Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (Kyiv Caves Monastery) is Kyiv’s premier tourist attraction and stands on a hill overlooking the Dnipro River.
The territory of the Kyiv-Caves monastery occupies over twenty hectares and is located in the very heart of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, which since the 11th century according to the “Primary Chronicle” (the work of venerable Nestor the Chronicler of the Kyiv Caves) has been known as “the mother of all the cities of Rus”. The Lavra complex has over a hundred buildings, including numerous churches. On Sundays, up to ten Divine Liturgies are celebrated. While on weekdays, divine services are permanently celebrated throughout the many churches. Six ancient underground churches are located in the Far and Near Caves of the Monastery.
Owned by the government the Upper Lavra contains a number of churches and museums. The admission fee gives access to most of the churches but some require additional payment.
Great Bell Tower
Measuring just over 96m the Great Bell Tower competes for dominance of Kyiv’s skyline with nearby Rodina Mat. For a small fee it’s possible to climb the tower for an unequalled view of the monastery and Kyiv.
Museum of Historical Treasures
Situated at the rear of the Upper Lavra, this museum houses showcases historic items, precious stones, metalwork and jewelry. Most notable is its spectacular collection of Scythian gold.
Museum of Micro-miniatures
This museum displays the miniature creations of Russian artist Mykola Syadristy. The exhibits, viewed through microscopes, include a chess set on the head of a pin and the world’s smallest electric motor.
Beneath the Lower Lavra are hundreds narrow passages and caves where monks once lived and worshiped. Over 100 of them lie mummified in niches that line the subterranean streets.
Since its foundation as the cave monastery in 1015 the Lavra has been a preeminent center of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe. Together with the Saint Sophia Cathedral, it is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastery complex is considered a separate national historic-cultural preserve (sanctuary), the national status to which was granted on March 13, 1996. The Lavra also not only located in another part of the city, but is part of a different national sanctuary than Saint Sophia Cathedral. While being a cultural attraction, the monastery is currently active. It was named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine on August 21, 2007, based on voting by experts and the internet community.
Currently, the jurisdiction over the site is divided between the state museum, National Kyiv-Pechersk Historic-Cultural Preserve, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchy) as the site of the chief monastery of that Church and the residence of its leader, Metropolitan Volodymyr.
In the late 2010 a monitoring mission of UNESCO visited the site to check on situation with the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. Currently Lavra and Saint Sophia Cathedral are not threatened by the "black list".
Entrance to the caves is free, but most visitors purchase a candle at the entrance for a couple of hyrvnias. Women are asked to cover their heads and cameras are not allowed.
The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (In Ukrainian: Києво-Печерська лавра; in Russian: Киево-Печерская Лавра) is a major Orthodox monastery located in Kyiv, Ukraine, also referred to as the Monastery of the Kyiv Caves. Founded during the times of Kyivan Rus' (1051 A.D.), the monastery has remained a major center of Orthodox Christianity in the Slavic world. The monastery also serves as the residence of Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) of Kyiv, head of the autonomous Church of Ukraine (UOC-MP).
The Venerable Anthony is credited with founding the monastery when he settled in one of the caves that is now part of the Far Caves (also called the Caves of Theodosius). This occurred most probably in the year 1051 which is the traditional date for the foundation of the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery. As the community grew to twelve monks new cells were excavated. Among those who joined Anthony in the early years were Theodosius and the Venerable Barlaam. In 1057, Anthony, who desired a life of seclusion, named Barlaam as the first hegumen (abbot) and withdrew from the community to new cave in a hill that today is part of the Near Caves (also called the Caves of Anthony).
During the early times when Theodosius was abbot (1062-1074), a wooden structure was built over the Far Caves and the brethren, whose number was reaching one hundred, moved out of the caves
The monastery was supported generously by the princes and boyars of Kyiv, who donated not only money but land and buildings as well. Also, many of the educated men of the area became monks at the monastery as it became the largest religious and cultural center of Kyivan Rus'.
During the ensuing years the monastery was raided several times. Significant raids included one in 1096 by the Cumans, in 1169 by Andrei Bogoliubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal, and in 1203 by Prince Riuik Rostislavich. In 1240, the invading hordes of the Tatars, led by Baty-Khan, came through Kyiv, destroying the city and the monastery. During the times of Tatar occupation the monks moved into the caves, to remain there for a long time. After each raid the churches and buildings would be replaced and the system of underground caves and catacombs would be expanded. In 1470 the monastery was rebuilt again by Prince Semen Olelkovich, but was once again destroyed by Tatars in 1482.
