Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas


Ausgabe: 59 (2011) H. 1

Verfasst von:Isolde Thyrêt


Angelika Schmähling Hort der Frömmigkeit – Ort der Verwahrung. Russische Frauenklöster im 16.-18. Jahrhundert. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2009. 212 S., 2 Ktn., 2 Graph., 12 Tab. = Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte des östlichen Europa, 75. ISBN: 978-3-515-09178-7.

This published German dissertation sheds new light on the topic of the state of female monasteries in Russia before the nineteenth century. The book seeks to steer a path between the two traditional approaches to Russian monasticism, the glorification of spiritual Russian men and women and the opposing view that interprets Russian monastic houses as repressive social institutions. The work falls into two parts, which deal with the demographic aspects and the economic and social structures of the convents on the one hand and their religious and social functions on the other. The text is accompanied by a series of useful figures, charts, and maps.

In Chapter One Schmähling presents a statistical analysis of the growth of female Russian monasteries based on V. V. Zverinskii’s description of Russian monasteries. Aware of the difficulty to produce exact data for the Muscovite period, the author notes that the ratio of female to male institutions increased from one seventh in 1500 to one fifth in the eighteenth century with the number of convents reaching their greatest density in the areas around Moscow, Vladimir, Suzdal, and Novgorod. Of particular interest is Schmähling’s observation that convents successfully resisted Peter the Great’s reform efforts to reduce the number of convents and even managed to resist ascription to larger houses under Catherine the Great. The chapter also includes a discussion of efforts in the Imperial period to limit the number of nuns per monastery and ends in a description of the internal order of female houses and the jurisdiction of organs of the Holy Synod, notably the monastyrskii prikaz, over them.

In her examination of the wealth of Russian monasteries, which is based on the lists of houses dating from 1653/4 and 1678 and the revisions of monasteries of 1700, 1719, 1739 and 1742, Schmähling notes that female monasteries had a higher ratio of poor to rich houses than male monasteries. The author then examines the monastic economy of convents before 1700 in the context of governmental efforts to limit the right of monasteries to acquire landed estates. She argues that like their male counterparts, convents continued to engage in land acquisitions even after the prohibitions of the 1649 Ulozhenie. While both male and female houses relied on maintenance allowances from the government, convents received smaller allotments. Socially connected nuns often enjoyed sizeable individual allotments while their poor sisters had to depend on financial assistance from their relatives or earn their living through work or begging. Schmähling points out that in the early eighteenth century all monks and nuns were to receive equal maintenance allowances, which, however, had to be drawn from their own lands. The resulting persistent economic insecurity of the monasteries, however, and the Holy Synod’s inability to limit the number of nuns and keep track of the number of novices to hold down payments hampered the intended reforms. At the same time the Spiritual Reglament’s insistence that nuns could not leave their convents added to the economic plight of poor sisters.

In her discussion of the social reality in Russian convents Schmähling argues convincingly that in spite of the theoretical equality of all monastics, hierarchical structures permeated Russian convent life. Inextricably intertwined, wealth and social rank determined a religious woman’s spiritual rank, her position and duties in the convent and her financial care. Moreover, the social ranks of a convent’s inhabitants affected its ranking vis-à-vis other houses. Schmäh­ling holds that before 1700, except for a few exclusive houses (located mostly in Moscow) where noble women continued their customary lifestyle and often were at odds with their socially inferior sisters, female houses con­tained few upper-class women. Tonsure often was performed casually and novices were not properly supervised. This situation changed drastically with the Petrine reforms, which initiated a persistent government policy to reduce the number of monastics throughout the eighteenth century. Schmähling particularly points out the deleterious effects of the stipulation found in the supplement of the Spiritual Reglament that women had to be novices until their fiftieth year before becoming nuns. On the other hand the Synod found itself incapable of enforcing restrictions on keleinitsy (nuns’ relatives living in monasteries) and levying fines on convents for irregular tonsure cases. The author further investigates the motivation of women entering a religious institution, noting that in the Muscovite period noble women had an affinity to monastic life since donations and pilgrimages were obligations associated with their rank, while lower class women entered monasteries to assure their care in old age or after an illness. In addition convents served as welcome places of refuge to escape serfdom, social insecurity, or household violence, a fact that explains the continued relevance of social hierarchies in the convent.

The second part of the book examines the practice of individual piety in the Russian female monasteries and the convents function as focal points of popular religious expression. As evidence for the former Schmähling cites the 1547 will of Elena Devochkina, Abbess of the Novodevichii Monastery, and the “Life of Iul’iania Lazarevskaia. For the latter subject she relies primarily on Ludwig Stein­dorff’s work on intercessory prayers (Memoria in Altrußland. Untersuchungen zu den Formen christlicher Totensorge. Stuttgart 1994). The focus of discussion sharpens when Schmähling detects serious dissonances in the regulation of female piety in the Spiritual Reglament, which impeded a healthy spiritual climate in eighteenth-century convent life. The concern of the Petrine legislation with the enforcement of high moral standards was at odds with its contention that a special spiritual disposition was not a prerequisite for the monastic life, its revamping of the novitiate as a long waiting period, and its use of convents for secular purposes such as depositories for war veterans and criminal women. Schmähling further tackles the contentious issue of the practice of charity in Russian monastic houses by pointing out that Igor Smolitsch’s view that Russian female houses were strongly committed to charitable activities can only be affirmed for the nineteenth century. The book culminates in an intriguing discussion of the use of Russian convents as prisons and asylums where the author unveils unsavory practices of bodily castigation, collective punishment, and the Synod’s unsympathetic treatment of complaining nuns.

This study provides a wealth of information on monastic life in the Muscovite and early Imperial periods and contributes to our understanding of the secularization of monasteries in the eighteenth century. At times the reader has some difficulty ferreting out the convent data from information that applies to both male and female monastic life. The reliance on evidence from convents in the Moscow region and the Russian realm’s geographic center raises questions about the general applicability of the findings. In a way the broad strokes of this work point out the need for more detailed studies of individual convents of the type William G. Wag­ner has recently engaged in.

Isolde Thyrêt, Kent, OH

Zitierweise: Isolde Thyrêt über: Angelika Schmähling Hort der Frömmigkeit – Ort der Verwahrung. Russische Frauenklöster im 16.-18. Jahrhundert. Franz Steiner Verlag Stuttgart 2009. = Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte des östlichen Europa, 75. ISBN: 978-3-515-09178-7, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/Thyret_Schmaehling_Hort_der_Froemmigkeit.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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