Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Beautiful white flakes of snow were falling outside my window. I knew I couldn't stay in on such a fabulous winter day so I bundled up and grabbed my camera and the "Moscow Walks" book ready for an adventure. My destination was the Krutitskoye Ecclesiastical Residence a short distance from Proletarskaya metro.
A small monastery was built on this hill (kruta, from which the name is derived) in the 13th century to protect against the Tartar-Mongo invaders. The monastery was rebuilt in the 16th century when the residence for the Moscow metropolitan (Orthodox bishop) moved here. The history of this property becomes very interesting at this point. Catherine the Great closed the monastery in 1788 in her move to secularize many church buildings. It then began to be used as army barracks and it's even believed that the Russians who began the Moscow fire of 1812 were tortured here by Napoleon's army. More recently in the 20th century the Soviets turned the barracks into a military prison which is still on the grounds. Today it is back in the hands of the Russian Orthodox church.
Tucked away in a neighborhood I approached the large iron gates surrounding the monastery, carefully watching a few wild dogs mingle in the courtyard. Not interested in me, they turned and ran out a gate at the far end. Walking through the door the place looked deserted. Some colorfully painted clapboard houses looked deserted, yet the steps were shoveled. A few people cut through the yard from one street to the next. I walked on in silence gazing up at the red brick domes of the Uspensky Sobor (Assumption Cathedral). This monastery has a completely different feel than any of the other monasteries and cathedrals I have experienced in Moscow so far. Built in the Moscow Baroque style that was popular at the time, the Russian architecture began pulling in Baroque elements that were popular in Central Europe. I think the red brick gives the monastery a heavy Russian feel.
I turned to the left and walked around the cathedral. A small orchard and pine trees greeted me in the back. Ironwork patterns protected the windows. Continuing around, a heavy lattice gate led back into the courtyard. This section where the gate tower is surprised me. It was built in a different style than the heavy brick architecture. Fresco paintings on exterior walls had survived the weather of hundreds of years.
I circled around to where I had begun and made my way up a flight of stairs for a better view. At the top the door knocker was wrapped in old strips of fabric that were tucked into the door. I pushed, it creaked open. I stepped into the dim room. As with all cathedrals an old woman was sitting at a counter selling long, thin, beeswax candles. A couple stood together as they lit some candles. I looked around in awe at the gilded art around me. I never would have guessed this abandoned place was still used for worship.