Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Monastery of the Caves

Kiev Pechersk Lavra is a unique monastery complex, which is included in UNESCO world heritage list and is one of the seven wonders of Ukraine. The monastery complex  is the main place of religious worship for all Orthodox. “Pechery” means “caves” and as the name implies, the monastery began from the caves. The Primary Chronicles tells that the first cave on the Dnipro slopes was dug out by the monk Hilarion, who was close to Prince Yaroslav the Wise. The monk dug out the cave to retire alone in his prayer. After becoming a Metropolitan of Kyivan Rus, St. Hilarion stopped visiting the cave, and soon, between 1051-54, it was occupied by a hermit Antony.

Monks began to gather around Rev. Antony and very soon a cave settlement emerged on the hill. Nowadays these are Far Caves. Very soon Rev. Antony left the brethren and moved to another hill, where one more underground labyrinth appeared. Nowadays it is called Near Caves.

In 1062, the monks built a church and a monastery. Since that time, the monks abode living in the underground and the cave served as a cemetery. Though some ascetics devotees stayed to live there. Those hermits and monks devoted their whole lives to prayers. They deliberately enclosed themselves in the damp walls of cave passages in the complete darkness. Through the small holes that had remained in the walls they got water and some simple food.

With centuries numeral cathedrals and churches, houses and gardens appeared around the caves. The independence of the monastery from the Prince’s power (unlike the other monasteries) contributed to the fact that at the end of the XI century it became not only the most authoritative, large and rich monastic community in Kievan Rus but also an outstanding cultural center. Here were created records and lives, icons and works of spiritual music.

The monks who lived in the caves were also buried there after their death. It is with the Far Caves, where the relics of 49 saints are kept began the history of the monastery. Among others there are relics of Saint Nestor the Chronicler, author of the Primary Chronicle, (the earliest East Slavic chronicle). He has been glorified (canonized) as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church; relics of Ilya Muromets — folk hero of Kievan Rus, a “bogatyr” (akin to knight-errant) and a character of many East Slavic medieval epic poems. Although Ilya Muromets’s adventures are mostly a matter of epic fiction, he is believed to have a historical prototype: a medieval warrior, and in later life a monk, named Ilya Pechersky.

During the invasion of Batu Khan in 1240, the monastery was partially destroyed but didn’t cease to exist. The situation was significantly improved after the transition of Kiev under the authority of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Lithuanian princes supported Christianity and provided benefits and estates to the Pechersky Monastery. The Uspensky Cathedral became the burial place of the descendants of Algirdas, who reigned in Kiev. In 1522, the Polish King Sigismund I with the special diploma granted the monks independence from the Kiev authorities and the right to choose the Archimandrite. Since that time, the wealth of the monastery began to grow even faster.

At the end of the XVII century in Kiev-Pechersk Lavra was held a grand stone construction. And in the second half of the XVIII century, lush baroque ensembles were formed on the Upper Lavra (the Great Bell Tower, the renewed Dormition Cathedral).

Kiev-Pechersk National Sanctuary

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View on Kiev Pechersk Lavra cathedrals from the Grand Bell Tower.

In the XIX – the beginning of XX century the architectural ensemble of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra acquired its perfection. There were build covered galleries on the way from the Near caves to the Far caves and the territory of caves was surrounded by a fortified wall. Several residential buildings for pilgrims were built on the territory of the guest yard, a hospital, a new refectory, a library. One of the most importsnt publishing houses in Kiev was Lavra printing house.

At the beginning of the XX century, Kiev-Pechersk Lavra counted about 500 monks and 600 novices, who lived in the four united monasteries – Pechersk monastery, St. Nicholas, Holy Trinity Hospital and in the Near and Far Caves. In addition, the Lavra owned three deserts in the suburbs of Kiev  – Holosiivska, Kitaevskaya and Preobrazhenskaya.

From the first days of the Nazi occupation of Kiev began a systematic exportation of Kiev Pechersk Lavra values to Germany. In November 1941, Holy Dormition Cathedral was blown up. The remained buildings which were left without proper supervision began to ruin rapidly.

The Soviet government invested greatly in the restoration of the reserve buildings, in landscaping and the resumption of museum displays.

In 1988, part of the territory and buildings of the Far Caves were returned to the Ukrainian exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and Pechersk Monastery revived. The next year, the same thing happened to the Near Caves, the Theological Seminary moved there in 1990.

A very significant event was the opening of the reconstructed Holy Dormition Cathedral in 2000 on a great religious Orthodox holiday – the Dormition of the Mother of God.

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