Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kyiv Monastery of the Caves

As a tour guide on my private tours, one of my favorite places to take my tourists is the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. This historic Orthodox Christian monastery is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Kyiv, offering a unique glimpse into the rich history and culture of Ukraine.

Book a private tour to Kyiv Pechersk Lavrs Monastery and Caves with an expert English-speaking guide in Kyiv and learn more about this unique place.

History of foundation of the Monastery of the Caves

Located on the right bank of the Dnieper River, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is a complex of stunning churches, underground catacombs, and historic monuments. With its origins dating back to the 11th century, the Lavra has played a significant role in the spiritual and cultural life of Kyiv for centuries. It is a place of immense religious importance for Orthodox Christians, and its beautiful architecture and p

“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 in the 10th century.

Monks who founded the Monastery

The monk dug out the cave to retire alone in his prayer. After becoming a Metropolitan of Kyivan Rus, Hilarion stopped visiting the cave. Soon between 1051-1054, it was occupied by a hermit Antony.

With time other monks began to gather around Rev. Antony and soon a whole cave settlement emerged on the hill. Nowadays these are called 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 on the ground of the area near the caves. Since that time, the monks abode living in the underground, and the cave served as a cemetery. Though some monks devotees stayed to live in the caves. Those hermits and monks devoted their whole lives to prayers. They deliberately enclosed themselves in the damp walls of cave passages in the darkness. Through the small holes that had remained in the walls, they got water and some simple food.

For 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 11th century, it became not only the most authoritative, large, and rich monastic community in Kyivan Rus but also an outstanding cultural center. 

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 — the folk hero of Kyivan 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.

Monastery after Mongol invasion

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 Kyiv 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 Kyiv. In 1522, the Polish King Sigismund I with the special diploma granted the monks independence from the Kyiv authorities and the right to choose Archimandrite. Since that time, the wealth of the monastery began to grow even faster.

At the end of the 17th century in Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra was held a grand stone construction. And in the second half of the 18th century, lush baroque ensembles were formed on the Upper Lavra – the Great Bell Tower, the renewed Dormition Cathedral.

Kyiv-Pechersk National Sanctuary

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

Building of the architectural ensemble of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra

In the 19th – the beginning of the 20th century the architectural ensemble of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra acquired its perfection. There were built 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, and a library. One of the most important publishing houses in Kyiv was the Lavra printing house.

At the beginning of the XX century, Kyiv-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 Kyiv – Holosiivska, Kitaevskaya, and Preobrazhenskaya.

Monastery life after the WWII

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

After the Second World War, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery faced significant challenges due to the political and social changes brought about by Soviet rule. The monastery was closed by Soviet authorities in 1961, and its treasures were looted and destroyed. Many of the monks were arrested and sent to labor camps or executed.

Despite these challenges, the monastery managed to survive, and in 1988, it was reopened for religious services. Restoration work began, and many of the historic buildings were rebuilt or restored to their former glory. In 1990, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing its immense cultural and historical importance.

Today, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery is once again a vibrant and active religious center, attracting visitors from around the world who come to admire its beautiful architecture and learn about its rich history. The monastery’s extensive catacombs, which contain the remains of many revered monks and saints, are a popular attraction for tourists and pilgrims alike. Despite the challenges it has faced, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery remains a symbol of Ukraine’s spiritual and cultural heritage and a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Book a Private Tour to Kiev Pechersk Lavra with a professional English-speaking guide in Kyiv and learn more about this unique place.