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Before New Jerusalem: Patriarch Nikon’s Iverskii and Krestnyi Monasteries

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image of Russian History

This essay analyzes the ideas, events and processes leading to the establishment of Patriarch Nikon’s Iverskii (1653) and Krestnyi (1656) monasteries and their endowment by Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, highlighting the explanations supplied in the patriarch’s Gramota o Krestnom monastyre (1656) and Rai Myslennyi (1658). The article offers a more complex picture of Nikon’s patriarchate (1652-1666) by locating his monastery building program within the context of the concurrent reforms church texts and rituals and his efforts to help promote the reimaging of Russian dynastic and “national” myths through the use of print, iconography and symbolic replications. Iverskii and Krestnyi monasteries were part of a lager “scenarios” designed to (re)establish Russia’s claimed inheritance of the Byzantine legacy and fulfill its potential as “New Jerusalem,” while simultaneously enhancing Nikon’s and the Romanov dynasty’s image and legitimacy. Nikon developed an updated version of the “ancient” past, connected it directly with the reign of Aleksei Mikhailovich (1645-1676), embedded it in the reforms of the Russian Church, and employed it to support his vision of Russia’s future as a new Israel, represented concretely in his monastic foundations. By reinforcing Aleksei Mikhailovich’s image as the “new Constantine,” Nikon offered the tsar a premier role in the construction of a Russian “New Jerusalem” and produced opportunities for he and his family to endow it. Thus, the construction of Nikon’s monasteries offered the Romanovs perfect forums to actively build their own image as the legitimate heirs to the Byzantine imperial legacy and as the ultimate champions of Orthodoxy.


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