|If change there be, I trace it
In all this consecrated spot:
No new imprint of Ruins march
On roofless wall and frameless arch:
The woods, the hills, the fields, the stream
Are basking in the selfsame beam.
|It seems as if in one were cast
The present and the imaged past;
Spanning, as with a bridge sublime,
That fearful lapse of human time;
That gulf, unfathomably spread
Between the living and the dead.
Thomas Love Peacock
Monument to K.Ipsilanti,
1818; sculptor S.Pimenov.
View of the Great Lavra Bell Tower,
built in 1731-1745; architect I. Shedel;
and of the Refectory Church of St.
Antonys and St. Feodosys Church,
built in 1893-1895; architect V. Nikolayev.
|There are several
places in the city of Kyiv which like «a bridge
sublime,» span «the fearful lapse of human time» and
help the living continue the traditions of the dead. But
one place is very special indeed. It is a nine-hundred
-year-old monastery, known as «Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.»
Now Pechersk is the name of the part of town where the
Monastery is situated but originally it was reference to
the pechery, that is caves in the hilly banks of the
Dnipro River in which several monks many centuries ago
founded a monastery. Lavra is now popularly interpreted
to be a sort of an honorific title, given to a very big
monastery of special importance but in fact the word
laura, borrowed from Greek (in Greek it means «lane»)
defines, according to the Websters Third New
International Dictionary, «a monastery of the Eastern
Church, originally consisting of recluse monks living a
communal life yet inhabiting detached cells (in our case
natural caves) grouped around a church.» We shall
retain the spelling lavra which has become traditional in
numerous publications and tourist guides.
The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is much more than just an ancient monastery. For many centuries it was a truly spiritual centre of Ukraine, from the time of its foundation to the early twentieth century. It is here in the Pechersk Lavra that the earliest surviving chronicles were written telling us of the events in the earliest history of Kyiv. It is here that both ecclesiastical and secular books were published and printed at the time when nowhere else in Ukraine it was done at such a scale. It is here that the buildings themselves, their architecture, give the visitor a spiritual uplift. After a period of several decades when the Monastery functioned only as a museum, a revival of spirituality has begun with monks returning to the Lavra.
Foundation of the Monastery
Ukraine-Kyivan Rus was converted to Christianity at the end of the 10th century. So many churches were built in Kyiv, the capital of the land, that less than fifty years after the countrys conversion Thietmar of Merseburg who visited the capital in 1018, asserted that their number ran to four hundred. It did not take long for a major monastery to spring up and by the end of the 12th century the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra was a monastery of primary importance. At that time the Lavra was situated outside the city walls, in fact, some distance away from the city itself and it was incorporated into Kyiv much later. The story of the Monasterys foundation is related in ancient chronicles. Nestor, 1056-1114, a monk of the Lavra, wrote a chronicle which gives a wide panorama of early Ukrainian-Kyivan Rus history from the foundation of Kyiv and onwards to his day and also provides a wealth of details about the Monastery in which he lived as a monk. We learn about Illarion, a priest in Kyiv and future Metropolitan (1051-1055), who tended to seek privacy of a forest or a hill where he gave himself to pious meditation and prayer. Once he found a small cave at the foot of a hill, enlarged it a little and spent there much of his time singing psalms and praying. Several years later Antony (well spell the names in a manner which reflects the Ukrainian pronunciation), a recluse monk, who hailed from the town of Lyubech, in the vicinity of Chernihiv, settled in the same cave. Illarion had made pilgrimages to distant lands, took monastic vows in Greece and was later told to return to his native land and found a monastery there. Which he did in the vicinity of the then Kyiv, choosing to inhabit Illarions cave in the hilly bank of the Dnipro River. The Monastery grew fast enough to require Father Superior who would run the Monastery. Antony, because of his vows that kept him recluse in his cave, refused to be one. Feodosy was the choice of the brethren approved by Antony and though he was not the first Father Superior it was Feodosy who played a pivotal role in the development of the Monastery. So much so that he, together with Antony, is revered as one of the two founders of the Pechersk Lavra. Both Antony and Feodosy were later officially proclaimed saints by the Orthodox Church. Feodosy had new cells, a cathedral church and other buildings built, set up a monastic workshop of icon painting. He had a lot of other things done at the monastery. In fact icon painting in Ukraine can be said to have started for all practical purposes in the Pechersk Lavra. Feodosy introduced a new monastic rule and religious singing in church. In the closing decades of the 11th century the number of monks at the Monastery exceeded a hundred.
