Since the old days, there was a Wretched House on the site of the Intercession Monastery. The rite of the Russians during burial. Picture of a German traveler
In Moscow, as well as in other Russian cities, since the old days, Wretched houses (also cold “Skudelnitsy”) were built to bury wanderers, Jews, who came from distant countries to worship God in the Temple of Jerusalem. There were no special cemetery there, in case of sudden death. In Russia, such places were called «skudelnitsy», «wretched houses», «zhalniki», «buivischa» and «gnoischa». Bodies of the poor, wanderers which had been caught by sudden and violent death were brought here and put in the sheds with pits. In comparison, others, admonished before the demise of St. Secrets, were buried near by the churches. Besides the regular Skudelnitsy in the cities, there were also temporary Skudelnitsy, arranged for special occasions. According to the story of Abrahami Palitsyn, during the reign of Boris Godunov, at the times of the terrible crop failure, 127,000 corpses (victims of starvation) were buried at those poor houses, beside those ones who were buried near by the parish churches. The bodies have been laying in wretched homes without burial until the seventh Thursday of Easter, or until the Protection of the Mother of God. Maksim Grek wrote that according to the saying, « it is better to do funerals for drowned people and suicides better than just to live pointless». Though foreigners who did not understand the spirit and the fate of the Russian people, believed the reason for this was severe Russian climate. Fletcher, who saw Moscow’s Skudelnitsy in the 16th century, said that "the land in Russia in the winter gets so hard that one cannot dig graves, so all the corpses are taken to a public place called the house of God where they freeze from the cold. At the beginning of the spring and period of ice melting, the dead bodies are covered with clothes and sepulchered; prayers for the dead are read.» According to Prince Buchkhavsky in the 16th century: «Muscovites bury rich people near by the churches. For the burial of the mob and the poor people, Muscovites dig out a large pit, where dead bodies are put all together without covering the earth, without any rituals. Three or four months later, they build a house (domunculum) and provide a proper burial, a great crowd of neighbors and sisters accompany them with weeping and sobbing. Such ceremonies are performed three times a year.»
In 1474, Sophia’s resident adds some information to the legend of foreign travelers with the following description of this solemnly touching rite: “A man who went to Moscow to Skudelnitsy noticed that people were buried in a strange way. There was a special custom. People buried the dead bodies on the 7
th week after Easter. They pray for dead people and brought something for canon (food and candles), people buried the old pit with the dead bodies. Then all people gathered and made a new pit”. Without referring to the particular place of such a concrete place in Moscow, like Prince Buchkhavsky and Fletcher, the Sophia’s resident determines only the time and custom of burial there of the poor. Maxim Greek, however, speaks not only about the wanderers, who laid in the Wretched house, but also about the drowned men and the dead, who, according to the story of Prince Buchkhavsky, were buried in Skudelnitsy, three times a year.
The court doctor of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, Samuel Collens, being a eyewitness, describes Wretched house in Moscow: "The bodies of the dead and frozen people are brought to the Zemsky Priklaz, where they are exhibited for three or four days. If no relatives of friends are found, they are taken to a large dungeon with arches, called the house of God. There hundreds of dead bodies are laid down together. In spring, the priests read the burial service and inearth them. " Again, Collence does not point concrete place in Moscow, here were a lot of such Skudelnitsy in the chapels, churches and monasteries. Until now, the names of some Moscow urochishch remind us of the disgraced cemeteries of the dead without a Christian farewell. Thus are: in the Wretched houses or on the Bozhedomka St. Ioann the warrior, the former Holy Cross Monastery, Holy. Nicholas of the Bojedom, that is now in the bell ringers, at Rozhdestvenka Street, St. Friday Bozhedom, or Bozhedomke in the Prechistenskaya part, on the Mogiltsi, or Mogilicach Dormition of the Mother of God near Prechistenka Street, on the Wretched houses Pokrovsky monastery, etc. In addition, God houses’s monasteries were Andronikovsky, Andreevsky and Varsonofevsky.
Pokrovsky Wretched monastery. It was founded in 1635 by Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich. The first known image of the monastery.
From time to time, the Orthodox Church issued special rules, who should be put in to Wretched houses, to which different purposes were given. Patriarch Filaret in 1619 established to bury there those who «drink themselves to death, slaughter themselves, or falls from the swing, or drown themselves, or poison themselves, or some other evil thing do to themselves."
