Sacred Spaces: Monastery of the Kiev Caves

Our new Sacred Spaces blog series highlights some of the world’s most beautiful and historic churches and cathedrals.  We recently shared the history and treasures of the Basilica di San Marco and St. Isaac’s Cathedral – this week, we invite you to discover the Monastery of the Kiev Caves.

An Underground Wonder

Photo via

Kiev Pechersk Lavra, also known as the Monastery of the Kiev Caves, is one of the most unique Orthodox monasteries in the world.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also one of the largest museums in Kiev (and the home to many smaller, sub-museums within).

Though it initially appears to be a typical Orthodox Church on the outside, the name “Monastery of the Kiev Caves” hints towards the secrets below ground.  Under the church is a complex system of underground corridors, caves, and catacombs. Though an exaggeration (which later lent itself to the Monastery’s fame), visitors of the 16th and 17th centuries wrote that these underground structures reached as far as Moscow.  Visited annually by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, the Monastery is one of the most famous religious centers of Orthodoxy.

Since its inception around 1051 AD, “[…]the monastery has remained a major center of Orthodox Christianity in the Slavic world. The monastery also serves as the residence of Metropolitan Vladimir (Sabodan) of Kiev, head of the autonomous Church of Ukraine.”

The Monastery was founded by the Venerable Fr. Anthony in the 11th century.  He sought solitude in the quiet Ukrainian wilderness, excavating a cave within a hillside.  There he lived a simple, quiet life and was eventually joined by other monks.  A community soon evolved and new caves were excavated.

Photo via

As the community grew, a wooden structure was built over the caves.  The monks (with the exception of Anthony, who had moved to a new cave now called the Caves of Anthony) moved out of the caves and into this new building.

Firmly established, “[t]he [M]onastery grew as wealthy princes and patriarchal figures donated buildings, land, and money.” The Monastery eventually acquired much independent wealth, owning “[…] three cities, seven towns, some 200 villages and hamlets, and about 70.000 serfs. It also owned eleven brickyards, six foundries, over 150 distilleries, over 150 flour mills, and about 200 taverns.”  Unfortunately, these properties were seized by the Russian government in 1786, when the Monastery became dependent upon state funds.

The Monastery was soon to become “[…] the largest religious and cultural center of Kievan Rus’. Of [the] monks [who resided there,] twenty became bishops during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

However, with the Monastery’s growth and fame, it was raided several times over the years.  “After each raid the churches and buildings would be replaced and the system of underground caves and catacombs would be expanded.”  Worse than the raids, a fire in 1718 caused much damage to the Monastery, destroying the main church, printing house, library, and archives.  It took a decade to restore this damage.

A Monastic Labyrinth

Photo via Pinterest

The Monastery of the Kiev Caves is split into two parts: above and below ground.

Below ground, a network of caves and catacombs is home to icons, relics, and mummified monks (on display in glass coffins, albeit covered in cloth).  “This shrine to Christianity within such a unique environment is said to have a calming and spiritual effect, and as a practicing monastery, it provides an incredibly rare insight into Ukrainian Christianity from the past and present.” 

Though it is still an active monastery, the Monastery of the Kiev Caves attracts pilgrims and non-religious visitors alike.  Above ground, “visitors can find the multitude of impressive buildings which include the ruins of the Dormition Cathedral, the Holy Trinity Church, the Great Bell Tower, St. Nicholas Church, Conception of St Anne Church and the All Saints’ Church, all accompanied by a micro museum which proves very popular.”

This museum of miniatures is home to an impressive small-scale collection, much of which can only be seen with the aid of microscopes.  Visitors can see treasures such as a miniature rose inserted into a strand of hollowed hair, a golden chess set set on a pin head, an a portrait etched onto glass and inserted into half of a poppy seed.

While the Dormition of the Most-Holy Theotokos Cathedral serves as the Monastery’s main place of worship, the Monastery is also home to a dozen more churches including the Church of the Nativity of Christ (an underground church located in the Far Caves), Church by Conception of Saint Anna, and the Church of the Synaxis of All Saints of Pechersk.

Main image by Tony Page. Via
The Caves of Kiev, A Sacred Monastery –
Monastery of the Kiev Caves –
Kyiv Monastery of the Caves and Microminiature Museum –
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categorized in: