The Monastery of the Resurrection in Novyi Jerusalim

This Monastery of the Resurrection was founded by Patriarch Nikon in 1665–1666. An advocate of harmonious power, the great reformer regarded this monastery as the ecclesiastical capital of the country and intended to transfer the holiness of the Christian loca sancta from Palestine to the state of Muscovy. In the light of the measurements used and models made, it would appear that work began on the construction of a full-scale “copy” of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of our Lord (a kind of “Russian Sacro Monte”). The project was not completed, but the Cathedral of the Resurrection enriched world culture with a unique and monumental “cast” of the church in Jerusalem, particularly with regard to its plan and its interior. The monastery and its cathedral were only completed in the 1690s and subsequently suffered damage on more than one occasion from fire and from partial collapse of the structures, but were duly restored. Yet many of the buildings and parts of the cathedral can only be properly studied with the help of excavations. The need for these arose in 2009 when it was decided to carry out the restoration work more rapidly, transfer the whole monastery complex to Church ownership and to create a centre of religious culture there.
In the autumn of 2009 the first full-scale investigations were carried out by the Institute of Archaeology: three trenches were dug which occupied a total area of 1000 m2 and as many as 50 sondages were sunk. It was thus possible to piece together the geological and geo-morphological history of the hill at the bend in the river, on which the monastery stands, and to compile the first ever map of its palaeo-relief. For the first time a micro-chronology of the foundations of the Cathedral of the Resurrection was drawn up, which meant that a description of the history of those foundations could be compiled. Along the stone wall round the monastery and in particular in the area of its towers and gate, remains of guard-houses and other subsidiary buildings were found beneath the ground and also arched sub-structures, on which the edge of one of the towers rested which protruded beyond the edge of the steep slope of the hill. The sub-structures were used as outhouses and above those was a walk-way running round the grounds, which was essential for Easter processions. Sophisticated structures of this sort had not been seen earlier.
There was an extremely concentrated range of buildings in the parts of the grounds set aside for accommodation and work premises. In the southern area the whole ground surface was paved with cobbles in the period from the late-17th to the mid-18th century, on which can be seen the remains of supports for outer galleries and foundations of palaces used by the Tsar and the Patriarch and a long row of cells. The floors have survived well and also the remains of stoves, most of which are tiled, and there are brick cellars as well. All these structures are covered over with layers from fires and subsequent building: up until the second half of the 18th century this was a centre of intense activity. Monastery inventories and the large numbers of coins — over 160 have already been found — have made it possible to provide precise dates for the buildings. Clearing these multi-layer groups of buildings involves complex work: as the excavations move further down, the question arises as to how best to preserve the buildings already unearthed, underneath which still earlier ones lie.
The collection of finds from these excavations is extensive: it sheds light on the way of life in the monastery and provides material which will be useful during its restoration. It also clarifies the role played by Novyi Jerusalim in the shaping of Russian culture and art at the dawn of the modern age. As has already been recorded, the building of this monastery ushered in an important stage in the development of the use of tiles in Muscovy. The technology had been mastered for the manufacture of polychrome enamels and intricate iconographic and epigraphic compositions were introduced. During the work at this site, previously unknown elements from the icon decoration in the cathedral have been discovered, in particular part of the Icon of Christ. It has been demonstrated that not only craftsmen from the lands of Western Russia with European training were involved in this work, but others from all over the country as well. It was precisely the latter group which created the decoration for the magnificent stoves in the chambers set aside for accommodation of high-ranking guests, in the refectories and the monks’ cells. Fragments from thousands of tiles of all manner of types have been collected together — ranging from archaic terracotta unglazed tiles to flat painted ones and monochrome tiles with decoration in relief based upon “Symbola et emblemata” motifs. These “different voices” were to be heard in the monastery over a mere 30–40 years, into which were compressed 150 years of the evolution of Russian tile production (from the late-16th century to the early-18th century). This diversity of types might well be explained by the fact that craftsmen had been assembled at Novyi Jerusalim from the craft centres of large cities and also from outlying areas, where the archaic forms associated with the early-17th century were still being used a hundred years later (a fragment of a clay stamp for a tile of this kind is an extremely rare find).
The habitation levels at this monastery site are filled with artefacts, whose owners were of high social status. In a trench sunk near the area, where the Patriarch’s palace had stood, even a gold coin has been found — probably an imitation of a ducat of the Holy Roman Empire, of the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus. It had been on the basis of this coin that a special type of award badge — the “Ugrian (or Hungarian) gold badge” had been designed.
The work carried out before the project-launch provided a more detailed picture of the structures at this site and the decoration of the buildings. This made it easier to work out strategies for how best to develop the monastery grounds and restore the lost buildings, resorting to both partial reconstruction and new construction from first principles, and measures aimed at preserving the cultural layer. In addition, for the first time settlements dating from the period between the end of the II and the first third of the I millennium BC — i.e. the Late Bronze and the Early Iron Age — have been discovered at the east end of the hill. These materials consist of pottery fragments and the pick-point from a stone battle axe. The find in the monastery of a jangling appendage with stylized horse’s heads and pendants in the shape of goose’s feet points, perhaps, to the presence of a medieval Slavonic or Finno-Ugric burial-ground dating from the 11th century AD.

L.A. Belyaev

Digital publication