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Homecoming of the Danilov Bells: The Spiritual Home

Published time: September 04, 2008 16:24
Edited time: September 04, 2008 16:24
The Danilov monastery, Moscow

The Danilov monastery, Moscow

After being welcomed in St. Petersburg on September 7, the Danilov bells will travel to Moscow to take up their historical place in the Danilov Monastery's towers. However, it is not only the bells that make the monastery a distinguished feature of Russia

The Danilov Monastery was founded during a key stage in the development of Moscow. The 13th century marks the unification of Moscow as a city state under the rule of its first prince, Daniil. It was he who in 1282 lay the foundations of the monastery, which was the first in the region. The Danilov Monastery (named after its founder) quickly became not only a centre of religious life and scholarly practice, its high thick walls made it a real fortress. Together with other major monasteries founded around this time, it forged a defensive half-ring around Moscow protecting it against Tatar, Lithuanian and Polish attacks.

After the death of its founder, the Danilov monastery became neglected and quickly fell into decline. Ivan Kalita – Daniil's son and the new ruler of Moscow – transferred the monastery's monks and icons into a new building behind the Kremlin walls. It was only 200 years later that life returned to the crumbling buildings. Legend has it that in the late 15th century, Prince Ivan III rode through the forest where Prince Daniil's grave once stood. Suddenly, his horse stumbled and its rider fell off. An apparition descended upon the ruler of Moscow, claiming to be Prince Daniil himself and scolding Ivan III for neglecting his grave and the monastery he’d founded. From that time onwards, all the rulers of Rus made a point of paying respect to the dead – notably to Prince Daniil – and preserving the monastery in good order.

It was Ivan the Terrible who set about renovating the Danilov Monastery and giving it the shape which has survived to this day. The Tsar decreed the construction of the 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 leads into two chapels, one dedicated to St. Daniil, and the southern one to the Saints Boris and Gleb. From the 1700s until the revolution of 1917 the monastery saw a steady increase in the number of monks residing there, as well as in the area of its land, despite being ransacked during several conflicts. In 1732 the Gate-Church of St. Simeon the Stylite was built. It was to become the home of the Danilov bells. In 1805 the monks opened an almshouse for elderly women in the monastery, which was later became an almshouse for elderly clergymen and their widows.

Over the years, the monastery has been not only a religious haven, but also a sanctuary for many famous laymen. The writer Gogol, the musician Rubinshtein, the philosophers Samarin and Khomyakov all found a refuge at the Danilov Monastery, which also became their final resting place (although Gogol’s body was subsequently reburied in the cemetery of the Novodevichy Convent.) After the Revolution of 1917, the Danilov Monastery was one of the last facilities of its kind to close. Many monks and priests who’d been evicted from their own cloisters for disagreeing with the new regime found refuge within its walls. They became known as “Danilovtsy”.

Finally, in 1930, submitting to government pressure, the monastery was closed and many of its oldest relics were lost or destroyed. During the Stalin purges of the 1930s it was turned into a reformation facility where children of those shot or arrested were detained. Later it became a simple correction facility for juvenile criminals. The first monastery in the Moscow region was also the first one to be returned to the Church. In 1983, over 50 years after its closure, it was turned into a place of worship once more, on the condition that the Church financed another juvenile detention centre.

For the millennial anniversary of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Lenin statue which stood in the monastery's courtyard was replaced by the gold-domed Millennium Chapel. The monastery's cemetery was pillaged and destroyed during the years of Soviet rule, so the chapel stands as a memorial to all those buried in the monastery’s grounds. Today, all the renovation works are complete. Only the bell towers of the Church of St. Simeon the Stylite stand empty, waiting for the Danilov bells to fill the monastery grounds with the same sound  they did 78 years ago.

Homecoming of the Danilov Bells: A Spiritual Odyssey