St. Antoniy and St. Feodosy Pechersky
(«Of the Caves»).
Icon, end of the 19th-early 20th century, the Refectory Church.
The Most Holy Mother of God and the Divine Child. Icon of the late 19th early 20th century, the Refectory Church.
|From Wood to Stone
In the early years of its existence the Monastery was built up with wooden churches and chapels and other buildings but in the years 1073-1089 a cathedral church was built of stone. The site is said to have been chosen by God Himself Who communicated His choice to the monks. The Church was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. According to the Kyiv Pechersk Paterik Chronicle, written in the 13th century, there were many miraculous events connected with the foundation of this church but archaeologists and historians have discovered in recent times that the Paterik Chronicle is quite a reliable source as far as many historical events mentioned in it are concerned. It may be considered to be a proven fact that several Greek architects were invited to come and help build the Uspensky (Assumption) Church. An icon representing the Assumption of Our Lady was brought from Greece and miraculous powers were ascribed to it. The Assumption Church was lavishly decorated with frescoes and mosaics. It appeared to rise like some great natural growth from its natural surroundings. When restored to its original form (the Assumption Church went through reconstruction in later centuries), that is to say when visualized stripped of its Baroque additions, the Assumption Church was remarkable for its monolithic yet superbly elegant appearance. The site was chosen masterfully on a hill-top with exciting views opening on all sides. The Assumption Churchs accord with its setting is one of the earliest examples (the earliest was the Holy Wisdom Cathedral, usually called St. Sophia of Kyiv) of the irresistible effect which the Ukrainian environment and Ukrainian tastes exercised on foreign architects and artists who found employment there throughout the centuries. Regardless of their origins, even the fully formed artists produced from the start works which were so strongly imbued with the Ukrainian spirit that they differ completely from everything that these artists had created in their native lands. Unfortunately this marvel of early Ukrainian Kyivan-Rus architecture was destroyed in 1941, shortly after the German Nazi troops had invaded Ukraine and captured Kyiv. There are plans though to rebuild it to its former splendour.
From its humble beginnings in a cave, the Pechersk Lavra grew to sprawl over many acres of hilly land. Soon after its foundation the Monastery was surrounded by a fence made of strong wooden stakes but those were turbulent times and the Monastery sitting on a hill-top, defended at least on one side by a steep bank, could be easily turned into a fortified stronghold. The Monastery soon enough acquired strong stone walls with towers to strengthen them. The Monastery also had to serve as a repository for stores and goods of considerable value. Unlike Byzantine monasteries, whose task it was to provide havens in which the devout could apply themselves to the salvation of their own souls, the huge Pechersk Lavra had to meet a number of worldly needs in addition to fulfilling its religious functions. It was expected to serve as a school, medical centre and a charitable institution, and to provide refuge for those pursued by invading enemies or heartless masters. In addition, it formed historians and chroniclers, ran workshops in which icon and mural painters as well as scribes and illuminators could be trained. The Monastery did not stay aloof in times of national peril.
|Within the Monastery walls, in
the relative security of its defences, the monks
constructed churches of great beauty and elegance,
creating thereby a superb complex of steeples, spires and
golden domes. The Monastery drew monks and pilgrims not
only from Ukraine but from all over Russia as well.
A terrible blow fell in the 13th century not only on the city of Kyiv but on the Pechersk Lavra as well. The invading hordes of Tartar-Mongols swept through the country subjecting to destruction everything that stood in their way. Kyiv was reduced to a heap of rubble and the Monastery must have been badly damaged too though the very fact that the Uspensky Church had survived the attack shows that the Monastery had not been razed to the ground. Among the extant chronicles there are none that would have a detailed description of the siege of the Monastery by the Mongol army but some mention that it took the besiegers a considerable amount of effort and time to break down the stout walls and overpower the gallant defenders. Terrible as the blow must have been the Monastery did not die then though there was no construction undertaken for several centuries, except for some repair work. The monks must have concentrated solely on the spiritual life.
Lavra Flourishes and Declines
It was in the 17th century that a great revival came about and most of the remarkable architectural landmarks were built in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, with only a few architectural additions in the 19th century.
