During Soviet times, the USSR policy toward religion was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which made atheism the official doctrine of the Communist Party.
As the founder of the Soviet state, Lenin, put it:
Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.
The vast majority of people in the Russian empire were, at the time of the revolution, religious believers, whereas the communists aimed to break the power of all religious institutions and eventually replace religious belief with atheism. “Science” was counterposed to “religious superstition” in the media and in academic writing. The main religions of pre-revolutionary Russia persisted throughout the entire Soviet period, but they were only tolerated within certain limits. The communist regime targeted religions based on State interests, and while most organized religions were never outlawed, religious property was confiscated and often turned from a place of worship into a place “of social utility”. Many religious building, with their ample, unobstructed internal spaces, were made into movie theatres, others became museums and so on.
An interesting example of “reuse” for a religious building is that of the Holy Trinity Women Monastery in Smolensk. In the 1920s it was turned into a macaroni factory, which remained in activity for more than 70 years.
Only few locals and practically no tourist ever visit the place, as they invariably opt to see the spectacular Assumption Cathedral, which is just a few hundred meters away on the aptly called Trinity Mountain. In reality, though, the Holy Trinity Monastery has a very rich history, worth discovering. The earliest mention of the Trinity Monastery dates back to 1462 and until 1740, it was the residence of the Smolensk archbishops. Architecturally it is quite curious that the bell tower is separated from the monastery by a road. A legend says that during one of his frequent visits to Smolensk, the Russian emperor Peter the Great was walking on a wooden bridge thrown across the moat between the Trinity Monastery and the Cathedral Mountain and almost fell into a ditch. Because of this “near accident” he ordered to lay a straight street from the Cathedral Mountain through the courtyard of the Trinity Monastery. Of course his command was rapidly carried out and therefore the two-tiered bell tower of the Trinity Monastery was separated from the church by the newly built street.
When the Monastery returned to be a place of worship in 2008, a former director of the macaroni factory, which operated in the main building, came to the consecration ceremony. She recollected that in the first years of operation, going to the upper floor at night, where pasta machines operated, was a scary task that no one wanted to undertake and therefore it often fell to her, as the operation director. The reason was simple: at the time the walls were still covered in ancient frescoes and from the darkness the faces of the saints appeared when illuminated by the flickering lights of the machineries. At times they seemed so real, it appeared as if someone had just stepped out of a wall. Other times it was sad and unbearable to look at their stern expressions, meant to incite terror in faithful Christians and knowing that they had dissociated the Monastery. In the following years, unfortunately, hygiene and practicality had the upper hand over historical and artistic preservation and all the walls were covered in lime and painted white. They remain completely white to this day.
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