Tuesday, December 10th 2019

Holy Caves of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Kiev, Ukraine

Visiting Kiev without visiting Kiev Pehcersk Lavra is like visiting Prague without seeing the Prague castle and St.Vitus cathedral. even if one plans a short visit to Kiev or Ukraine the Lavra as most people call it in Kiev will be on top-3-to-see list. When I used to live in Kiev I visited the place many times.

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Great Lavra Belltower in the background

Kiev Pechersk Lavra (also known as the Kiev Monastery of the Caves) is a historic Orthodox Christian monastery. Since its foundation as the cave monastery in 1051 the Lavra has been a preeminent center of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe. Together with the Saint Sophia Cathedral, it is named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Central entrance

If you plan to visit the Lavra i recommend you to skip this central entrance(above) where you would be charged 50UAH (5EUR) and walk a bit further along the street till you reach an entrance to the monastery on your left. Here the entrance is free.

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The monastery ground on the hills

While being a cultural attraction, the monastery is currently active. So it is the real thing. Besides it’s been named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine.

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Entrance to the Near Caves

The Kiev Pechersk Lavra contains a lot of architectural monuments, ranging from belltowers to cathedrals to underground cave systems and to strong stone fortification walls. The main attractions of the Lavra include Great Lavra Belltower, the notable feature of the Kiev skyline, and the Dormition Cathedral, destroyed in World War II, and fully reconstructed in recent years.

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Dormition Cathedral of Kiev Pechersk Lavra

There is a great amount of churches on the territory of Lavra: the Refectory Church, the Church of All Saints, the Church of the Saviour at Berestove, the Church of the Exaltation of Cross, etc.

We decided to skip on that and visit only the caves which I had never visited before. By accident we went to the Far Caves. I would recommend to go there, as they are less crowded and you will not have to stay for long time waiting for people to perform their religious rituals in long narrow corridors.

The Kiev Pechersk Lavra Caves 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. In 1051, the monk 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 theFarCaves. In 1057, Anthony moved to a cave near theUpper Lavra, now called the Near Caves.

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Mara in the Far Caves

The Lavra and the Caves are considered a very holy place and one of the pilgrimage destinations for Orthodox believers. They take this matter very seriously and some ladies were telling Mara to cover her hair with a scarf. We ignored those, but there was a guy at the entrance to the caves who distributed scarves and would not have let Mara in without one.

There is no much light down there, so we needed to buy candles. Everybody around was with candles. Good idea: saving of electricity and sales of candles at the same time. Holy business ;-)

On both sides of the corridors there are coffins with glass covers which contain mummies. The caves are famous for keeping a great amount of saint people.

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Coffins with saints

One of them is famous ievan Rus’ epic hero, Ilya Muromets. He is celebrated in numerous byliny (folk epic poems). Along with Dobrynya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich he is regarded as the greatest of all the legendary bogatyrs (i.e., medieval knights-errant of Kievan Rus). Although Ilya’s adventures are mostly a matter of epic fiction, he is believed to have been an historical person: a 12th century warrior and, in older age, a monk named Ilya Pechorsky. Ilya is beatified as a minor Saint of the Orthodox Church.

There are several small chapels down inside. Besides mummified saints the caves and the churches contain articles of precious metal, prints, chalices, crucifixes, and textiles from 16-19th centuries.

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Chapel in the Caves

Most of the coffins contain bodies covered with richly embroidered fabrics. Some of them have palms exposed, but only palms for some reason. During the Soviet era, the bodies of the saints that lay in the caves were left uncovered due to the regime’s disregard for religion. I wonder why we cannot have a look at those holy bodies in full size nowadays. What the Church is hiding from us?

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The holy HANDS

Most of the people visiting the Lavra and Caves are pilgrims or just very religious people. Women will definitely have their heads covered and they will require this from you if you are a woman. Though it does not stop some of them from wearing very short skirts exposing their unholy legs. What is the point in having a scarf then? I guess it may lead you to HELL where a serpent will bite or eat you, and you will burn in fires for the rest of eternity. Of course, there was a warning sign at the entrance to the caves: If you don’t comply, your place is in HELL.

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HELL vs HEAVEN (warning sign)

Though taking pictures inside the caves is prohibited we have managed to sneak a couple of images. I am afraid my place in Hell is reserved already. And even my connections with the Drunk nuns will not save me from burning in flames forever and ever…


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5 Comments on “Holy Caves of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Kiev, Ukraine”

  1. Nice pictures, indeed. I have been to the Lavra once – this place is a really must-see, especially the caves.

    1. Thank you, Pavel. Interesting place. I saw the mummies for the first time. Interesting that in Soviet times they were completely open and exposed. Now you can see only palms.

  2. […] Eastern Europe. It is very often overlooked by visitors as it is located far from St. Sophia or Kiev Pechersk Lavra. If you are visiting Kiev, it could be a good half day trip away from busy churches and monasteries […]

  3. […] Showing Kiev to Mara and visiting Pirogovo open air museum in […]

  4. […] entry is a good start. (The Holodomor Memorial is near to the caves as well, by the way). This travel blog has some wonderful photos […]

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