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Muscovite Law on Monasteries

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The author surveys Muscovite law regulating monasteries, focusing on which courts exercised jurisdiction over monasteries and the legal right to appoint or remove superiors of monasteries. Throughout the Muscovite period secular courts had jurisdiction over lawsuits involving claims to land brought by or against monasteries, and this jurisdiction was confirmed in the 1550 Sudebnik. Lawsuits involving “spiritual matters” were heard by church courts, and the Stoglav confirmed the church courts’ jurisdiction over lawsuits brought by laymen against monastic personnel. The Stoglav also gave the tsar a veto over the appointment of monastic superiors, but many secular officials, prelates and the brothers themselves had influence and authority over the choice of a candidate. While the Stoglav and actual practice required that the brothers obey the superior, there is much evidence that in the management of monasteries the superior sought the consensus of his council of elders. Chapter 13 of the 1649 Ulozhenie constituted a major change in the law. It confided jurisdiction over lawsuits against monasteries and their personnel to a state chancellery staffed by lay judges. The 1666-1667 Church Council, however, restored the jurisdiction of church courts to where it had been prior to 1649. Although the law was unstable throughout the Muscovite period, the monasteries continued to exercise some measure of legal autonomy from the state.


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