Tuesday, December 10th 2019

TPR Travel Tip – St. Cyril’s Church, one of the oldest churches of Kiev Rus

St.Cyricl’s church is one of the oldest in Kiev Rus and was built many years before other famous Orthodox churches in the 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 in the center of Kiev. This can also be combined with a visit to Babi Yar memorial.

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St. Cyril’s Church

St. Cyril’s Church was built near Dorogozhichi in the environs of ancient Kyiv in 12th century.

From here Prince Vsevolod Olgovich of Chernigov sent his warriors to seize the city, and, in 1139, in the course of internecine wars, he won and mounted the Grand Throne of Kiev. The church served as an out-of-town residence and the burial place for the Olgovichi princes.

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St. Cyril’s Church interior

The 12-century architecture of St. Cyril’s Church has survived into our times with few alterations. The renovations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries consisted mainly of rebuilding a few sections of the vaults, the addition of four domes, and decorative window and door surrounds. Though the structure of the ancient church is  easily visible despite these later modifications.

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Chancel, view from the lofts

The church has lofts which could be reached by a stairway in the wall on the left side from the entrance. I believe these loft were used by people who used to come for religious ceremonies.

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Mara is going to the lofts

The stair well is quite narrow and difficult to pass for two people who walk up and down simultaneously. The stairs themselves are quite high and heights of each stair vary, sometimes quite considerably.

The walls of St. Cyril’s Church are covered by fragments of 12-century frescoes  and 18-century paintings and 19-century oil murals which replaced some of the the missing ancient frescoes.

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12-century frescoes

Many frescoes were restored in 18-19 centuries, but you can still clearly see the faded paintings of saints and Bible scenes coming to us from the 12th century.

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Renovated frescoes

Among the other paintings there are images of the warrior saints quite unusual for churches. This can be accounted for by the needs of feudal lords in times of civil wars.

Many frescoes in the church were made by Mikhail Vrubel, a famous Russian painter who revealed great talent as a monumental painter. One of the most striking murals is The Descent of the Holy Ghost, which covers the vaults in the lofts.

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The Descent of the Holy Ghost

When I lived in Kiev I used to come to the church quite often as it is located a walking distance from Dorogozhichi park where I spend quite a lot of time. One of my favorite is the painting of Moses with inscription of “Kos & Mos” on two sides next to his palms. Kos Mos = Cosmos.

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By strange coincidence the territory of the church used to be surrounded by a monastery now is surrounded by a mental hospital named after Pavlov. Remember Pavlov’s dog?

So if you decide to walk from Dorogozhichi metro through the park which stretches from the metro all the way till the hospital and the church, you will meet some patients right around the church. You should not be scared though as they are not dangerous.

The name “Dorogozhichi” has a long history. Once main roads leading to Kiev crossed at this point which was of strategic importance. According to historians, on the ground of Dorogozhichi a lot of blood was shed, more than in any other place around Kiev. Many times, this area became a battleground for a free passage to the great capital city. By a horrible coincidence Germans chose this place for slaughtering thousands of Jews during 1941-1942. 

Back in the years the hospital used to exhibit paintings made by patients. Those were some strange pieces of art if I may say so. Strangely enough the church has some weird fresco called Last Judgement. It is a big square split in four parts and has images of heads on dark red background faces of which are distorted by pain. Some of them are burning in fire, some have worms pierced through. The paintings always seems to be made by a not-very-normal person.

All in all it is an interesting place to visit and can be quite a relaxing day away from the busy center of Kiev and popular sights. Just take your time, walk through the park and enjoy one of the oldest churches of the Orthodox Kiev Rus.

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