The Pechersk Lavra, a monastic site on the southern edge of Kiev’s city center, has a history going back to the 11th century. The monastery has served the Russian Orthodox Church since that time, despite suffering damage and attack over the years due to fires a well as incursions by the Tatars and Mongols, among others. The site was nearly wholly rebuilt in the 17th century and once again suffered grave damage in the 1940s. The buildings are back now and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site which should keep them in decent shape for the future.
Walking the grounds left us with plenty of impressive sites. From monks pacing the grounds (on their mobile phones as often as not) to various visitors to the stunning scenery of the churches themselves, there was plenty so see and do.
But the scenes above ground were severely outshined but what we saw underground. There are two sets of caves in the complex and we went exploring through both. I also managed to suffer a rather awkward misunderstanding of language and actually didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to be taking photos down there until half-way through the visit when a monk admonished me. That was, needless to say, a bit awkward. For what it is worth, I wasn’t using my flash; I definitely know better than that.
The catacombs now operate as tombs. There are scores of bodies entombed throughout, each one a place for reflection and prayer. The monks and other pilgrims visit the tombs daily, praying at each of the many sites as they pass through the underground halls. Watching that happen is quite impressive.
And in addition to the tombs there were also a number of other decorations on the walls. There was a church with space for no more than a dozen devotees which was packed with visitors. And there were scenes like this one on one arch:
Incredible beauty pretty much at every turn.
After a few hours on (and under!) the grounds, including visiting some of the museums in the smaller buildings, we were finally done for the morning. It was off to find sustenance and to plan the rest of our time in town.
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