In the 17th century, while Russian Patriarch Nikon was building the New Jerusalem Resurrection Monastery as his residence, Russian Tsar Alexei Romanov chose the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery in Zvenigorod as a place of his royal pilgrimage. He loved its beautiful decorations and magnificent ceremonies, so he reconstructed the old buildings according to his taste. To this day, the monastery is a popular pilgrimage destination; however, impressive architecture, golden frescos, and historical museums make it an interesting attraction for tourists as well.
If you reach the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery from the parking, the first you will see is its back gate. However, if you want to get the best impression, walk along the monastery wall to the main gate. When you enter inside through the system of arches under the Trinity Church, there is a feeling that you are in a different world. Some “fairytale” houses, built in Uzorochye architectural style, surrounded by colourful flowers in summer and snow piles in winter add to this impression.
The Trinity Church was built by order of Tsar Alexei, as well as the white Tsar’s and the red Tsarina’s palaces. Additionally, the white-stoned Cathedral of Birth of Our Lady was raised in 1405 by the founder of the monastery St. Savva (Sabbas of Storozhi), the wonderworker. “A younger brother” of the Cathedral of the Dormition in Gorodok, it is one of the oldest Orthodox churches near Moscow.
The interior of the cathedral is very beautiful. Tsar Alexei invited the best artists to create a five-tier iconostasis and scenic frescos: images of saints framed with green twigs against the golden background. He ordered a silver reliquary for the holy remains of St. Savva. Curiously, all Russian tsars and tsarinas crossed the threshold of this church.
On the hagiographical icon of St. Savva in the cathedral, some border scenes (kleima) surround the image of the saint, illustrating significant events of his life. One of the border scenes represents Eugène de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg and the stepson of Napoleon, who stayed in the Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery in 1812, during the Russian campaign. As the story goes, Beauharnais got a vision of St. Savva, who promised him that he would be left alive in the war, if his soldiers leave the monastery intact. Surprisingly, Beauharnais wasn’t killed and nor even wounded.
In the 17th century, women were not allowed to enter the entire monastery (only a convent). Tsar Alexei came here with his wife and specially built gorgeous chambers for tsarina Maria. In order to not break the rule, tsarina came here in the night and visited only the Trinity Church, going along specially prepared corridors. The museum in the former tsarina’s chambers tells about the lifestyle of boyarynas (noblewomen) of the 17th century.
In the past ages, monks preserved grain and vegetables in the Proviant Tower, near the back gate, and it still plays the role. In a small shop near it, they sell honey, kvas, herbal tea, and other products. Inside the Proviant Tower, you can buy different kinds of bread, pies, and even cakes, cooked by the monks. If you go upstairs, you’ll find a small café where you can have a snack just as the statues of two funny Russian merchants do.
You can visit a few places outside the monastery as well. From the viewing point, which is left of the back gate, you can enjoy the panorama of Zvenigorod. To visit a well with a windlass, go along the monastery wall and then down the wooden and steep stairs and you’ll see a chapel-over-the-well. 1–2 kilometres from the parking, there is a hermitage, where St. Savva prayed in solitude in a cave and dug a well with his own hands. People come here to take some holy water from a spring, have a dip in a sacred pool in all seasons, and pray in a small underground church.
The Savvino-Storozhevsky Monastery in Zvenigorod, a place of royal pilgrimages, was closed during the Soviet times but has miraculously survived. Nowadays, it is an important pilgrimage place, a memorial of spiritual acts of St. Savva (Sabbas of Storozhi), who came here from Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra and was one of the first disciples of Sergius of Radonezh, one of the most highly venerated saints. At the same time, this a historical monument and a picturesque place during all the seasons.
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