Before the Kasan’ campaign (1523) Grand Prince Vasily III gave a promise to found the Devichy monastery (“devichy” means “for ladies”) in Moscow if the campaign would be successful. The victory was gained and Smolensk, which was conquered by Great Province of Lithua at the beginning of the 15th century, became the part of Russia again. Grand Prince Vasily III kept his word. In 1524 he founded a monastery, which became a new link in the defensive ring of Moscow watch-monasteries, such as Donskoy, Danilov, Simonov, Novosspasky and Androniev monasteries. But all of them were friaries; a new one became a nunnery. It was called the Novodevichy monastery (“novo” means “new”) because the Devichy St. Alexey monastery had already existed since the 14th century and it was situated not far from the new one.
A lot of wives and daughters of Russian tsars, princes and boyars took the veil at the Novodevichy monastery in accordance with their own desire or under compulsion. That’s why the nunnery often received investments in money, jewellery and lands with peasants. The nunnery became a shelter for many Russian tsaritsas and tsarevnas, princesses and boyarynias; then – for many noblemen, petty bourgeoises, peasant women and soldier’s wives.
Princess Ul’yana (the wife of Yury, the brother of Ivan IV), Elena (the widow of Ivan’s IV son), Irina Godunova (the widow of Tsar Fiodor Ioannovich), tsarevna Sophia and her sisters – all of them were the nuns at the monastery. The daughters of Tsar Alexey Mihailovich, the daughter and the daughter-in-law of Ivan IV were buried under the Smolensk Cathedral. It is known that boyarynia Morosova lived at the Novodevichy monastery at the age of 30. The first wife of Peter I Evdokiya Lopuhina also lived there; she took the veil at the Suzdal’ Pokrovsky monastery. Later Evdokiya Lopuhina was immured in the Shlissel’burg stronghold and then she moved to the Novodevichy monastery by the edict of her grandson Peter II.
It is known that 112 peasant women, 59 soldier’s wives, 8 noblewomen lived at the Novodevichy monastery from 1790 to 1866. The land-owning lady Ekaterina Raevskaya was among them. She was sent to the monastery in 1799 because of inhuman punishment of house-serfs and the death of 2 of them. She had to bow 50 times every day.
The nuns, particularly embroideresses, were famous for their needle works. A shroud of Christ, which was made as a present for the Smolensk bishop Gury, has a long history. It was stolen in the years of Russian-Lithuanian intervention, later it was found at the monastery in Vilnius and then it was lost. But after all it was still found in the cache and returned to the Novodevichy monastery.
In 1702 Peter I issued an edict, which told that the gates of the devichy monasteries must be always closed, the watchmen must be old people and men must never visit the devichy monasteries.
Since 1724 an orphanage was opened at the monastery. Children were taught weaving laces and spinning threads. Later, in 1875, a school for orphans was opened. Graduating that school, children became nursemaids and servants. In 1917 the school was closed.
There were many hard moments in the history of the monastery. It was remained whole mainly thanks to the nun’s courage. During the Napoleon’s invasion the nuns didn’t leave the monastery and prevented its explosion and destruction. When the French went away, they put out the fire, extinguished the powder with water and blew out the candles, which had been fastened to the wooden buildings, iconostasis and floor.
The monastery wasn’t the place of seclusion since 1866. In 1922 it was closed. At first the Museum of Women Emancipation was opened there and then the Museum “Novodevichy monastery” appeared. Nowadays, the monastery is opened for everyone again. Every person, who comes here, is excited by watching historical places, which are connected with great names and events.