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St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery

Iconic Kiev Cathedral

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery is one of the main temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It is devoted to the heavenly patron of the city – the Archangel Michael. Built in the 12th century, but raised from ruins in the 20th century, it is considered to be one of the most honored places among the pilgrims.

The Monastery in Ancient Times

According to the Primary Chronicle, history of the Monastery starts from July 11, 1108. It runs that Prince Sviatopolk II Iziaslavych built a stone temple and dedicated it to his own patron saint Michael the Archangel. It was decorated with marble, mosaics, and precious icons. The cathedral domes were probably the first in Kievan Rus to be gilded and the cathedral was called “Golden-Domed”.
After his death on April 16, 1114, Prince Svyatopolk was buried in this cathedral.

The whole complex of buildings on the territory of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery extended with centuries. It has undergone significant changes during the Mongol inasion in 1240. The Mongols damaged the cathedral and removed its gold-plated domes. After a serious of restorations during the 16th century, it gradually became one of the most visited and wealthiest monasteries in Ukraine.

In Hetmanate times the cathedral aquired its gorgeous look. Of great importance were donations of Ukrainian hetmans at different times: Bogdan Khmelnitsky at his own expense restored gilding on the central dome of the temple in 1718, Hetman Skoropadsky arranged in the main church a new iconostasis, Ivan Mazepa donated to the relics of St. Barbara a silver shrine and a chandelier.

In 1713 was built a stone church in the name of St. John the Evangelist. The monastery bell tower was built in 1719 by Varlaam Lenetsky. It had 3 tiers and 23 bells. The last asset in the reconstruction of large monastic buildings was the erection of the stone wall around the monastery and housing for fraternal cells.

At the end of 19 century St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery occupied an area of 13 acres and was surrounded by a stone wall. At the gate, on one side were depicted heavenly powers and St. Metropolitan of Kiev Michael. On the other side was the image of the 5th miracle St. Barbara and St. Prince Volodymyr.

Until 1919 the monastery counted 4 churches:

  1. Cathedral stone church in the name of St. Archangel Michael had 7 domes;
  2. Refectory Church in the name of the John Evangelist, built in 1713. It was a two-storied stone church, the dome of which was iron and in 1848 was covered with gold;
  3. St. Nicholas temple, it was wooden, at first, and in 1856 it was reconstructed into a new stone church;
  4. A stone two-storied church in the name of the Smolensk Mother of God. It was built near the house for pilgrims;

Demolition of the Cathedral in the 20th century

At the beginning of summer 1919 Bolshevik (Communist) government moved to Kiev from Kharkiv. They started nationalization of buildings and property.

In 1930s, Soviet historians called into question the known historical facts regarding the age of the Cathedral. They emphasized that the medieval building had undergone major reconstructions and not much of the original Byzantine-style cathedral was preserved. This discussions had concluded to the demolition of the monastery. On its place they had planned a new administrative centre for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The cathedral was declared to belong particularly to the Ukrainian Baroque style, rather than to the 12th century as was previously thought. This conclusion was encouraged by the Soviet government to demolish the entire monastery. Only one professor, Mykola Makarenko, refused to sign the demolition act, he later died in a Soviet prison.

They started on 26 June 1934 with the removal of the original 12th century Byzantine mosaics from the walls of the cathedral. 45 square metres mosaics were tarnsported to among the State Hermitage Museum in St.Peterburg, the Tretyakov Gallery, and the State Russian Museum in Moscow. The other remaining mosaics were installed on the second floor of the Saint Sophia Cathedral. Then in spring of 1935, there came turn of the the golden domes of the monastery, they were pulled down. The cathedral’s silver gates and other valuables were dismantled, sold abroad or destroyed. St. Barbara’s relics were moved to the Church of the Tithes ( after that church’s demolition, to the St Volodymyr’s Cathedral in 1961). During the spring-summer period of 1936, the shell of the cathedral and belltower were blown up with dynamite.

The governmental center on the place of the ruined cathedral was never built. The only building completed  before World War II currently houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The delay with the building in the spring of 1938 was caused by the dissatisfied submitted design of the Governmental Square.

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Ruins of St. Michael’s Kiev Golden-Domed Monastery right after the explosion.

An interesting fact is that during the Soviet anti-religious campaign of the 1920s, another outstanding monument of Byzanteen architecture – St.Sophia Cathedral was saved from destruction. And primarily it avoided a disastrous fate with the enormous efforts of many Ukrainian and French historians.

During the Second World War, some of the frescoes were removed to Germany, from where they got to the Hermitage in St. Peterburg.

In the early 1990s, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate starts collecting funds for the reconstruction of the cathedral. That money was enough only for the initial research, it was clear that the unique cathedral cannot be restored without a support of the state. The Ukrainian community sent numerous appeals to the President to provide funding for restoration. Finally, on December 9, 1995, President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma issued a decree which defined the restoration of the Monastery as a national priority.

In February 2001, four fragments of frescoes of the 12th century Cathedral, that were stored in the Hermitage, were handed over to Ukraine. In January 2004, the Ministry of Culture of Russia decided to transfer from the Hermitage to Ukraine seven more frescoes.

Monastery in the times of Euromaidan Revolution in 2013

During the violent dispersal of Euromaidan on the night of November 30, 2013, a part of people who fled from the police unit “Berkut”, found refuge in the territory of the Monastery. During the clashes with “Berkut”, the protesters hid in the cathedral and organized temporary headquarters there. The seminarians from the Kyiv Orthodox Theological Academy helped protesters: went on the night duties, brought medicines, made tea, carried hot water.

On the night of December 11, 2013, the bell of the St. Michael’s Monastery sounded the alarm for the first time during the last 8 centuries. The previous time it was in 1240, during the Mongol invasion. It is owing to this sound of bells thousands of Kiev citizens gathered in the city center and the attempt to clean up Euromaidan by the police division “Berkut” and armed forces of the Internal Troops were unsuccessful.

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery became the headquarters of the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine since 2018.