Holy Assumption Sviatohirsk Lavra is the third most significant in Ukraine, after Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochayiv. Seventeen monks who lived here at different times have been canonized.
The exact date when the abbey was founded is not known. According to church legends, the first monks settled in the Sviatohirsk area around the 14th – 15th centuries, and the first documented mention dates back to the 17th century.
The monastery’s uniqueness lies in the fact that a significant part of the monastic cells and churches when it was founded were located inside the chalk mountains, originally in natural caves, and then later in caves carved from the rock. The monastery’s history is marked by periods of prosperity and decline. At the end of the 17th century, it was captured and plundered by the Crimean Tatars; 100 years later, it was abolished by decree of Catherine II, and all its lands, estates, and villages were seized by the treasury. Only in the mid-19th century was the monastery restored, and over the next 70 years it flourished, becoming one of the largest in the Russian Empire. There were cloisters (settlements for hermit monks), and skilled workshops, mills, and trading shops operated there. At the end of the 19th century, after a train with the imperial family crashed not far from the monastery, in gratitude for a lucky outcome, the Holy Assumption Sviatohirsk Abbey was founded with the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
With the establishment of Soviet power in 1918, the monastery was liquidated; it reopened in 1992. At the same time, restoration work began. In 2004, the abbey received the Lavra status.
Four of Sviatohirsk Lavra’s cloisters have been preserved.
The rocky part of the Holy Assumption Sviatohirsk Lavra is pitted with caves: tombs, temples, and monastic cells are in the nearest ones; the oldest cave church, St. Anthony and Theodosius of Kyiv-Pechersk, is in the most distant one. Guided tours are available three times a day in the caves; visitors should carry lit candles throughout the caves, to the very end, and only with the purest of thoughts, as it is believed that the caves are a place of strength.
Four of Sviatohirsk Lavra’s cloisters have been preserved. The main one – Anthony and Theodosius of Kyiv-Pechersk – is open to the public, but the other three are in secret places and ordinary visitors will not be able to see them.
The wooden All Saints abbey, a monument of wooden architecture built without a single nail, is striking in its unsophisticated beauty. There are 9 temples in the church, as well as 3 chapels. The most famous cathedral, Nicholas, is an architectural monument and is made in the style of early “Slobodsky” baroque. Judging by drawings from the end of the 17th century, there used to be three huge chalk cones with windows cut in them in this spot, and the three-chamber church seems to repeat their outline.
This article was published in the book Interesting Ukraine.
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© Sky Horse Publishing House (Kyiv) / Nahs Haus, 2019
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