This almost detective story began with an emotional video, which was recorded at the walls of the Novodevichy Convent by art critic Maria Santi for the telegram channel Mash, against the background of broken and scattered tombstones. Maria Santi was indignant at how rudely the memory of ancestors was treated, showed fresh chips on the tombstones, was surprised at the heartlessness and lack of professionalism of those who treated the monuments, some of which may be of historical, cultural and art history value. The video instantly spread across social networks and caused a storm of outrage.
Marina Kazantseva: “In cemeteries, and this is a cemetery, although it is closed, such actions are called desecration of burial places and vandalism, and this is subject to Article 244 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Why is there no application to the prosecutor's office to initiate a criminal case?"
Then the events began to unfold, as in a detective story. The art critic Maria Santi received a call from the prosecutor's office and began to find out the details of what she saw and photographed at the walls of the Novodevichy Convent. After that, she was invited to take part in the filming of the federal TV channel in order to figure everything out. But when Maria Santi brought the crew to the place from where she was reporting, it was empty. Not a single monument and level land...
We decided to conduct our own investigation of this story and contacted the coordinator of the Arkhnadzor movement Igor Shikhov. He called the commentary of art critic Maria Santi "exaggeration" and assured that the situation was controlled by a group of archaeologists led by Professor Leonid Belyaev. The representative of Arkhnadzor also assured: “In this place, Novodevichy's communications are being updated. Yes, there really are workers. The gravestones are stacked at the western wall of the monastery. Excavation works are carried out under the supervision of archaeologists. The cemetery with old graves was destroyed in the 1920s and 1930s or even earlier. Many slabs lay in the ground and were discovered when they began to lay communications and dig the ground".
However, art critic Maria Santi commented on the events that she witnessed and participated in in a slightly different way.
- When the telegram channel asked me to go to the scene, telling about the destruction of gravestones near the walls of the Novodevichy Convent, I acted rather in an emotional impulse. I am aware that in the 30-80s the history of the Novodevichy Convent was not easy.
What I saw - broken and split tombstones - perhaps some annoying hack of the last link, workers who were not looked after properly and were not given instructions. But any civilized person understands that this is not done with the monuments of the 18-19th centuries. The gravestones were in the same heap with construction equipment and rubbish. All this is captured on video.
Now I am assured that many of the tombstones were underground and were removed from the ground during construction work. I looked at many of the gravestones up close. There were chips there, fresh, with foul grime. I rubbed one stone - the dirt immediately disappeared, it was at most a week. The stone is clean, it did not lie underground. There could be buried people who made their contribution to national history. Yes, in the former necropolis of the Novodevichy Convent there are no tombs of saints. State councilors, military men are buried there ... I looked at one tablet - it was the tombstone of a general, he died after 1812. He survived the war with the French, but the present times have erased his memory. Some of the tombstones are a wonderful sculptural work that may be of interest to art historians, ”Maria Santi told NI. - When we arrived at this place a few days later with the film crew of the federal channel, the area from where I was reporting was perfectly empty. There was not a single monument at all! The ground was level. There was no construction equipment either”, - the art critic said.
The Novodevichy Convent, founded almost 500 years ago, is one of the most famous monuments of Russian architecture. The architectural ensemble of the monastery includes 36 temples, chambers, towers and other monuments. The Novodevichy Convent is a federal cultural heritage site. In 2004 it was included in the UNESCO List of World Cultural Heritage Sites. The restoration of the Novodevichy Convent is funded by federal funds, and the restoration of artistic tombstones is funded by the city budget. The restoration will be completed in 2024. True, the restoration of gravestones in the list of restorers appears somewhere at the end of the list. Will it not turn out that when it comes to them, there will be nothing to restore?
In general, mysterious stories with the desecration of graves at the cemetery of the Novodevichy Convent have been happening for a long time. For example, a strange and mystical incident occurred with the grave of the founder and director of the Chamber Theater, Alexander Tairov. Hunters for non-ferrous metals tore off the bronze bas-relief from the grave of the great director. It was not just a piece of bronze. In the image of the kneeling Phaedra, stolen from the tombstone, the artist David Naroditsky depicted the director's muse - actress Alisa Koonen. The desecration of Tairov's grave did not go unnoticed; a scandal arose in social networks. However, two weeks later, a miracle happened. Scrolling through the pages of the meshok online auction, the capital's museum worker Alexander Savinov discovered a familiar bas-relief. It was sold for only ten thousand rubles. He figured under the name "Onlay of a Roman soldier"...
