow of colours. A prominent place in the decor is taken by winged cherubs executed in the same technique. Used for the first time were jambs and lintels of tiles with Corinthian pillars on the sides of windows. The windows were topped with winding cartouches and spirals. The main motifs of the decor included blue, green and yellow grasses, shaded with brown and white, and large elegant vases and fancy ornaments. The intricate patterns, shining in sunlight, looked like strings of some fantastic precious stones. Thus, used in Novy Jerusalem as early as the mid-17th century were details of decor-like columns, cornice belts and entablature-which served as the examples for the late - 17th century Moscow baroque. The shaped tiles and patterns used in New Jerusalem received general recognition and began to be used not only in Moscow buildings (like the Izmailovo Cathedral, or the "Krutitsy tower-chamber" near the Kremlin) but also in provincial architecture.
The construction of the stone cathedral in the monastery was accompanied by the opening of workshops of carvers of wood and stone and of brickyards.
Nikon invited from Byelorussia some prominent craftsmen specializing in tiles and the central figure in designing the decor of the cathedral was one Pyotr Zaborsky who came from Lithuania and was hailed as a foremost "wizard in decorations and precious things made of gold, silver and copper and a craftsman of outstanding skill". He designed the re-markable three-tier ceramic iconostases of the cathedral.
The old inventories have also preserved the names of other craftsmen and artists, including a gifted specialist in ceramics Stepan Ivanov, nicknamed Polubes. His tiles adom the facades of the Moscow churches-of St. George Thaumaturgus (of Neocaesarea) in the Polyanka Street and the Church of the Dormition in Gonchary Another craftsman, Sergei Turchaninov, was an unrivalled expert in the casting of church bells. Skilled craftsmen of all kinds supervised the work of ordinary workmen and helped them "right on the job". Byelorussian decorators used in their sketches some of the illustrated manuscripts from Western Europe. Later on these were added to the collection of the Armoury Chamber and adorned the royal country palace in Kolomenskoye. Carvers invited by Nikon from Byelorussia produced fine iconostases of carved wood and their style was defined by the contemporaries as "Byelorussian through-cut". Their vines, grasses and fruits were true masterpieces of virtuoso openwork, or fret lacery Today we can only guess at the original splendor of the exterior of the Novy Jerusalem cathedral which was later rebuilt. This happened in the middle of 18th century and the author of the reconstruction was the architect Varfolomei Rastrelli. Truly impressive scale of the original can still be visible in the bits and pieces preserved to this day.
A very special mood and atmosphere are generated by the Skete of Patriarch Nikon (1658) located not far from the cloister. Passing through the gates of the St. Elisabeth Tower, the patriarch descended by a wide stone staircase
into the Garden of Gethsemane, crossed to the opposite bank of the Istra and stepped into his "wilderness" for undisturbed solitary prayer and the sophic contemplations, especially during the days of fasting.
The abode itself is a small three-storey house with small towers and a flat roof which supports a miniature church. Clearly outlined on the flat walls of the skete are decorative cornices and lintels, adorned with tiles. Located on the ground floor were some auxiliary premises and storage rooms. On the next floor there was a refectory and two tiny monastic cells, and on the floor above - the domestic Church of the Epiphany and three living rooms of the recluse. Structures on the roof included an octagonal Church of Sts. Peter and Paul surrounded with an open terrace, a small belfry and the patriarch's cell - a "tabernacle" accessible by a narrow winding stairs going through all of the three floors.
The inner rooms of the skete have arched ceilings and premises on the upper floors are equipped with attractive stoves with stove-benches. The flues, artfully hidden inside the walls, ended in one common smoke-stack. The white-painted Skete of Patriarch Nikon with its picturesque asymmetrical facades and belts of decorative tiles on jambs and lintels on the windows offers a rare example of a residential house of the 17th century It offers us a glimpse of the daily life of the wealthy people of the time and the picture includes tiny rooms with vaulted ceilings and tiled stoves with stove-benches attached, narrow windows and doors, steep and narrow stairs, domestic chapels attached to the living rooms and tiny and semi-dark closets for servants down below. Iron doors are fitted with heavy locks-a hallmark of that difficult and dangerous time.
After nearly eight years in the monastery the patriarch managed to almost finish the construction of the cathedral in which he consecrated three churches-the Calvary Church- his favourite place of worship, and below it the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the northern section. And then came the year of 1666- the year of Nikon's exile. After his deposition the construction of that "great stone church" was halted for 13 years. It was resumed in 1679 after a visit to the monastery of Tsar Fyodor Alexeevich and thanks to the efforts of his aunt - Tsarevna Tatyana Mikhailovna (her single-storey chambers with decorative window lintels have been preserved). And the cathedral was finally consecrated in 1685.
But the fate of this structure was really tragic. Its brickwork roof, faced with marble plates, collapsed in 1723. Three years later the interior of the cathedral was consumed by fire. It was only in 1749 that the reconstruction of the domed roof was started according to a plan by the famous architect Rastrelli
and under the supervision of another experienced Moscow architect, Carl Blank. The original stone roof was replaced with a timber one with 75 oval windows located in three tiers. Some of the side-chapels were later rebuilt according to designs by some of the leading masters of the epoch of Russian classicism. Standing out from among them all is a really beautiful marble semi-rotunda in the side-chapel of St. Mary Magdalene designed by the Architect Matvei Kazakov. And it should also be noted that during the reconstruction of the cathedral's interior decor the 18th century builders carefully preserved the tile decorations of the walls and several tile iconostases of the 17th century which had been spared by fire. In places they managed to incorporate the original decor into their baroque ornaments.
In 1690-1694 the old timber monastery wall was replaced with a stone one with eight multi-tier hipped-roof towers. And although they were not intended as a fortification, the walls look really forbidding. They were erected under the guidance of a gifted architect Yakov Bukhvostov and especially impressive is the Main Gate with a roof Church of the Entrance to Jerusalem. The gate is surmounted with a graceful multi-tier church whose square foundation is flanked on all sides with semi-circular sidechapels.
Erected on the monastery grounds in late 17th century were refectory chambers with a Church of the Nativity as well as hospital wards with a Church of the Three Saints and the chambers of the archimandrite (now occupied by a museum of local lore). The only still preserved service buildings are the brewery and the smithy of 1690-1694.
The Novy Jerusalem Monastery was savagely demolished by Nazi troops. This happened on December 10, 1941 and one of the greatest monuments of early Russian architecture and art was reduced to heaps of impressive- looking ruins. Nearly half a century of studies and reconstruction of the majestic architectural ensemble involved a large number of experts in various fields. Rebuilt in the Resurrection Cathedral is its hipped roof (in keeping with 17th century drawings) and sections of its vast interior. Experts have fully restored the underground Church of Sts. Constantine and Helena. Today, like in the times of old, one can again enjoy the breath-taking panorama of the Istra valley, the sight of the white monastery walls and towers, of the golden domes of the churches and the graceful outline of the Holy Gates. And there is also the hipped roof and the shining golden miracle of the main cathedral, as if floating in midair...