16 interesting facts about the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra


“The tradition of cave monasteries came from the Middle East, where monks dug cells and temples in rocks; monasteries were similar to those preserved in the Crimea — a terrace and many entrances to shallow premises. First, the monastery on the Dnieper River slopes was built the same way, but soon the monks realized it had to be changed — the landslides destroyed the caves on the surface and the monks had to dig deeper and deeper. One fortified entrance with the stove remained; it was heating the caves and bread was baked in it, — says Vladislav Dyatlov, the head of the “Kiev underground” section of the Kyiv History Museum. — Monks were not hermits, they went to the surface, cultivated their garden, and went to the market: they sold the needlework and bought grain. The enochs could go to the city to preach. There were wooden beds and pieces of furniture in many underground cells. However, there were also ascetics that actually immured themselves, leaving only a window for water and prosphora. Until now, many are surprised and horrified and ask — how could one live in such conditions? What for? This is not self-immolation. For the ascetic is a natural way from comfort to simplicity. Comfort relaxes. The soul must dominate over the body, and not vice versa. The body may weaken, get sick, but it will die anyway. The main thing is that the soul lives — this is the logic of the ascetics.”


“A few monks lived under the ground. Although many wanted to learn from the hermits, they were not ready to bear all the hardships of severe austerities like dampness and cold. Gradually, the monasteries moved to the surface, and the caves began to be used for burial. The monks dug long galleries with funerary chambers built along. The next stage of the restructuring was when pilgrims began to come to pray underground. The caves scheme was simplified, the galleries were made even longer so that people would not crowd. Later the galleries were looped so that groups of pilgrims did not intersect; the walls were decorated and stylized like the Roman catacombs,” says Dyatlov. “It could have been possible to see the ancient cave monastery on the southern outskirts of Kiev in Tserkovshchina; it is a truly unique place there, preserved from the XI century. This is a complex of underground buildings: temples, cells, tombs, grain pits, transitions between three floors. But because of the emergency condition of the caves, excursions there are strictly forbidden”.


In Christianity, the symbol of cave has a large symbolic content. The birth and resurrection of Jesus are connected with this symbol. For the monk, this is also a symbol of that he is dying for the former sinful human life. In addition, it’s easier to concentrate on prayer in a well-isolated room. “And today the tradition is still alive; in the Middle East and Crimea there are caves where monks live,” says Vladislav Dyatlov.


The Assumption Cathedral was laid in the seventies of the 11th century. According to the legends, monk Anthony, the founder of the monastery, has pried and the fire came down from the sky. The fire has burned all the trees and bushes on one of the slopes — this is how the flat ground for the construction appeared. Architects of the Orthodox shrine were 12 Greek masters. It is commonly believed that the Mother of God herself came to them and asked to build a church. She gave architects gold for construction, the relics of the seven saints, a miraculous icon and showed the outlines of the temple in the sky. That’s why they say that Lavra is heavenlike and consider it to be the earthly lot of the Virgin (holy land under the special protection of the Mother of God).


This relic heals people who put it on. This metal headwear weighing four kilograms is stored in the Near Caves. Parishioners can wear it at the end of the prayer. They believe that it absorbs all the negative, removes evil eye, spoilage, and fills with pure energy. It is interesting that Alla Pugacheva also worn this headwear several times. Allegedly, it even healed the Russian star from a headache.


Despite the fact that Lavra is a monastery for men, the woman also lived there. Daria, the daughter of a Russian merchant, escaped from her father’s house and having dressed like a man, she began to lead a monastic life. She lived as a hermit in the cave in Kitaevo waste-land; she ate bread and drank water, she never kept fire in the cave. No one knew that was a girl. The glory of the monk reached Empress Elizabeth, and she personally bothered that Daria became a monk of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. Only after her death it became known that this was a woman wearing the robe: the girl’s relatives saw a portrait of Monk Dosifei and recognized him as missing Darya.


For many centuries, the main relic of the Lavra was the aforementioned miraculous image “Assumption of the Mother of God”. According to one of the legends, Peter the Great prayed there before going to Poltava. Alas, the icon was lost, but a copy of this shrine is now in the Holy Cross church above the royal doors and it is also miraculous.


