Kyiv Monastery of the Caves
Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is a unique monastery complex, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list and is one of the seven wonders of Ukraine.
As a professional tour guide in Kyiv, I take almost all my guests to this monastery complex. It’s not just an incredibly unique and impressive attraction in the Ukrainian capital but also the main place of religious worship for all Orthodox Christian believers.
History of Foundation of the Monastery
“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.
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.
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 11th century it became not only the most authoritative, large, and rich monastic community in Kievan 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 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 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
In the 19th – the beginning of the 20th century the architectural ensemble of Kyiv-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 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.
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.
The Soviet government invested greatly in the restoration of the reserve buildings, landscaping, and the resumption of museum displays.
A very significant event was the opening of the reconstructed Uspensky Cathedral in 2000 on a great religious Orthodox holiday – the Dormition of the Mother of God.