Brave Abbess & Her Nuns Who Sacrificed Themselves to Care for the Imperial Family on the Verge of Their Murder

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On this day – 29th July 1934 – Schema Magdalena (Dosmanova), the last abbess of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent[1] in Ekaterinburg before the 1917 Revolution, reposed to the Lord.

An Early Calling

Pelagia Stefanovna Dosmanova (future mother Magdalena) was born in 1847 into a merchant family in the city of Irbit, Perm province. In 1859, her pious parents brought their twelve-year-old daughter to the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery[2] in Ekaterinburg.

For her first obedience, the young novice helped in the convent candle factory, then in the rector’s cells. Over the years, she was entrusted with more and more complex and responsible obediences, and Sister Pelagia performed every task with zeal. All the sisters loved her, sensing in her a special spiritual strength, which was combined with a soft, loving attitude towards every person.

In 1893, Pelagia Dosmanova was tonsured and became the nun Magdalena, and just two years later the sisters unanimously elected her abbess “in the conviction that she was of a pious life, of a meek disposition,” as they wrote in the act of election.

PHOTO: the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent [Monastery] [2] in Ekaterinburg

Mother Magdalena

Having become abbess, Mother Magdalena worked tirelessly: she decorated the churches, equipped the cells of the sisters, ensuring that the monastery was in perfect order – she wanted the monastery to look like paradise.

Matushka taught the sisters to pray, and introduced them to reading books on which many generations of monastics were brought up from ancient times. She also took care of the spiritual needs of the faithful who lived near the monastery. Parents often came to visit the monastery, on one occasion a novice took them to the icon-painting workshop, Suddenly, unexpectedly for the parents, all the sisters who were there, as one, stood up and bowed low, with deep reverence. The parents were moved to tears.

Many girls came to the monastery to lead a monastic life under the wise guidance of Mother Magdalena. By 1917, the number of sisters had increased to almost a thousand.

During the First World War, Mother Magdalena, according to the commandment of the Lord, tried to ease the sorrows of her countrymen, the monastery donated money and valuables for the needs of Russia’s soldiers at the front; while an infirmary for wounded soldiers was arranged at the monastery.

Comes to the Aid of the Imperial Family in the Ipatiev House

In 1918, Ekaterinburg became a place of exile for many people who were deemed objectionable to the new Bolshevik order, which included bishops, priests and members of the Imperial Family. Mother Magdalena’s heart ached for every innocent prisoner.

From April to July, when Nicholas II and his family were kept under arrest in the Ipatiev House, the nuns of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent were praying for them, asking God to relieve their sufferings, and to give them the strength to bear everything with Christian humility.

The sisters’ help came not only through prayer but also through deeds. Often disregarding their own safety, they supported the Tsar and his family, by bringing various foods to them through the guards.

Matushka gave her blessing to the sisters to carry food to the Ipatiev House for the imprisoned Emperor and his family: milk for Tsesarevich Alexei, cream, eggs, butter, bread, pastries, vegetables, and meat.

On 18th June 1918, a month before their murder, Empress Alexandra Feodorvna acknowledged the kindness shown them by the nuns, and made the following entry in her diary: “The kind nuns are now sending milk and eggs for Alexei and for us, as well as cream.”

The sisters carried food every day until the last day – 16th July – the eve of which the Imperial Family and their four faithful retainers were all shot to death in the basement of the Ipatiev House.

PHOTO: Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna

In May 1918, when the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna arrived in Ekaterinburg, she was placed under house arrest [along with other members of the Romanov family], and placed in the Atamanovskie Rooms Hotel.

The sisters petitioned the Bolsheviks for the Grand Duchess to be allowed to live in the monastery. However, their request was rejected. Two months later, they were sent to the city of Alapaevsk, where they too were murdered.

