Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

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“There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt”

~Niccolo Machiavelli

(Ukrainian: Києво-Печерська лавра, Kyievo-Pechers’ka lavra; Russian: Киево-Печерская лавра, Kievo-Pecherskaya lavra), also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves, is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery in Kiev, Ukraine. Since its foundation as the cave monastery in 1015 the Lavra has been a preeminent center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe. Together with the Saint-Sophia Cathedral, it is ascribed protected status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Pechersk Lavra interior

Currently, the jurisdiction over the site is divided between the state museum, National Kyiv-Pechersk Historic-Cultural Preserve, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as the site of the chief monastery of that Church and the residence of its leader, Metropolitan Volodymyr.

According to most accounts, in the early 11th century, Antony, a Greek Orthodox monk from Esphigmenon monastery on Mount Athos, originally from Liubech of the Principality of Chernigov, returned to Rus' and settled in Kiev as a missionary of monastic tradition to Kievan Rus'. He chose a cave at the Berestov Mount that overlooked the Dnieper River and a community of disciples soon grew. Prince Iziaslav I of Kiev subsequently ceded the whole mount to the Antonite monks who founded a monastery built by architects from Constantinople.

The Kiev Pechersk Lavra contains numerous architectural monuments, ranging from belltowers to cathedrals to underground cave systems and to strong stone fortification walls. The main attractions of the Lavra include the Great Lavra Belltower, a notable feature of the Kiev skyline, and the Dormition Cathedral, destroyed in World War II, and fully reconstructed in recent years. Other churches and cathedrals of the Lavra include: the Refectory Church, the Church of All Saints, the Church of the Saviour at Berestove, the Church of the Exaltation of Cross, the Church of the Trinity, 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 Lavra also contains many other constructions, including: the St. Nicholas Monastery, the Kiev Theological Academy and Seminary, and the Debosquette Wall. The site itself is heavily fortified due to its tumultuous past, and presents an imposing spectacle.

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Pechersk Lavra fortifications

The Great Lavra Belltower

The Great Lavra Belltower is one of the most notable features of the Kiev skyline and among the main attractions of the Lavra. It was the tallest free-standing belltower at the time of its construction in 1731-1745, and was designed by the architect Johann Gottfried Schädel. It is a Classical style construction and consists of tiers, surmounted by a gilded dome. Its total height is 96.5 meters.

The Gate Church of the Trinity

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The Gate Church of the Trinity is located atop the Holy Gates, which houses the entrance to the monastery. According to a legend, this church was founded by the Chernigov Prince Sviatoslav. It was built atop an ancient stone church which used to stand in its place.

Church of the Saviour at Berestove

The Church of the Saviour at Berestove is located to the North of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. It was constructed in the village of Berestove at the turn of the 11th century during the reign of Prince Vladimir Monomakh. It later served as the mausoleum of the Monomakh dynasty, also including Yuri Dolgoruki, the founder of Moscow. However being outside the Lavra fortifications, the Church of the Saviour at Berestove is part of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra complex.

Caverns

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Entrance to the Far Caves

The Kiev Pechersk Lavra caverns are a very complex system of narrow underground corridors (about 1-1½ metres wide and 2-2½ metres high), along with numerous living quarters and underground chapels. They are divided into the Near and Far Caves.

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Typical shrines.

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Skull Reliquary in the Near Caves

In 1051, the Reverend Anthony had settled in an old cave in one of the hills surrounding the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. This cave apparently grew, with numerous additions including corridors and a church, and is now what we know as the Far Caves.

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Medieval Sketch of the Far Caves
In 1057, Anthony moved to a cave near the Upper Lavra, now called the Near Caves.

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Two of the one hundred and twenty three saints entombed in the Caves.

Foreign travellers in the 16-17th centuries had written that the far catacombs of the Lavra stretched for hundreds of kilometres, reaching as far as Moscow and Novgorod, which served to spread the influence of Kiev Pechersk Lavra around the world.

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Far Cave shrines.

Notable Burials

Skirgaila
Ilya Muromets