Patriarch Filaret (secular name Feodor Nikitich Romanov, 1554 - 1633). His son - Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich, founded Pokrovsky to commemorate the memory of his father
At the same time, the last Patriarch Adrian orders to the priest's elders: "Do not put suicided and killed during robbery ones, and theft in cemeteries and Wretched houses, but bury them in the forest, or in the field without commemoration in Semik. If, however, the thief and robber are killed and sacrificed to Holy Mysteries at their death, then they should be put in the city in the Wretched House, "where such thieves and robbers are put." The corpses of executed, disgraced were also brought here, and from the reign of Peter I, those ones who were anatomized in hospitals. The guardians of such tombs were «bozhedomcy», «bozhatye», «bogorodnye». «Scudelnitsy» also took up the orphanage. There people brought their illegally born babies. Other childless pairs adopted these babies, these children were named Bogdan (rus: given by God). The Orthodox Church, as a compassionate mother, who does not forget her poor children, did not deprive them of commemoration, those ones who were not buried because of the excommunicated from cemeteries. In a deadly prayer at the Vespers of Trinity's Day, The Church intercedes for the miserable ones, apprehended in vain and violent death, struck by lightning, frozen from the cold, drowned, killed in battle, or robbers poisoned, etc. The Council of 1548 decreed "to commemorate all who died suddenly. " People who were buried on those cemeteries were mentioned in synodic book. So in one synodic book, compiled, with the blessing of Job Patriarch, we can read: "Remember, Lord, the souls, who lie in scraggly lying, father and brotherhood, masculine and feminine."
, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Date of birth: Approx. 1529
Kórmchaia Book even admits to pray for the suicided ones, «his own mind killed him » that means he became mad. In another synodic, written in 1685: "Remember, Lord, the souls of the wretched and poor, the poor and the unbaptized infants, dead because of the negligence of the father and mother, and our brothers in scoudelnitcy lying."
In Semik and on the Feast of the Intercession on the Wretched Houses there was a procession from the cathedrals and monasteries, for the general the lity for the dead. Patriarch "sent there, and with them archimandrites and hegumens to be repulsed over the dead Andronievsky Archimandrite, Danilovsky hegumen, Chernigov Archpriest with the cathedral, Rozhdestvenskiy Archpriest from паbehind the river Yauza, Petrovsky Archimandrite, Sretensky Hegumen, Pokrovsky Archpriest, Alexandrovsky Archpriest». Apart from Semik on the day of the Protection of the Mother of God, by order of the Patriarch, the archimandrite and the authorities went with crosses.
To follow the custom and the Commandments of the Church, the procession was accompanied by the crowd of people and beggars. The lections of the blessed Vladimir Monomakh said: " all we have to go because we are all mortal." Many people brought coffins, shrouds and shirts to the Wretched houses, they bought eve and candles there.
The Great Duke Vladimir Vsevolodovich Monomakh. The Portrait from a royal titular. 1672
«They could not call the remembered people», says historiographer, «but they thought that God hears and knows for whom these pure, unselfish, truly Christian prayers are being sent». During the analysis of bodies in barns and pits, they looked for relatives and friends. Devoted people admired what those people did: i.е. gravediggers (about whom prayer is offered at the liturgy) tidied up the stinking corpses with their bare hands. They thought about the quality or state of everything being temporal. They did not disdain the hideous appearance and stench, despite the danger of getting an infection; they put shirts and shrouds on the corpses, put them in coffins, then buried them.
After the requiem, the beggars were given alms to remember the buried ones. Participants in this deed of piety and humility washed their hands in the pond or the river. There were houses for prayers and bellowers, proschas, fortinas, where men brought them the cup of consolation to drink, that was mentiond by Jeremiah, XVI, 7.
Such a touching custom ceased with the Moscow plague, after which a special cemeteries were established, and it was forbidden to bury bodies nearby parish churches with the exeption of Pokrovsky and Andronikovsky monasteries. According to the orders of Church superiors, nobles were buried in Andronikovsky, and merchants and philistines were buried in Pokrovsky. In the beginning of the current century the burial mounds were discovered near by the church of St. Ioann the warrior on Bozhedomke and near by wretched houses of Pokrovsky Monastery. Their salts have been opened on Semenovskaya Street in front of the monastery, many human bones were found there.