These skulls rest in glass and silver vessels and can be seen in one of the underground churches. Back in the Middle Ages, they knew about the miracles of the myrrh-pouring: “They, being dry and not covered with skin, supernaturally exude the oil, or the myrrh, and the myrrh is not simple, but having the gift of healing the ailments of everyone who comes with faith and is anointed with that myrrh”. In Soviet times, the heads were stored in the museum, where they stopped myrrh-pouring. However, when in the 90s the monastery was revived, they again began to exude the myrrh. We shall also add that at the end of the XIX century they assumed that one of the myrrh-pouring heads belonged to St. Clement of Rome (a contemporary of the Apostles, the fourth pope, was ordained by St. Peter).


However, one of the most amazing wonders of the Lavra is the saints. The caves and cathedrals store the relics of 123 God’s servants. There are no such relics in any monastery of the world. According to Old Russian epic tales, the body of the warrior Ilya of Murom also rests in the caves of the Lavra. People come to his relics come to pray for the gift of power. Another legendary monk Nestor the Chronicler (considered the author of The Tale of Bygone Years), also resting in the Lavra, is often asked for help in the sciences. People from around the world ask other saints for health, good luck in business, etc.


The caves are well preserved, despite the old age. According to the legends, before the monks these were robbers who lived there. They stole their treasures in the depths of their “holes”, and up to these days, there are legends about countless treasures. However, there are much more stories related to the length of the caves. They say, the galleries of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra reach other cave monasteries in Chernigov, Pskov and Pochaev. Nevertheless, according to measurements of geodesists, the length of the caves is only about 300 m. They are located at a depth of 10–15 m.


In the lower part of the Lavra, there are two chapels above the wells excavated by the Monks Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves. Despite the close distance, the water in the wells has a different taste, and, according to legend, reflects the character of the elders — one was kinder, while the second was more strict with the brethren. Another source is called “Tears of the Blessed Virgin.” As the legend says, it was found in a time of terrible epidemic. Shepherds saw the Blessed Virgin, and the spring appeared right on the spot where she stood. Having drunk the water from the spring, the shepherds were immediately healed. It is also said that in the 1970’s the spring has miraculously survived. Then the springs were put into concrete drainage systems. However, when workers drank from a holy spring, they decided not to touch it, because they liked the water so much.


The Trinity Church is the only one from the temples of the Lavra, which has never been destroyed; it is preserved in its original form (built in the 12th century). The central entrance to the monastery is located under the arch of this temple. According to the belief, if you walk under the Holy Gate twice (just go in and out) — you will get rid of your sins.


Its height is 96.5 m, and for a long time it remained the highest building in Ukraine (now the record belongs to the capital’s Parus skyscraper, 130 m high). It is said that in the Soviet times it was decided to “belittle” the monastery, and the sword of Motherland Monument was planned to be higher than the cross on the bell tower. When the construction began, the ground under the monument began to sink. Construction was suspended, and then the height of the platform was reduced. Allegedly, the builders were advised by the holy fathers, and after that, there were no further problems with construction.


Having got inside the temple, our first questions were, of course, about the supernatural. “The miracle is that we were able to complete the work,” Andrei Dmitrenko, the artist from Kiev admitted. “In 2007 the funds for the painting of the church were allocated. Active work began, but a few months later the financing was stopped. We continued to work for free — due to the technology stopping works was unacceptable, after that we would have to start anew.” However, according to the artists, there was another miracle. “When we stopped working for several days, as an incredible desire to draw was growing in us. There was a connection between us and the temple,” — says the artist.


According to the artists, the main difficulty of the painting was that it was necessary to restore works with very complicated composition. One story could unite several dozen characters at once. They are all connected by a single action, and each one had to be given individual looks. The interior of the temple was restored as on the watercolors made at the end of the eighteenth century. The pictures showed the color scale and composition, but it was impossible to see the features of the faces. “Sometimes the modern monks served as prototypes. We did not paint their portraits but remembered facial features, and then transferred them to the walls of the cathedral,” says Andrei.


The artists worked in silence. “And suddenly one day I hear a man’s voice:” Give me a match. “Turning to other artists, I ask:” And who asks for them? “Everybody was puzzled,” says Andrei. “And only after the request “Please light it with your mobile”, we guessed that voices are heard from the ventilation shaft. Tourists were lost on the route and went into the galleries that stretch under the Assumption Cathedral.”



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