Novodevichy, or "New Maidens Convent" in English, was founded by Vasily III in 1524 to commemorate the recapture of Smolensk from the Lithuanians in 1514. The convent's main cathedral was consecrated in honor of the Smolenskaya Icon of the Mother of God Hodigitria, which according to legend was painted by St.Luke himself.
The most significant buildings of Novodevichy are Smolensky Cathedral and the Bellfry. Smolensky Cathedral was built in 1524–25 years. Six storeyd octagonal belfry, built in 1689–90, once was the highest building in Moscow, contending only with "Ivan the Great" campanile.
In the early 17th century, during the reign of Boris Godunov, the walls of the cathedral were ornamented with frescoes representing historic episodes in the struggle for the formation of a centralized Russian state.
Novodevichy was Moscow's richest convent and many wives and widows of tsars and boyars and their daughters and sisters entered the convent and in doing so handed over all their jewels, pearls, gold and silver. Among the convents more notable residents were Tsarina Irina Godunova, who withdrew to Novodevichy after the death of her husband Tsar Fyodor, and was accompanied by her brother, the boyar Boris Godunov, who remained there until he was crowned in the monastery grounds in 1589.
As soon as the convent was founded, a cemetery was opened on its grounds, which subsequently became a traditional burial place for the church dignitaries, noble families and feudal lords of Moscow and later on, in the 19th century, of the intelligentsia and merchants.