Donskoy Monastery

Donskoy Monastery is a major monastery in Moscow, founded in 1591 in commemoration of Moscow's deliverance from an imminent threat of Khan Kazy-Girey’s invasion

Donskoy Monastery
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Commanding a highway to the Crimea, the monastery was intended to defend southern approaches to the Moscow Kremlin.


Muscovite period

The monastery was built on the spot where Boris Godunov's mobile fortress and Sergii Radonezhsky's field church with Theophan the Greek's icon Our Lady of the Don had been located.

Our Lady of the Don, by Theophanes the Greek
pinterest button Our Lady of the Don, by Theophanes the Greek photo: Ghirlandajo, Public Domain

Legend has it that Dmitry Donskoy had taken this icon with him to the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. The Tatars left without a fight and were defeated during their retreat.

 Donskoy Monastery in 1883
pinterest button Donskoy Monastery in 1883 Найдёнов Николай Александрович (1834-1905), Public Domain

Initially, the cloister was rather poor and numbered only a few monks. As of 1629, the Donskoy Monastery possessed 20 wastelands and 16 peasant households (20 peasants altogether). In 1612, it was taken for one day by the Polish-Lithuanian commander Jan Karol Chodkiewicz. In 1618, Russian Streltsy defeated the Ukrainian Cossacks of Petro Konashevych under the monastery walls.

In the mid-17th century the monastery was attached to the Andreyevsky Monastery. In 1678, however, its independence was reinstated and the cloister received rich donations, including more than 1,400 peasant households. In 1683, the Donskoy Monastery was elevated to the archmandrite level and given 20 desyatinas of the nearby pasturelands. Vidogoshchsky, Zhizdrinsky, Sharovkin, and Zheleznoborovsky monasteries were attached to the Donskoy Monastery between 1683 and 1685.

Big Cathedral of the Theotokos of the Don
pinterest button Big Cathedral of the Theotokos of the Don Lodo27, GNU 1.2

Imperial period

Since 1711, the Great Cathedral's vault was used for burials of Georgian tsarevichs of the Bagrationi family and Mingrelian dukes of the Dadiani family.

In 1724, the monks and the property of the Andreyevsky Monastery were transferred to the Donskoy Monastery. By 1739, it had already possessed 880 households with 6,716 peasants, 14 windmills, and a few fisheries. In 1747, the authorities wanted to transfer the Slavic Greek Latin Academy to the Donskoy Monastery, but the cloister confined itself to paying salaries to the academic staff from its own treasury.

Walls and towers of Donskoy Monastery
pinterest button Walls and towers of Donskoy Monastery Lodo27, GNU 1.2

Archbishop Ambrosius was killed within the monastery walls during the Plague Riot in 1771. In 1812, the French army ransacked the Donskoy Monastery, the most valuable things having been moved to Vologda prior to that. There had been 48 monks and 2 novices in the monastery by 1917.

Soviet period and beyond

After the October Revolution, the Donskoy Monastery was closed. In 1922–1925, Patriarch Tikhon was detained in this cloister after his arrest. He chose to remain in this monastery after his release. Saint Tikhon's relics were discovered following his canonization in 1989. They are exhibited for veneration in the Great Cathedral in summer and in the Old Cathedral in winter.

In 1924, some of the facilities of the Donskoy Monastery were occupied by a penal colony for children.

The Soviets moved the remnants of many demolished monasteries and cathedrals to the Donskoy Monastery, including the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker in Stolpy, Church of the Assumption on Pokrovka Street in Moscow, Sukharev Tower, and others.

«Common Grave Number 1»

In 1930, Bolshevik authorities dug a large pit in the east portion of the cemetery to act as a common grave for the cremated ashes of executed political prisoners from Joseph Stalin's Great Purge; the site was intentionally chosen for its isolation from normal burial sites due to its «shameful» history as Eastern Orthodox consecrated ground during the Tsarist era, which the Soviets had revoked as part of their general persecution of religion in the USSR. The ashes of numerous executed prisoners, both common and high-ranking—including notorious figures such as Nikolai Yezhov, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Grigory Kulik, Pavel Alexandrovich Alexandrov etc. — were unceremoniously dumped here until the grave was filled and closed in 1942. The pit currently bears two markers, one erected during the Soviet era and simply reading «Common Grave Number One: Unclaimed Ashes from 1930-42.» while the other was erected after 1989 and reads «Here lie the remains of the innocent victims of political repressions in 1930-42 who were tortured and shot. To their eternal memory.»


When the monastery was established, Boris Godunov personally laid the foundation stone of its cathedral, consecrated in 1593 to the holy image of Our Lady of the Don. This diminutive structure, quite typical for Godunov's reign, has a single dome crowning three tiers of zakomara. In the 1670s, they added two symmetrical annexes, and a refectory leading to a tented belltower. Its iconostasis, executed in 1662, formerly adorned one of Moscow churches demolished by the Communists. From 1930 to 1946, the cathedral was closed for services and housed a factory.