The sisters also came to the aid of Bishop Germogen (Dolganev) of Tobolsk, also imprisoned in a local jail. The nuns delivered dinner to Vladyka from the monastery, Mother Magdalena visited him, and one day, at her request, Vladyka was allowed to serve a mass in prison, at which many prisoners took communion.

Matushka and the sisters of the the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent performed a confessional feat, by openly helping the Imperial Family and other prisoners. Indeed, at that time people were afraid not only to help political prisoners, but even simply to express sympathy for them, knowing that their punishment could lead to imprisonment or execution.

PHOTO: Bolsheviks seize and confiscate valuables from the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery, 1920s

“Monastery” on the Third Zagorodnaya

Sadly, the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery did not escape the fate suffered by most Orthodox churches and monasteries. In 1920, the monastery was closed, all the sisters were evicted. Over the gates of the monastery, the Bolsheviks hung a large banner: “Long live the World Communist Revolution!“. Mother Magdalene and the sisters looked at this slogan with heartache, often coming to pray at the walls of their native monastery. The monastery, which they had been landscaping for years, was now a pitiful sight, ravaged and defaced with communist inscriptions.

Mother Magdalena settled not far from the monastery, in a private house on Tretya Zagorodnaya Street (now Schmidt Street). Eighteen sisters came to live with her, while the others often came to her for prayer, advice and spiritual edification. During this mournful period, the virtues of Mother Magdalena and her spiritual experience acquired over many years were fully manifested. Having lost her pastoral position and her native monastery, she did not lose heart nor faith. Despite the hardships and persecutions under the Soviet regime, Matushka remained true to her Orthodox faith.

In the house on Tretya Zagorodnaya, the sisters lived as they did in the monastery – every night they read the akathist in front of the Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God; during the day they worked, read the scriptures, and went church together. Mother Magdalena combined prudent indulgence with moderate severity. She instructed the sisters to begin and end each day with the Jesus Prayer.

PORTRAIT: portrait of Schema Magdalena (Dosmanova). Artist unknown

Blessed Old Woman

The monastery had been closed for many years, yet despite this, new sisters still came to Mother Magdalena, who wanted to devote themselves to God.

In the 1920s, the Bolsheviks ordered the closure of churches and monasteries, and the arrest of priests, clergy, nuns and monks. The arrests carried out by the atheistic authorities did not bypass Mother Magdalena, but during interrogations she acted as a fool, which led the Chekists astray. She was arrested 8 times, and imprisoned for three months.

Three days before her death, predicted that she would die in three days. During the remaining three days of her life, she received daily communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. As Matushka lay on her deathbed, many believers came to say goodbye to her. She blessed each of them with the icon of Christ the Redeemer, and the icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker.

On 29th (O.S. 16th) July 1934, surrounded by her children, Mother Magdalena calmly surrendered her spirit to the Lord. Just before her death, she overshadowed everyone with the Tikhvin Icon and said: “I hand you over to the Mother of God …”.

PHOTO: Mother Magdalena’s final resting place, on the grounds of the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent in Ekaterinburg

Mother Magdalena was buried at the Ivanovo Cemetery in Ekaterinburg. A wooden cross was placed on the grave, and on the tablet the spiritual daughters wrote with reverence and love: “Pray to God for us, dear matushka!”.

On 5th February 2021, Mother Magdalena’s earthly remains were exhumed from her grave in the Ivanovo Cemetery, and reburied in a new resting place at the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent.

Memory Eternal! Вечная Память!


[1] The Novo-Tikhvinsy Convent is a community of female monastics. It was founded in the late 18th century, growing out of an alms-house at the cemetery church in Ekaterinburg. It is the home of the icon of the Tikhvin Mother of God. During the Tsarist period, the convent grew to consist of six churches, numerous cells, a hospital, and an almshouse. The dominant building on the monastery grounds is the cathedral dedicated to St. Alexander Nevsky.

[2] In English usage since about the 19th century the term “convent” almost invariably refers to a community of women, while “monastery” refers to a community of men. In historical usage they are often interchangeable.

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