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Penance and Punishment: Monastic Incarceration in Imperial Russia Open Access


Other title
imperial Russia
monastic incarceration
public penance
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Demoskoff, A. Joy
Supervisor and department
Coleman, Heather (History and Classics)
Examining committee member and department
Dunch, Ryan (History and Classics)
Kononenko, Natalie (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Himka, John-Paul (History and Classics)
Marples, David (History and Classics)
Department of History and Classics
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation explores the practice of public penance as a way of thinking about the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state during the imperial period. Public penance has a long tradition in the history of the Eastern Church and often took the form of performing monastic labour while undergoing seclusion in a monastery. In imperial Russia, this religious practice became conflated with the state’s incarceration of individuals in monastery prisons for the purpose of social control. The sources for this dissertation include imperial and canon law, the teachings on penance in the church journals and newspapers of the time, and the correspondence between the monastery abbot, the local bishop, the Holy Synod and the provincial and imperial state authorities. Focusing on the Nicolaevan era (1825-1855) as the period in which the practice peaked, a case study of the prison facility at Spaso-Evfimiev Monastery in Vladimir Diocese demonstrates the variety of circumstances to which public penance was applied. Religious dissidents from among the peasantry were confined at Spaso-Evfimiev in the hopes that they could be converted. Noblemen guilty of violent murders or crimes against the state were incarcerated there instead of being exiled to Siberia. Priests and monks who were considered insane were confined among the prisoners as well, along with those who had dishonoured their clerical position in some way. Monastic incarceration was a disciplinary measure applied to unusual incidents and the Russian Orthodox Church cooperated with the imperial state in the care and treatment of these individuals. By exploring the material conditions of life in a monastery prison, this dissertation reveals the extent to which authority over church affairs was worked out in day-to-day negotiations. Sometimes the church served the state’s goals, sometimes it acted in accordance with its own teachings and values, and much of the time the church and state had a shared understanding of the close relationship between sin and crime. Neither side consistently dominated the other, but rather, they cooperated in the process of imposing penance and punishment on the offending individuals.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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