Present-day Donskoi Monastery in south-central Moscow was founded on the spot where the Russian Army made camp before going into battle against the Crimean Khanate in 1591.  The holy Don Icon, for which the monastery is named, was carried around the walls of Moscow before the battle and is believed to have brought the Russian Army victory.  Donskoi Monastery became an important pilgrimage site that tsars frequently traveled to in holy processions.

The Donskoi monastery at the beginning of the twentieth century. Image: Lidia Golovkova

The Donskoi monastery at the beginning of the twentieth century. Image: Lidia Golovkova

At the end of the 19th century, the monastery’s garden was moved to make space for new burial plots. A new stone wall was built surrounding this sizeable territory south of the monastery; it came to be known as the Donskoi New Cemetery.  In 1904, the foundation for a church burial vault was laid.  The plans called for a cross-shaped church with three altars on both its upper and lower levels.  In the church’s vault, two tiers of burial vaults were arranged.  This setup was considered uncanonical and led to a four-year postponement of consecration, which finally occurred on May 26, 1914.

As “enemy of the people number one,” Patriarch Tikhon, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, was imprisoned in the walls of Donskoi Monastery from 1922 and 1925 and continually kept under close supervision by the secret police.

Patriarch Tikhon. Image: Lidia Golovkova

Patriarch Tikhon. Image: Lidia Golovkova

His primary tormentor was the Chekist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Tuchkov, who, despite being raised by his deeply religious aunt and having close connections with nuns from the Saint Seraphim-Deveevo Convent, was notable for his relentless persecution of the Church.  After initially protecting his nuns, Tuchkov eventually threw them to the system, and they, like so many others, disappeared without a trace.  Russia was filled with a many-voiced and unanswered, “Where are you?”

The Patriarch's tormentor Tuchkov. Photo: svavva.ru

The Patriarch’s tormentor Tuchkov. Photo: svavva.ru

Patriarch Tikhon lived in one of the monastery wall’s towers.  He was barred from conducting services, but devotees flocked beneath the monastery wall to see him and deliver gifts.  Patriarch Tikhon was periodically brought to the Lubyanka to be interrogated by Tuchkov, though no documents on these meetings survive.  The Patriarch’s health slowly declined, and he died in 1925.  Huge crowds of mourners (and Chekists monitoring them) turned out for the funeral.