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Ukraine: Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

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Kyiv Pechersk Lavra | Ukraine | Europe

[Visited: October 2014]

Few people were around when I entered the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra complex on an early October morning, and the sun was barely out. I decided to pay a quick visit to the Dormition cathedral first; the first rays of sunlight were just touching the top of the Great Bell Tower. Completely destroyed in the Second World War, the cathedral is new, and reconstructed recently, which is clearly visible on the inside. When I step out again, its golden cupolas are basking in the sun - a brilliant sight. I walk to a viewpoint next to the Refectory Church, and walk down to the Church of the Raising of the Cross, part of the Lower Lavra. The Lavra complex was founded in the 11th century as a cave monastery, hence the name (pechera meaning cave). It is considered one of the most important sites of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe, and as such, it attracts pilgrims from far away.

Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): View of the Dormition Cathedral and the Refectory Church seen from the Lower Lavra

Inside the church, there is an entrance to the near caves, a complex of tunnels and caverns in which mummies of deceased monks are kept, and with small altars. Despite the impressive rich churches, the monastery complex actually started in a modest way: monks looking for a good place to retreat and concentrate. There are other people, but they are all here for a religious reason, and I see praying women, kissing every glass cover of the mummies. They can be found in small open spaces in the corridor, or in small caves with decorations, and sometimes altars, and candles. The darkness adds to the sense of devotion, and it feels like I am much closer to the basics of this religion than in the new cathedral I have just seen. Once outside, I use a walkway that takes me to a higher part of the Lower Lavra, to the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin. Here, only a caretaker, and I sit in the church for a while, watching the rays of sun coming through the windows, and shining on the frescoes on the walls. Behind the church is a small cemetery, from which there are fine views over the Lower and Upper Lavra.

Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Cupola of the Refectory Church, in Byzantine style

In the Church of the Conception of St. Ann, I enter the Farther Caves, which I somehow find less impressive than the Near Caves. I walk back towards the Upper Lavra, suddenly realize I have not eaten anything, and find a hearty plate of borsht that will keep me going for a while. The Refectory Church is my first stop, and it is one of the most amazing. The wide dome, reminiscent of the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, is heavily painted from the inside, but perhaps even more impressive is the refectory. But there is much more: the All Saints church with richly painted walls and cupolas, and the Trinity Gaten church which is painted also on the outside. It turns out to be quite small, and there is a group of visitors inside. The caretaker checks out the church after the group leaves, does not see me, and locks the door. After taking pictures without being afraid of getting caught, I wonder how I will get out: she might have gone for a long break. I try to draw attention through a small window that cannot be opened, but people either do not see me, or do not understand. Precious time is lost before the lady returns, and when she sees me, I see some big eyes in her face. She mumbles something, but I am out already: off to have a second look at the Dormition Cathedral, before I exit through the Trinity Gate church: the sun is already well on its way down, and I have spent many hours in the holy complex.

Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Old woman praying inside a small cavern where a mummy is buried, part of the cave complex
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Early morning view over the Lower Lavra from the Upper Lavra
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): The richly decorated interior of the Refectory Church
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): The glistening golden domes of the Dormition Cathedral are back again, after being destroyed in World War II
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): The rich interior of the All Saints Church
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): The Refectory Church of St. Antoniy and St. Feodosiy
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): The Great Bell Tower is the major landmark of the Upper Lavra, easily visible from the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Stone alley linking the Lower and Upper Lavra
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Trinity Gate church is completely painted on the outside
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Sunlight entering the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Cemetery with row of crosses at the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Mummies lying in glass coffins in tunnels
Picture of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Ukraine): Morning sun on the Great Bell Tower

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