St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery

The iconic blue sky cathedral of Kyiv

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 – Archangel Michael. Built in the 12th century, but raised from ruins in the 20th century, it is considered one of the most revered places of Ukrainian Orthodox believers.

According to the Primary Chronicle, the history of St.Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery begins in 1108. It runs that Kyiv Prince Sviatopolk II Iziaslavych built a stone temple and dedicated it to his heavenly patron Saint Michael the Archangel.

In the construction of the cathedral participated Byzantine masters. The interior of the temple was truly impressive in its decor, with marble, mosaics, and frescos. The temple was called “Golden-Domed” because it had the first and the only golden dome on a church at that time in Rus-Ukraine. Its importance grew in 1108, after it got its main shrine – the relics of St. Barbara, brought to Kyiv from Constantinople. 

On the route of Kiev Private Tours, we always visit St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral with my guests. One of the most stunning cathedrals and iconic architectural gem of Kyiv. You may check the itinerary of Old Town Kyiv Tour or Kyiv in 3 hours – Main Sites and Hidden Gems.

The temple underwent significant changes during the Mongol invasion in 1240. The Mongols damaged the cathedral and removed golden sheets from its dome. After a series of restorations during the 16th century, it gradually became one of the most visited and wealthiest monasteries in Ukraine.

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

Interior of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral

Construction of monastic buildings around the cathedral

With centuries, around the cathedral appeared the whole complex of buildings. In 1713 there 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 the 19th, 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 Michael St. Metropolitan I of Kyiv. On the other side was the image of the 5th miracle St. Barbara and St. Prince Volodymyr.

Until 1919 the monastery counted 4 churches:

  • Stone church in the name of St. Archangel Michael, had 7 domes;
  • 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;
  • St. Nicholas temple, it was wooden at first, and in 1856 it was reconstructed into a new stone church;
  • Stone two-storied church in the name of the Smolensk Mother of God. It was built near the house for pilgrims;

Demolition of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral by bolsheviks

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

In the 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 it hadn’t preserved the original Byzantine style. This discussion led to the demolition of the monastery. In its place, they planned a new administrative center for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The cathedral was declared to belong particularly to the Ukrainian Baroque architectural style, rather than to the 12th-century Byzantine style. This conclusion was encouraged by the Soviet government to demolish the entire monastery. Only one professor, Mykola Makarenko, refused to sign the demolition act, for that he was arrested and later on in 1938 sentenced to death in Tomsk (Russia).

Mykola Makarenko during his exile to Tatarstan

They started on 26 June 1934 with the removal from the walls of the original 12th-century Byzantine mosaics. 45 sq meters of mosaics were transported to the State Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg, Tretyakov Gallery, and the State Russian Museum in Moscow. The other remaining mosaics were installed on the second floor of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv.

After that, in the spring of 1935, there came a turn of the golden domes of the monastery, they were pulled down. The cathedral’s silver Holy Gates and other valuables were dismantled, sold abroad, or destroyed.

St. Barbara’s relics were moved to the Church of the Tithes. And after the Church of the Tithes demolition, they were brought to St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral in 1961. During the spring-summer period of 1936, the shell of the cathedral and bell tower were blown up with dynamite.

The planned governmental center and Lenin’s 52 meters statue in the place of the ruined cathedral were never erected. The only building completed before World War II currently houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

An interesting fact is that during the Soviet anti-religious campaign of the 1920s, another outstanding monument of Byzantine 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.

In the early 1990s, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate starts collecting funds for the reconstruction of the cathedral. The money that was collected was enough only for the initial research, it was clear that the unique cathedral cannot be restored without the support of the state.

The Ukrainian community sent numerous appeals to the President to provide funding for restoration. Finally, in 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 back to Ukraine. In January 2004, the Ministry of Culture of Russia decided to transfer from the Hermitage to Ukraine seven more frescoes.

Fascinating architecture ofSt. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral

St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral in the times of Euromaidan Revolution in 2013

During the violent dispersal of the Euromaidan-Revolution of Dignity 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.

The protesters hid in the cathedral and organized temporary headquarters inside it. The seminarians from the Kyiv Orthodox Theological Academy helped protesters: went on the night duties, brought medicines, carried hot water.

On the night of December 11, 2013, the bell of the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery sounded the alarm for the first time during the last 8 centuries. The previous time was in 1240, during the Mongol invasion.

It is owing to this alarm sound of bells, thousands of Kyiv 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.

About the Author

Hello! My name is Victoria, I’m a private tour guide in Kyiv. If you plan a trip to the Ukrainian capital, I would be happy to provide you with a tour. I can create a private tour of Kyiv on a wide range of topics historical and cultural heritage, architecture and street art, local gastronomy.

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