Around the New Jerusalem Monastery

New Jerusalem Monastery

Istra’s most famous site is the New Jerusalem (Novoierusalimsky) Monastery. It is a stauropegic monastery, which means it is second in status to a lavra. The monastery was founded in 1656 by Patriarch Nikon as the regional residence of the patriarch and a Russian representation of the Holy Lands, hence its name. It is an excellent example of a Russian fortified monastery. It was closed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and turned into a museum, but suffered a much worse fate under the Nazis when the monastery was ransacked, the bell tower blown up, the Resurrection Cathedral heavily damaged and many treasures looted or destroyed. The museum was only reopened in 1959, although the bell tower was never rebuilt and the cathedral never completely restored. In 1994 the monastery was returned to the Church and became a working monastery once more. The monastery also remains part of the New Jerusalem Historical, Architectural and Art Museum. In addition to the monastery itself the museum comprises an exhibition centre and several examples of wooden architecture, including an estate and a windmill, located behind the monastery.

Monastery Walls and Entry into Jerusalem Gate-Church

Like many Russian monasteries of this era, the New Jerusalem Monastery had a defensive function. It is surrounded by thick white-stone walls with eight towers and one gate-church. The walls were built between 1690 and 1694 and are 920m in length, 9m in height and 3m in width. The Entry into Jerusalem Gate-Church serves as the main entrance to the monastery. It was built between 1690 and 1697, just as the architectural ensemble of the monastery was finally taking shape. The church comprises a multi-tiered tower topped with a golden dome. Another tower of interest is the Yelizavetinskaya Tower which has an exit out to the monastery gardens.

Resurrection Cathedral and Ss Constantine and Helena's Church

The magnificent Resurrection Cathedral is the monastery's main church. The construction started in 1658 according to a design based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, although inside it bore little resemblance. After Nikon's fall from power and exile in 1666, all construction work stopped on the cathedral. It was only started again in 1679 and the Cathedral was finally completed in 1685. The design represents a complex of buildings joined together as one single building. The main part is a standard four-pillar, cross-in-square, single-domed church in between two more side buildings, each topped with a dome. Attached to this at the back is a rotunda with an amazing 18m tall tent-dome, topped with a golden dome and unique among Russian church architecture. The whole ensemble looks even more wonderful, as Ss Constantine and Helena's Church is located so close to the cathedral that it looks like it is the front part of the cathedral. Next to the cathedral there once even stood a seven-tired bell tower based on the design of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in the Moscow Kremlin, but this has not survived.

The cathedral has had many trials in its lifetime. In 1723 the tent-dome of the rotunda collapsed and was then further damaged in 1726 in a fire. In 1736 the lower two tiers of the rotunda were restored but a lack of funds delayed the restoration of the tent-dome, which was only started in 1757 and completed two years later using a design by the famous architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The cathedral was once again practically destroyed in the Second World War during the brief Nazi occupation of Istra. The cathedral was basically left a shell and lost all its domes; the bell tower was blown up with only ruins of the bottom tier remaining. It was never rebuilt, but work has since been carried out to restore the exterior of the cathedral to its former glory. The interior of the main part of the church has also been restored and the relics of Patriarch Nikon lay here. However the inside of the rotunda has yet to be restored, but the view inside is still rather moving with icons and candles among the ruins.

Ss Constantine and Helena's Church

Immediately in front of the Resurrection Cathedral is Ss Constantine and Helena's Church, in fact it is so close that it appears to be part of the cathedral when you first walk into the monastery. The church is partly underground and only its beautifully decorated domes rise above the ground. Construction work began in 1666 when the trench was first dug for the church to be built in. The church was completed in 1690 and dedicated to Ss Constatine and Helena, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and his mother.

Nativity of Christ Church and Neighbouring Chambers

On the western side of the monastery are several chambers including the refectory. Attached to the refectory is the Nativity of Christ Church which was built to serve as the monastery's winter church, i.e. it could be used in winter as it was heated. Both the refectory and the Nativity of Christ Church were completed in 1692 using the funds of Tsarevna Tatiana Mikhailovna, daughter of Tsar Michael. Also part of this complex are the Hospital Chambers for elderly and sick monks and the Archimandrite's Chambers, both also dating from the 17th century. The other buildings on the northern side of the monastery are the Palace of Tsarevena Tatiana Mikhailovna and the Monks' Chambers.