The early history of Desyatinny Convent is shrouded in a haze of mystery, there are a lot of guesses and assumptions in it. It is considered that the convent was founded in 1327 when Archbishop Moses erected the Church of the Nativity of Our Lady "on Desyatina" that then would be decorated “with icons and books".
It is not clear why the content got its name. The thing is that term "desyatina" had many meanings in Old Russian language. According to the charter of Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavovich, the tenth of income – "desyatina" (tithe) – was given to the Church. Money that "desyatinniks" took from monasteries and churches for Cathedral of St. Sophia had the same name. Desyatina also stands for prince's estate and most likely it gave name to the convent. The convent that appeared on the former prince's area was called "on Desyatina" and lately – Desyatinny Convent.
A beautiful legend is connected with Desyatinny Convent. There is suggestion that it was founded in the first half of 13th century by princess Feodosiya Mstislavovna – as a nun got name Euphrosyne – mother of Alexander Nevsky, in honour of "miraculous deliverance from the invasion of Suzdal's people".
"They came with a big army to the city… Novgorodians saw a large number of besiegers, lost courage, their powers were exhausted, they grieved much and were embarrassed, not waiting for help – just asked God for mercy and relied on St. bishop's prayers".
Archbishop John heard the voice during the prayer: "Go to the Church of Jesus Christ that is on Ilyinskaya Street, take the icon of Holy Virgin and put it on city walls against enemies; and at once you'll see salvation for the city". The archbishop brought the icon of Our Lady of the sign to the city wall against Desyatinny Convent. One of Suzdal's arrows pierced the icon and once tears flowed down from her eyes. "Enemies were frightened, darkness caught them – and they began to kill each other".
The episode of "invasion" of Suzdal people became favourite in Novgorod stories and the icon of Our Lady of the Sign – the most revered. It is now in Cathedral of St. Sophia and available for viewing and veneration to every visitor of the Cathedral.
Desyatinny Convent was badly damaged during Swedish occupation of Novgorod in 1611 – 1617. There was only Church of Nativity left after Swedes and other, apparently wooden buildings and fence have vanished.
In 1809 a stone bell tower, crowning the whole complex, was built. It was rebuilt in 1903 and preserved this appearance to the present day.
Nowadays, Desyatinny Convent, having various creative organizations on its territory, is one of cultural centers of Veliky Novgorod. The State Museum of Arts and Culture of Novgorod Land is situated here. There were creative workshops here where icon-painters, wood-carvers, painters, ceramists worked until 1994. Regional production-and-training Centre of arts, where materials for future museum fund were collected, was founded in April 1994. Traditionally, painters and their heirs donated pieces of art to the Centre.
During this time, the fund collected more than 2000 items that gave the right to apply for the status of a museum that it got in April 2002 and stationary exposition opened in the State Museum of Arts and Culture of Novgorod Land on the 30th of December. There are works of outstanding artists of Novgorod. The museum takes active part in exhibitions. Annually, the museum holds dozens of exhibitions in Novgorod region, in Russia and abroad.
Nowadays, however, the convent ensemble is largely impoverished and distorted by the loss of its main relic – the Cathedral of Nativity of Our Lady. Hopefully, that the designed project to restore the church will be carried out and the ancient Russian monument of architecture and history will be rebuilt from ruins in its original form. The temple, reconstructed from ruins, will become a reminder of the origins of the convent and its centuries-old history.