The Pechersk Lavra became the most characteristic manifestation of the Ukrainian Baroque and Rococo styles in architecture and thereby determined the course of architectural development in Ukraine for about two centuries. The Lavra had a printing house set up, the first one in the Central and Eastern Ukraine and started turning out books in a considerable number of copies and of superb quality. To the Lavra icon and mural painting and book illumination workshops flocked apprentices from many lands. The Lavra book publishers introduced the art of engraving on metal and wood hitherto unknown in most of Ukraine. The Lavra scholars wrote books on a wide range of subjects. The Monastery contributed to the creation of the first university in Eastern Europe, known as the Kyiv Mohyla Academy.
The Burial Place of St Feodosy Pechersky.
The Interior of the Refectory Church,
|A devastating fire swept
through the Monastery in 1718 but the damage was soon
repaired and new buildings were erected. Probably the
biggest architectural achievement of the 18th century in
the Pechersk Lavra was the 300 feet high bell-tower
which, standing on a high hill. It remained the tallest
man-made structure in town for a couple of centuries. The
view from the upper tier of the bell-tower is truly
breath-taking and not once did it serve as an excellent
Because of the anti-Ukrainian policies of the Imperial Russian Government the Pechersk Lavra lost its significance of a major Ukrainian cultural centre by the end of the 18th century but continued to function as a purely religious institution.
The 19th century saw the construction of the Refectory and Church adjacent to it, adorned inside with murals which cover almost every inch of the interior. Some of the murals date to the early 20th century. The Pechersk Lavra enjoyed a special status of being the oldest surviving monastery in the land and drew untold numbers of pilgrims. Starting from the 19th century not only the pious began to come and marvel at the architectural, icon and other glories of the Monastery. The few original caves had been in the course of centuries expanded to form two independent systems of catacombs. The faithful filed through underground passages to look at and worship the «imperishable relics of the most holy monks» displayed there in coffins standing along the walls. There are indeed dozens of mummies to be found in the Lavra catacombs. The thing is that quite a few of the monks who were considered to be worthy of such honour were buried in the catacombs (the dates of the burials are difficult to ascertain with any precision but we know for sure that the dead bodies continued to be placed throughout the Middle Ages and as late as the 18th centuries) and though the corpses were not subjected to any artificial process of embalming in order to preserve them from putrefaction and eventual decomposition, they had been mummified.
|We shall not discuss here the scientific explanations of this phenomenon and limit ourselves to saying that those monks whose bodies had been mummified were held to be particularly holy by the faithful. Each of the systems of catacombs has three underground churches lit by candles and hung with icons. Even in the atheistic times of the Soviet era hundreds of thousands of curious tourists used to pass through the catacombs gaping at the mummies and wondering at the icons of the underground churches. One can be reasonably sure that many a tourist has left the catacombs emotionally disturbed and longing to embrace the Christian faith brutally suppressed by the totalitarian regime.|
The Lavra Monastery Garden and Apiary at the Nearer.
|Strength in Weakness
At the end of the eighties the Soviet authorities granted a permission to renew the functioning of the Monastery in a part of the Pechersk Lavra known as the Lower Lavra. Even now, in the seventh year of Ukrainian independence the Upper Lavra is still partly used as a museum, or rather several museums occupying buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries (Museum of Ukrainian Folk and Applied Arts; Museum of Books; Museum of Historic Jewellery of Ukraine and some others). So, ironically, even at the darkest time of persecutions and decline of faith the Pechersk Lavra, though for quite a long time it was officially called «the Kyiv Pechersk Cultural Preserve,» continued to exercise its aesthetic and spiritual influence upon millions of people. And many could derive spiritual strength from the words of Apostle Paul: «...I begged the Lord to rid me of it (pain), but the answer was «My Grace is all you need; power comes to its full strength in weakness.» I shall therefore prefer to find my joy and pride in the very things that are my weakness; and then the power of Christ will come and rest upon me.
|Hence, I am well content, for Christs sake, with weakness, contempt, persecution, hardship and frustration; for when I am weak, then I am strong» (2 Cor., 12; 9-10). We have known persecution, hardships and frustrations and we have persevered. Because we had «a bridge sublime» that spans «the fearful lapse of human tie», «between the living and the dead.» We have our Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.|
|More Photos.||Reported by Valentyna
Deputy General Director of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra National Preserve