I would not like such stories to be repeated with the monuments of people whose tombstones were piled up in disarray during the laying of communications, and then taken away somewhere. Where are they now? With this question "NI" turned to the head of the department of archeology of Moscow Russia, doctor of historical sciences, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Leonid Belyaev.
"We are talking about the remains of tombstones that were once located on the territory of the Novodevichy Convent, these are fragments of monuments of the 18-19 centuries. They stood at the walls of the monastery, after the restoration - they lay on the ground. Now, when lawns and paths are being laid on the territory of the Novodevichy Convent, they interfere with everyone, so they were recently moved to the southwestern corner. As for the historical value of these gravestones, among them there are about ten, on which inscriptions have been preserved. These are the remains of the Necropolis and are of memorial interest. Previously, they lay in niches. Now the builders have come... As for their attitude to the remains of these tombstones, you are right. I understand the pain of people and I am grateful to them”, - said Leonid Belyaev, Doctor of Historical Sciences, head of the Novodevichy Expedition of the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
We inquired about the further fate of these tombstones. As you know, in different countries in such cases they act differently, but always differently. Somewhere they arrange an "open-air museum", covering the remains of destroyed monuments that cannot be restored with glass, somewhere they take care of them, install plaques, and limit the passage to them. Examples of monuments that have not been spared by history or that were excavated during excavations have suffered from time, but nevertheless are of interest, there are many. But neither the remains of the columns of the Parthenon in Greece, nor the ruins in the "labyrinth of the Minotaur" in Crete are mixed with construction equipment. But no one breaks lawns in such places, does not lay communications, asphalt paths and does not install construction equipment. The approach to such places is limited. Of course, the remains of the necropolis of the Novodevichy Convent is inferior in value to the Greek Parthenon, but from this tombstones of the 18-19th centuries do not cease to be a part of our common Russian history.
“According to our information, these gravestones were removed back in the 20s of the 20th century. Then, after the establishment of Soviet power, the total destruction of the necropolis took place. From many tombstones, only fragments of architectural forms remained. Now, after the received signals, everything is collected. The builders will be more careful. But some stones will have to be moved. There are different proposals. Perhaps we will move some of the tombstones to the gallery of the Smolensk Cathedral. About ten will be identified. But finding a place for them is a lot of work. We have just started the movement to create a working group”, - said Doctor of Historical Sciences Leonid Belyaev.
The Moscow prosecutor's office has not yet commented on what happened to the tombstones on the territory of the Novodevichy Convent. But natural questions arise both to the contractor and to the coordinators of the reconstruction of the UNESCO cultural heritage site. After all, the contractor with the workers did not come to lay communications on the territory of the former Necropolis without permission, casually removing everything that interferes with the laying of paths and lawns.
“Local activists watching what is happening there tell eerie stories. Two Muscovites, whom I met on the territory of the former Necropolis, were waiting for the arrival of the municipal deputy to deal with the egregious cases, which they, in their words, had witnessed. They told, for example, that some time ago a sack with bones was taken out from the territory of the Necropolis. When local activists asked what would happen to this, they received a laconic answer: “We will bury everything in a mass grave”, - says art critic Maria Santi, who surveyed the territory of the destroyed Necropolis.
At the same time , the contractor's representative Yulia Maksimova reports: "There are gravestones cleared of dust and debris, and they are trying to identify them." And on federal TV channels it sounds cheerfully: "The company JSC PO REMZHILSTROY is rightfully proud of its full-fledged participation in the restoration of one of the oldest active nunneries in the capital - the Novodevichy Convent!"
As you know, in our capital lately the laying of communications, paths, curbs has been a special priority. This happened even during the restoration of the Novodevichy Convent: the builders were actually allowed to dispose of the remains of the ancient necropolis at their own discretion. And here I would like to remind you: the restoration of a historical monument included in the UNESCO list is not the construction of a backup or a new highway. Here we need other principles and a different, if you like, mentality. If the Moscow mayor's office does not understand this, neither the prosecutor's office, nor academicians with art critics will be able to protect history from destruction.