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The Trapezna Church in the Lavra Pechersk Monastery in Kyiv — an architectural landmark of the end of the 19th century
The Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv is a sprawling complex made up of many buildings which date from various times in the Monastery’s thousand-year old history. Some of the buildings are of fairly recent construction — “recent”, of course, from the point of view of history.
One of such recent buildings is the Trapezna (Refectory) Church — it dates from the end of the nineteenth-early twentieth century. It stands out among other buildings around it by its architectural style. Most of the surviving buildings in the Lavra Monastery were erected (or comprehensively reconstructed) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and bear the architectural imprint of those times. The Refectory Church looks definitely much more modern in style, and yet it is in harmony with the surrounding architecture.
I find it to be solemnly and serenely majestic. Its green dome decorated with gold is a variation on the theme of architectural music which was brought into this world by the creators of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople; the echoes of this theme were heard in many medieval churches of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine, and its distant echo can be discerned in the Trapezna Church in the Lavra Monastery too, particularly if you look at the dome from inside the church.
Refectories date from the early times of monasteries’ existence in Kyivan Rus. It is known from the chronicles that a refectory in the Pechersk Lavra Monastery was built in the year 1108. Nothing is known about its architectural style but it is known that it stood at almost the same site, at which the Refectory Church now stands.
That old refectory was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1230 but it was only in 1684–1694 that the construction of another refectory began. The money for the construction was donated by Mykhailo Maksymovych, a wealthy burgher from Kyiv.
In 1718, the refectory was damaged by a fire, and the building of the refectory went through a reconstruction, which brought the architectural style of the refectory in harmony with the then prevailing architectural style of the Monastery. In 1720, it was decorated with murals.
In 1862, a second story was added with rooms for those monks who worked in the kitchen and the refectory itself, cooking and serving meals.
To meet the needs of the changing times, architectural styles and new requirements, in 1893 the Religious Council of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery decreed to pull down the old refectory and build an entirely new one at the same site. The architect V. Nokalyev was commissioned to provide a design for the new refectory and for the church adjoining it. The building of the refectory and of the church to which it is joined were built within two years since the beginning of construction and they were consecrated on August 13 1895. The church was devoted to St Antoniy and St Feodosiy, founders of the Lavra Monastery.
The tables, at which the monks sat during meals, were arranged along the three walls. All the tableware was traditionally made of tin. On the days of the major religious feats, the monks were joined by the Archimandrite of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery who was, at the same time, the Metropolitan of Kyiv. Sometimes guests — some prominent personalities — were invited to join the monks at their meals. While the monks were eating, excerpts from hagiographical works were read aloud.
There used to be many graves of those who were privileged enough to be buried in the Monastery. Of these only few remain at the walls of the Refectory — the tombs of Cossack leaders I. Iskra and V. Kochubey (see more about them in the article A Street, an Arsenal and Chronicles of Kyiv to be found in this issue), and of Peter Stolypin (1862–1911; Stolypin was a conservative statesman who, after the Russian Revolution of 1905, initiated far-reaching agrarian reforms to improve the legal and economic status of the peasantry as well as the general economy and political stability of imperial Russia; Stolypin, while attending an operatic performance with the Emperor in Kyiv, was fatally shot on September 14 1911, by Dmitriy Bohrov, a revolutionary who had used his police connections to gain admittance to the theatre).
The Refectory suffered some damage when the Uspenska Church that stood next to it, was blown up in 1941. Restoration work began in 1956 and by the end of the 1970s it was completed. The soviets turned the Refectory Church into a museum of atheism but in 1990 the church was returned to the Orthodox religious community and the religious services were resumed.
The Trapezna Church was planned and designed in the 1890s, that is, some time after St Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kyiv had been built and decorated. St Volodymyr’s was openly eclectic, incorporating elements of the architectural styles of Byzantine and Kyivan Rus architecture. This eclecticism was typical in church construction elsewhere in Ukraine and Russia. But closer to the end of the century, a new style began to be formed. Later, it was given different names in different countries — Art Nouveau, Sezession, Jugendstil, Modern Art. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it became a predominant style with some variations in many countries of Europe, Russia and Ukraine included.
After the construction of the Refectory and the Refectory Church was completed, the Religious Council of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery voted to invite the prominent architect Aleksey Shchusev from St Petersburg, Russia, to design the interior decoration. Shchusev was an adept of the new style, which in Russia and Ukraine came to be known as “Art Modern.”
Surprisingly enough, despite the traditional conservatism of the Lavra Monastery top hierarchy, Shchusev was given some leeway to make his own decisions in the general interior decoration. It did not mean, of course, that the margins of freedom and variation were too wide but they proved to be enough for Shchusev to create an original design. He was to supervise not only the interior decoration of the church but the creation of the iconostasis and kioty (icon-cases) as well.
By the time Shchusev accepted this commission, he had accumulated enough building and design experience to become one of the leading architects of his time. He had progressive architectural views, which reflected the requirements of the time. But he faced a formidable task — over 500 square metres on the interior walls and the inside of the dome were to be covered with religious and ornamental decor.
Most of the work in the church, which had a refectory proper attached to it, was done from 1904 to 1906, a short time for so much work. By 1910 all the work had been completed. On parallel lines with the work in the Lavra Monastery, Shchusev designed churches to be built elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia and even Italy (Pochayevsk Lavra Monastery, Natalyevka in the vicinity of Kharkiv, Ovruch and other places).
A lot of attention was given by Shchusev to the ornamental decoration. Stylized flowers and other plants play a very significant role in the general colour and ornamental scheme of the mural decoration of the Church and of the refectory.
Stylized ancient Christian motifs blend well with the typical Art Modern motifs. One of the decorative elements on the walls of the Refectory is particularly noticeable. It is a stylized representation of a tree. In fact, there are several such representations but the most impressive one is to be seen on the eastern wall. It can be called The Tree of Life, and it is a mosaic rather than fresco. It takes some time before you start to discern the fruit and blossoms of the fabulous tree in the intertwined decorative elements — grapes, nuts, fur cones, all growing on the same tree. And then, all of a sudden, you discern a fabulous bird with a magnificent tail among all the ornamental ringlets and curls.
Among the religious pictures, Christ in Emmaus and Christ at Tiberias stand out. Also, there are imaginary portraits of 14 most prominent monks of the Lavra Monastery, among which one can see a portrait of Nestor the Chronicler (see more about Nestor in the article A Street, an Arsenal and Chronicles of Kyiv to be found in this issue).
The mural that represents Heavenly Jerusalem with the six-winged cherubim in the centre is particularly impressive. Shchusev and the artists who turned Shchusev’s design into a picture felt free to combine the Christian motifs with pictorial reminiscences of ancient Egypt, thus creating new art that sought inspiration in the art of ancient times.
Based on an essay by Olena PITATELEVA,
a Senior Researcher of the Department of the Studies
of Art Heritage of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery.
Photos by Oleksiy ONISHCHUK
The interior of the Refectory.
The Birth of Christ — an oil painting
Church Fathers (representations
Several words from Psalm 144
Venerable Stephan, a monk
A new icon in an old icon
Venerable Luka and Venerable
A new icon in an old icon frame