About fifty miles west of Moscow is the town
of Zvenigorod, the ancient capital of Zvenigorod princes. After the death of
Dimitri Donskoi this territory went to the youngest of his four sons, Yurii.
Here in 1396-1399 on a hill above the river Moskva, which dominates the valley,
Yurii built the Cathedral of the
Assumption. The entire spot was a outpost fortified by a wall, and the
bells of the Cathedral served to warn Moscow of the approach of invaders.
Presumably this was the reason that the nearby town was named Zvenigorod - the
town of bell ringing.
About a mile from the Cathedral is the Savior in Storozhevski Monastery,
founded at the end of the 14th century by Saint Savva, a follower of Saint
Sergius, whom Prince Yurii chose as his confessor. The name of the Monastery
comes from the founder and the hill, "Strorozha," on which it was
built. The Prince helped Saint Savva build his first wooden church, followed in
1405-1407 by the new stone Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin (Rozhdestvo
Bogomatery). Both cathedrals are fine examples of Vladimir-Suzdal architecture,
with a single cupola that rests on four pillars.
Most probably the same builders constructed them. The fame of the new monastery
grew rapidly, primarily because of miracles that were ascribed to its founder.
Here also the entire territory of the monastery was fortified by a wall.
Several tsars and members of their families visited the Monastery and made
large donations. Pious Tsar Alexei was often there, and even built a new stone
wall around the Monastery. Around the middle of the 17th century the monastery
received its new bell-tower, for which the founder, Alexander Grigoriev, made a
thirty-five ton bell, famous for its beautiful tone. Shaliapin went to
Zvenigorod to hear it and was delighted.
When the revolution started in 1917, the monks refused to cooperate with the
Bolsheviks. The following year the Monastery was first ransacked and pillaged,
including the tomb of Saint Savva, made of gold plated silver, then the monks
were chased out and finally the cathedral was left to ruin. Both cathedrals
were entirely covered with frescoes and until the revolution had five-tiered
iconostasis. Presently only a few fragments of the original frescoes remain.
When, after the revolution, some artists visited Zvenigorod, they found several
beautiful icons not far from the Cathedral under a heap of firewood used to
protect them from laying directly on the wet ground. Three icons salvaged from
here, the Deisus, Apostle Paul and Archangel Michael, were cleaned and are now
in the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow. After being examined by Soviet art
students, and without any proof that Rublev made a journey to Zvenigorod, the
three icons and the fragments of the frescoes were declared to have been
painted by the great Russian iconographer sometime between 1408 and 1412. The
icons are now called "Rublev's Zvenigorod Chin." The figure of Christ
departs slightly from the traditional way artists paint his face, and slightly
resembles a Russian man. These icons too are masterfully executed and their
color scheme resembles Rublev's.