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“I Have Been There”
Having been told that there was an ancient monastery in the village of Rozgirche (pronounced: roz-hirtche) in the Land of Lvivshchyna, Bohdan KOLOMIYCHUK, a lover of Ukrainian antiquities and a person easily motivated by curiosity, has taken a trip to Rozgirche to take a look at what proved to be a fourteenth-century monastery.
I admit that the first problem I faced when I arrived in Rozgirche was to find someone who would give me clear directions how to get to the monastery. Answers were rather evasive and circumlocutory, but at last one of the locals I met gave me more or less comprehensible instructions.
First, I had to cross the River Striy that flowed past the village, and to do it I had to walk across a shaky wooden bridge which is attached to the oil pipeline that probably runs across very long distances of Ukraine and near Rozgirche jumps over the river.
When I was walking across the bridge, I looked around avoiding to look down, and what I saw was pretty picturesque — the banks of the fast-flowing river that takes its origin in the mountains, are romantically overgrown with osier. As I walked across the field that stretched into the distance on the other side of the river, I easily spotted a massive outcropping of rock which evidently was my destination. As I neared it, I could discern steps cut in the rock, and other features which indicated that the human hand had once adjusted the rock to suit some need.
A path wound among age-old beech trees; a brook was burbling close by. I followed the path and it took me right to the spot that used to be a monastery — and now what I saw were the rocks and three empty canes with some signs of their having been used for religious purposes.
Among the things I had been told about this rock monastery was a legend that explained the name of the village as having been derived from exclamations the enemy were letting out when, their attacks having been repelled, they fled, shouting “Nam shchoraz hirsche,..raz hirshe (“Things are getting worse and worse for us!”). It looks like a typical case of the so-called “folk etymology” when naive or even rather preposterous explanations are provided for geographical names whose origins are long lost in the past.
But it seems to be true that the rock monastery could have been used as a strong point or a hiding place for locals in case of enemy attacks.
After I returned home from the village, I did some research and discovered that there was some documentary evidence which indicated that the monastery was in existence at least in 1480, but at the same time there is some archeological evidence which suggests a much earlier use of the caves which must have been natural cavities enlarged by man. The caves could have easily been used by pagans as a shrine, or as a place that was rather easy to defend during nomadic incursions.
Back to the actual caves. Two of them are at the foot of the rock. One must have been a sort of a cell for monks and the other was used for some other purposes — most likely for storage of food. “The cell” of monks must have had no conveniences of any sort, so it must have been a monastery with a very punishing and severe monastic charter. However, not nearly enough archeological research has been conducted to make it possible to pass any definite judgments — many shallow holes and notches on the walls of the caves may suggest that they were made to accommodate some wooden structures. There are signs that the caves were provided with doors.
The third cave must have been used as a church. I spent some time in the semi-darkness and quiet of that cave musing about those distant times when the cave had actually been used as a house of prayer, and wondering whether the monastic spirit had dissipated completely and there would never be anyone who would want to revive a church in a cave…
Looking around the cave, I think I figured out where the altar must have stood. I discovered a cross and two icons on one of the walls which must have been put there fairly recently. Does it mean that some people still remember it having been used to be a church, and they still come here to worship?
On one of the walls I also discovered an image of a face carved into the rock. There was no telling when the face had been carved but I wanted to think it had been done millennia ago, in the pagan times.
In the section of the cave that must have contained the altar I saw several niches. Their purpose is unclear and historians differ widely as to their possible significance.
As I walked out of the cave, its floor strewn with dead leaves of many an autumn, I looked around and easily imagined how the place could have been turned into a stronghold. With enough water available and a water spring nearby, the place could withstand a long siege.
My research failed to produce any further information about the monastery — how long it functioned, when it was closed down, or even whether it was an Orthodox or Catholic monastery.
I discovered I was by far not the only or rare visitor — the walls of the caves are disfigured by many modern-day graffiti, most of which contained very similar messages, “Ya, taky-to, tut buv” (I, such and such, have been here”). Alas, these messages were not those from the faithful or monks from the distant past and were in no way helpful in either trying to get the feel of the place, or learn more about its past.
Leaving the caves, I took a long walk along another path that started right near the rock monastery. It took me north, and after a couple of hours of walking I reached another rock outcropping dotted with caves and steps cut in the rock…
But it is another story which I hope I will have a chance to tell some other time.
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