Prince Daniel of Moscow, the son of legendary Russian military leader Alexander Nevsky, founded the Danilov monastery with the building of a small church in 1282.
After he died in 1303, the monastery fell into a period of ruin, but was revived by Ivan the Terrible in the 17th century after several visions of Prince Daniel were heralded as miracles and the Russian Orthodox Church canonized him.
Through the 19th century, several more churches and administrative buildings were built on the grounds of the monastery. Famous Russians, from the writer Nikolai Gogol to founder of the Tretiakov Gallery Sergei Tretiakov, were buried in its cemetery.
But after the Bolsheviks overthrew the tsar in 1917, the Soviets initiated a rapid assault on the Russian Orthodox Church.
By 1930, the Soviets had shut down all of the monasteries in Moscow—with the Danilov last—and converted the Danilov into a prison for children of dissidents.
More than 50 of Danilov’s monks were arrested and killed for their religious devotion. The Soviets ransacked the cemetery and converted the churches and monks’ quarters into jails, warehouses and factories.
The Soviets also destroyed the bell tower, removing the bells and selling them to the industrialist Charles Crane—who then gave them to Harvard as a gift in 1930.
It wasn’t until 1982, when Patriarch Pimen petitioned the government to allow one monastery to reopen to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christianity in Russia that the Danilov was allowed begin operating again.
Today, the monastery is the center of the Russian Orthodox Church, with Patriarch Alexei II residing on its grounds and monks active in charity work.
—Anne K. Kofol