The Simonov Monastery
The Old Simonov Monastery was founded in 1370 with the blessing of St. Sergius of Radonezh by his disciple and nephew St. Theodore who was born in Radonezh and took monastic vows in the Intercession Khotkov Monastery. As described in the second version of the biography of St. Sergius the Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich and Archbishop of Moscow Alexius asked him to send Theodore to Moscow in order to construct a monastery.
According to one interpretation, the word Simonov originates from the name of the Grand Prince Simeon the Proud since the monastery was founded on the land of the grand prince, by contrast, another version suggests that it was named after boyar Simeon Khovrin who bequeathed his estate to the monastery.
The old Simonov Monastery was situated a little further down the Moskva River at the big road to Moscow and Theodore, in search of solitude, chose another site, though not far from the old one. So in 1379, the monastery was transferred to its present location and in the Old Simonov there was only a parish Church of the Nativity left.
The founder and first hegumen of the monastery St. Theodore, future Archbishop of Rostov, during his visit to Constantinople in 1384 received a stavropigial status for his monastery and hence reported directly to the Patriarch.
St. Sergius of Radonezh regarded the Simonov Monastery as a ‘branch’ of his Trinity lavra and stayed in it when visiting Moscow on business. According to a legend, in 1370 Sergius of Radonezh dug a bottomless Lake Sacred. It was expanded and turned into a pond called Lissin (Fox’s) which was renamed by Muscovites to Lizin (Liza’s) at the end of the 18th century.
The Simonov Monastery raised a great many prominent ascetics and religious figures including St. Cyril of Belozero (1337-1427), St. Iona, Metropolitan of Moscow (died in 1461), Patriarch Joseph (died in 1652), Metropolitan Geronty, Archbishop of Rostov John, a famous non-possessor monk Vassian. St. Maxim Grek lived and worked in the monastery.
Members of illustrious clans received tonsure specially in the Simonov Monastery. Moscow nobility were buried near its walls up to the 19th century. It was a kind of necropolis for old noble families in Moscow.
The Simonov Monastery was situated on the most dangerous southern border of Moscow that is why its walls were fortified like those of a fortress. In 1591, during the invasion of Tatar khan Kaza-Girai the Simonov Monastery together with the New Saviour and Danilov Monasteries successfully resisted the Crimean army. In 1606, Tsar Vassily Shuisky sent to the Simonov Monastery the streltsy regiment who together with the monks repulsed attacks of Ivan Bolotnikov’s rebels. Finally, in 1611, during the biggest fire, a lot of citizens of Moscow hid behind the monastery’s walls.
For several centuries the cloister witnessed an intensive construction. The extant Church of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God was built in 1667 by Tsar Fyodor Alexeevich who liked the monastery and had a mansion built next to it.
The towers and walls of the cloister were built in the 16th century. Presumably, they were erected by the monarch’s master Fyodor Kon. The new walls of the monastery and some towers were completed in 1630. The circumference of the monastery is 825 metres , the walls’ height is 7 metres. The corner tower Dulo with a high tent and two-level turret stands out of the surviving towers. The other two towers: the five-sided Blacksmith (Kuznechnaya) Tower and the round Salt (Solevaya) Tower were built in the 1640s during the reconstruction of the defensive installations damaged during the Time of Troubles.
At the end of the 17th century, the cathedral was painted by an artel of Moscow court masters. The gilt carved iconostasis that dates from the same period contained the main relic of the monastery the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God (St. Sergius of Radonezh blessed Dmitry Donskoy prior to the Kulikovo Battle with it) along with the gold cross, a gift of Princess Maria Alexeevna.
In the 19th century, the monastery expanded: the St. Nicholas Gate Church was erected above the eastern gates in 1834. In 1832, it was decided to build a new belfry on the donation of merchant Ivan Ignatiev. The construction was completed in 1839. From 1840 a great number of pilgrims have been drawn by the miracle-working icon of the Kazan Mother of God.
The fate of the Simonov Monastery under the Soviet times is similar to other monasteries: in 1923 it was closed down. First, it was turned into a museum but later it was decided to build an entertainment complex for workers on its territory.
At the beginning of the 1930s all major constructions of the Simonov Monastery were demolished by the communists. The Dormition Cathedral, Belfry, Gate Churches, Watch (Storozhevaya) and Secret (Tainitskaya) Towers and all the graves were destroyed. Only a part of the southern wall with the towers, the refectory with the Church of the Holy Spirit and an ancillary building survived.
S. Golitsyn recollects those tragic events: “The Moscow Simonov Monastery was selected as the next victim. From far away it reminded the New Maidens’ convent. It stood on a high bank over the Moskva River and was seen from afar. People admired the splendid ensemble. There were the oldest 16th-century secular buildings and walls with strong towers. “Newspapers yelled calling the monastery the centre of obscurantism. The Simonov hill is the best site for a Palace of Culture of the tractor plant named after Stalin.” Protests of scholars and members of the Old Moscow society were stifled by the screams of newspapers. Since then I don’t get close to the hill on which the dark cubes of the Palace of Culture rise. I keep a photocopy of the page from the newspaper “Rabochaya Gazeta” dated 20 January 1930 with the decree of the Moscow Council on the demolition of the monastery and an article describing columns of volunteers and enthusiasts with sledge-hammers, crow-bars and spades coming from all ends of Moscow”.
According to the plan, the whole territory of the Simonov Monastery was to be turned into a park and a cultural complex, however, only the club was built. In the refectory there was first a cinema club, and then a fishing equipment factory.
At the end of the 20th century, a new history of the Simonov Monastery started. In 1990, the monastery was transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ministry for culture of the Russian Federation and then to the orthodox community of deaf people. Liturgical services were held on the ruins of the once majestic monastery. However, the cathedral is being transformed by the joint efforts of the parishioners.
The first service was held on 9 July 1992. Ever since all services and religious rites are accompanied by a sign language. In 1994, the government of Moscow handed all buildings of the Simonov Monastery to the Moscow Patriarchy. A Sunday school for deaf children is arranged in one of the side-chapels. On 11 December 1995, the southern chapel was consecrated and hence services are held regularly. The work on reconstruction of the cathedral and the adjacent territory is going on.