Barbican church of Donskoy Monastery
pinterest button Barbican church of Donskoy Monastery NVO, GNU 1.2

The New (or the Great) Cathedral, also dedicated to the Virgin of the Don, was started in 1684 as a votive church of Tsarevna Sophia Alekseyevna. After she fell into disgrace, its construction was funded by private donations. The masons and artisans were invited from Ukraine, which explains some of the cathedral's unusual features. For the first time in Moscow, the five domes were arranged according to the four corners of the Earth (as was the Ukrainian custom). The Old Believers felt offended by this and called the cathedral «Antichrist's Altar». Eight tiers of its ornate baroque iconostasis were carved by Kremlin masters in 1688–1698. The iconostasis' central piece is a copy of the Virgin of the Don, as painted in the mid-16th century. The cathedral frescoes are the first in Moscow to be painted by a foreigner. They were executed by Antonio Claudio in 1782–1785.

After the monastery lost its defensive importance, its walls were reshaped in the red-and-white Muscovite baroque style, reminiscent of the Novodevichy Convent. Eight square and four circular towers with red-blood crowns were put up in 1686–1711. The Holy Gates of the monastery (1693) are topped with the Tikhvin church (1713–1714), noted for its wrought iron grille. A lofty belfry was erected over the western gates from 1730–1753 after designs by Pietro Antonio Trezzini and other prominent architects.

Useful Information

Donskoy Monastery
Russian: Донско́й монасты́рь


free entry

Opening hours

  • Mon-Sun: 9:30-18:00


115419, Москва, Донская площадь, 1-3

☎ +7 919 10 090 10 +7 (495) 954-40-24
Fax +7 (495) 954-40-24

Donskoy as a burial place


Several families of high aristocracy chose the Donskoy monastery as location of their burial vaults. The Alexander Svirsky Church, for instance, was constructed in 1796–1798 as a sepulchre of Princes Zubov. Princes Galitzine were buried in the Archangel Church (1714–1809), whereas the Church of St. John Chrysostom (1881–1891) marks the Pervushin family vault.

Tikhon of Moscow is also buried at the Monastery.

Old Donskoy Cemetery

The old necropolis in the south-eastern part of the monastery's cloister is remarkable for its ornate tombs, executed by some of the best Russian sculptors. They mark the graves of the poets Mikhail Kheraskov and Alexander Sumarokov, the philosophers Pyotr Chaadaev and Ivan Ilyin, the historians Mikhail Shcherbatov and Vasily Klyuchevsky, the critic Vladimir Odoyevsky, the architect Osip Bove, the painter Vasily Perov, the courtier Alexander Dmitriev-Mamonov, the actress Faina Ranevskaya, the general Anton Denikin, and the aviator Nikolay Zhukovsky. Some of the tombs were transferred by Soviet authorities to the Tretyakov Gallery, where no one can see them now.

The notorious noblewoman Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova who was officially convicted of the torture and murder of 38 serfs—and perhaps many more—in a sensational trial during the reign of Catherine II, is buried in her ancestral tomb at Donskoy Monastery.

New Donskoy Cemetery

A large new necropolis was inaugurated in the 20th century just outside the monastery walls. Sergey Muromtsev was among the first notables to be interred there. After the Russian Revolution, scores of Soviet soldiers killed during the Battle of Moscow and people executed by NKVD were secretly buried as well. In 1927 the former church of St. Seraphim, situated at the New Donskoy Cemetery, was rebuilt to become the first crematorium in Moscow. Most of the mortal remains buried at the New Donskoy Cemetery are therefore interred in urns. The church featured extended vaults which seemed suitable to accommodate the technical equipment for the cremation of bodies. The new crematorium was opened in October 1927 and most of the individuals buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis were cremated here. Until the mid-1970s the Donskoy crematorium remained the only one of its kind in Moscow. Notable people whose remains are interred at the New Donskoy Cemetery include

  • Rudolf Abel (1903–1971)
  • Anna Abrikosova (1882-1936, cremated and secretly buried)
  • Isaak Babel (d. 1940, executed and secretly buried)
  • Vasily Blücher (1889–1938), executed and secretly buried)
  • Anton Denikin (1872-1947), White Russian general in the 1917-1922 Russian Civil War His remains were returned to Russia for burial here in 2005.
  • Milan Gorkić (1904-1937)
  • Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954), philosopher His remains and those of his wife were returned to Russia for burial here in 2005.
  • Lev Kopelev (1912–1997)
  • Stanislav Kosior (1889–1939, executed and secretly buried)
  • Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940, executed and secretly buried)
  • Solomon Mikhoels (1890–1948)
  • Evgeny Miller (1867–1938, executed and secretly buried)
  • Konon Molody (1922–1970)
  • Sergey Muromtsev (1850–1910)
  • Oleg Penkovsky (1919–1963, executed and secretly buried)
  • Faina Ranevskaya (1896–1984)
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)
  • Pavel Sudoplatov (1907–1996)
  • Mikhail Tukhachevsky (1893–1937, executed and secretly buried)
  • Pavel Alexandrovich Alexandrov (1866–1940, executed and secretly buried)
  • Alexander Ilyich Yegorov (1883–1939, executed and secretly buried)
  • Nikolai Yezhov (1895–1940, executed and secretly buried)