From these times until the end of the sixteenth century little documentation remains as historical source material as records were destroyed during each raid. Beginning in the sixteenth century, reports by travelers provide descriptions of the caves and the monastic life then practiced at the monastery. These reports noted the length of the underground caves, whose entries resemble entrances to mines, and which also noted that liturgy was celebrated in the two underground churches every Saturday. By the late sixteenth century the monastery had once again recovered. At this time it was granted stavropegial status by the Patriarch of Constantinople. This freed the monastery from the control of the metropolitan of Kyiv. The monastery was also granted the status of a lavra.
Following the Union of Brest-Litovsk in 1596, those who supported the union and became Greek Catholics made an effort to gain control of the lavra, but the Orthodox prevailed and retained control. The Kyivan Cave Monastery Press, the first printing press in Kyiv, was established at the monastery in 1615 by Archimandrite Yelisei Pletenentsky. The monastery was further restored and improved by Archimandrite Peter Mogila, later metropolitan, who in 1631 opened the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery school with a "western" curriculum. This school was, in 1632, combined with the Kyiv Epiphany Brotherhood School into a college that later became the Kyiv Mogila Academy. In 1688, the Lavra was subordinated directly under the Moscow patriarchate, but still with its stavropegial status.
A major fire in 1718 severely damaged the monastery. The main church and the printing house, with the library and archives, was destroyed. Restoration of this damage took ten years. In 1720, Peter I’s government prohibited printing of new books and imposed synodal censorship on all publications from the monastery. This severely limited the monastery’s cultural influence.
By this time, the lavra was large and had acquired much wealth. The heart of the monastery remained the two underground labyrinths of tunnels, cells, and catacombs, from which the name of the monastery is derived and in which monks lived and were buried. But, the extent of the lavra grew beyond that. It owned three cities, seven towns, some 200 villages and hamlets, and about 70.000 serfs. It also owned eleven brickyards, six foundries, over 150 distilleries, over 150 flour mills, and about 200 taverns. This ended in 1786 when the Russian government secularized the property and made the lavra dependent upon the state.
At the same time the government changed the organization of the monastery by abolishing the monastery's custom of electing the council of elders, the monastery’s governing body. Thereafter the council was appointed by the Metropolitan of Kyiv. The metropolitan also became the archimandrite of the monastery with his residence within the monastery’s grounds. A trend toward Russification of the monastery began in the late eighteenth century and continued in time.
In the early twentieth century, before the Bolsheviks' assumption of power, Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra was the residence of over one thousand monks. It was one of the most famous centers of religious life in the Orthodox world, visited each year by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The monastery was renowned for the relics of many saintly monks who had been glorified in 1643 under Metr. Peter Mogila. This changed after the Soviets assumed control of the government in late 1917.
Changes by the Soviet authorities began in 1921. Initially, the authorities confiscated the relics and historical and artistic objects that belonged to the monastery. Buildings were converted to commercial and other uses. Many of the monastery's monuments were combined into a museum, the Lavra Museum of Religious Cults and Way of Life, that also contained collections from other museums in Kyiv. After closing down the monastery completely in 1926, the Soviet government first turned the grounds into a museum preserve, the All-Ukrainian Museum Quarter, that consisted of a number of museums which emphasized anti-religious propaganda, and included archives, libraries, and workshops before closing the Quarter in 1934 and transferring the collections to new museums in Kyiv. All the bells were removed by the Soviet authorities during the period 1931 to 1932.
During World War II (the Great Patriotic War) the Soviet army mined the Holy Dormition Cathedral before the advancing Nazi forces. The explosives were, then, detonated after the Nazi forces had occupied Kyiv on November 3, 1941 severely damaging the cathedral.
After the war the lavra grounds were restored and renamed the Kyivan Cave Historical-Cultural Preserve, which housed a number of museums and institutions. Also, a functioning monastery of about one hundred monks was allowed to operate until 1961.
As the atheistic times began to wane in the 1980s, the Soviet government transferred in 1988 the area of the Lower Lavra, with the Far Caves, to the possession of the Ukrainian Exarchate of the Church of Russia in commemoration of the one thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of Rus'.
With the return of the Lavra to the Church the monastic and spiritual life was slowly restored. During 1998 to 2000 the city of Kyiv rebuilt the Holy Dormition Cathedral and returned it to the Church. As new monks have joined elderly monks who have returned to the Lavra, the cycle of services has been re-established, building on the primary duty of the monk of never ceasing prayer.
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