On the high hills of the Dnipro River sits golden-domed Kiev Pechersk Lavra. This eldest monastery, stronghold of the Othodox Christianity in the Eastern Europe, is included to UNESCO Heritage and was recognized as one of 7 wonders of Ukraine in 2007.
The monastery name rooted from its location and significance: it is in the caves in Kiev and is Lavra, for it was acknowledged as one of the main Orthodox Christian monasteries of the times.
Monastery foundation goes back to 1051 and is connected with Orthodox monk from Liubech, whose name was Anthony. Anthony had come to Kiev from the monastery on the Athos mount and had settled in the mountain cave on the Dnipro River. Having had attracted like-minded, soon he had become surrounded with disciples. Caves had extended greatly, and ground constructions had appeared. Within 10 years, the brotherhood of the retreat had numbered so many, that it had become Pechersk monastery occupying the whole mountain above the caves.
Ascetic life and piety of Pechersk monks had raised sufficient donations to the monastery. Stone church with frescoes and mosaics had been built; it had been considered a sample of temple architecture for a couple of next centuries.
The monastery had become a center of adoption and spreading of Orthodox Christianity in Kievan Rus. Thus, in the 12th century the Monastery on the caves had been granted Lavra status.
The Monastery had survived Cuman and Golden Horde invasions, fire and plunder of the Khan Giray army attack. Each time the monastery had been ruined drastically, and each time it had recovered and re-built for better. By the end of 16th century Pechersk Lavra has had in its possession 2 towns, about 50 villages in the Western Rus, with fishery, mills, beaver habitat for hunting, honey and money tributes, etc. The great church had been reconstructed and richly decorated in the middle of the 16th century.
At the same time, several unsuccessful reassignment attempts were made. However, under the Uniatism expansion the Monastery becomes a mainstay of Orthodox Christianity of Malorossiya.
In the 17th century there had appeared a printing house publishing theologian and other academic books, school of Kiev Brotherhood that grew into the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy of nowadays, modern Pechersk Fortress and stone walls.
Great Lavra Belltower has been built by the middle of the 18th century, and having 96,5-meter height, it has become the tallest building in Ukraine of that time and remained such till the middle of the 20th century.
Churches of Lavra count about 20. There were built at different times, many reconstructed from ruins, and each of them is a track of the history of Orthodox Christianity, Ukraine and architecture.
The eldest church, that stayed almost unaltered, is the Gate Church of Trinity, dating to the 12-18th centuries.
Another outstanding temple is the Uspensky Cathedral, one of the most cherished shrines of the Christian world. The first stones had been laid in the 11th century by Antony, the Monastery founder. Merciless invaders, natural disasters, fire and times were making their work during 900 years. Though the latest destruction of 1941 was the most demolishing one. Caused by explosion initiated either by Soviets or Germans, it ruined the Cathedral fully. The Uspensky Cathedral was opened again only in 2000.
The Church of the Saviour at Berestove has undergone great alterations too, but still it is the church that Volodymyr Monomakh founded in the 12th century.
Interesting sample of Ukrainian Baroque Style is the Church of All Saints, building of which was financed by Hetman Mazepa in the 17th century.
Among other usually visited Churches are the Refectory Church, the Church of the Exaltation of Cross, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, the Church of the Conception of St. Anne, and the Church of the Life-Giving Spring.
The caves of Lavra rest over hundred burials. The body of the ancient chronicler St.Nestor, who is supposed to be the author of the earliest East Slavic Chronicle – the main source of written knowledge about Kievan Rus, is among the relics of the Lavra Caves. St.Ilya is associated with the chief bogatyr, Ilya from Murom, hero of epics. Having been immobilized due to illness till the age of 33, after a miraculous recovery, Ilya had gained a super power - physical and spiritual. According to tales, Ilya single-handedly defended Chernihiv from Nomadic invasion, killed Nightingale the Robber and always fought fearlessly for his land and people. Leaving fiction behind, Ilya was a real historical person, a warrior and a monk as he aged. In the Soviet times his relics were exhumed, and studies have proved that he had spinal disease at the young age, was 177 centimetres high (very tall for 11-12th century) and his bones had signs of numerous wounds, including a fatal one. Should be mentioned St.Ilya is the only hero canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.
There is an extended and complex system of underground tunnels and caves in Lavra. Evidently, it has developed from the Anthony’s cave from which the Monastery started. Though legends about underground connections with other monasteries most probably are not true, the total length of the narrow corridors forming caverns is enormous.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra has befallen the fate of all the temples in the Soviet times. Destruction, vandalism, ruination and church isolation from the community lead to the Monastery liquidation in 1930. Later the Monastery has functioned for short periods of time only, until 1988 when it was turned back to the new monastic community of Pechersk Lavra on the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus. Nowadays the Monastery has recovered. It drives again numerous pilgrims from around the world.
And though the Soviets were the ones who made a museum out of the Monastery in the beginning of the 20th century, having a few exciting museum expositions on the territory of the Kiev Pechersk Monastery nowadays is appreciated. The Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine features articles of the 16-20th centuries – chalices, crucifixes, embroidery and textiles. The Book and Print History Museum exposition consist of Lavra Printing and Lavra Icon Painting samples.
There is no way not to visit Lavra while in Kiev. It is beautiful, soul nourishing and interesting from any point of view. Just make sure you have time to see all you want.