You are here

Pskovo-Pechersky Dormition Monastery - A Unique Bulwark of Faith

Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery
Ivan the Terrible's repentance: he asks the hegumen (father superior) Cornelius of the Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery to let him take the tonsure at his monastery. Painting by Klavdy Lebedev. (Public Domain)

Situated in a deep forest, dissected by rivers and marshes, just 340 km from St. Petersburg, a picturesque valley holds a majesrtic sight to behold, the Holy Dormition Pskov-Caves Monastery.

The long history of this ancient monastery covers more than 500 years. However, it is known that the monks knew this place much earlier than the official date of its creation In 1392 AD. It was in that year the locals found the entrance under the roots of a fallen tree to the cave, and above it the inscription "Cave Created by God."

The first monks who settled in the Holy Dormition Pskov-Caves Monastery were from Kiev-Pechersk monastery, having fled from the attacks of the Crimean Tatars in the Kiev lands. In the annals of the monastery, it was in 1470 that one of the monks, John (Jon) situated the church in the cave in honor of the Assumption of Mary. The church, highlighted three years later, would eventually be the place where many monks settled, thereby passing the holy spot into the possession of the church. And thus began the history of the glorious days of the Pskov-Caves Monastery.

The monastery was several times subjected to raids and looting, simply because it stands on the border between Russia and Livonia, which was dominated by the Germans early on. Gradually, over and over again, rising from the ashes, the monastery continued its work, that of producing spiritual power. An interesting fact is that the inhabitants of the surrounding villages and towns revered the monks with great respect and reverence for their hard, and dedicated labor. In the difficult years farmers have always helped the monks with food and even their assistance. The citizens and monks prayed together to carry the burdens of war as well.

The heyday of the Holy Dormition Pskov-Caves monastery began from the beginning of the 16th century, when the Moscow Tsar drew attention to the strategic location of the monastery. Seeing the suffering of monks from the raids, he allocated money from the royal treasury for the construction of a protective wall around the monastery. In 1523 when Dorofea was the abbot, the monastery was surrounded by a wooden wall, a cave temple was expanded and the church in the name of Anthony and Theodosius (the founders of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra) was constructed on the holy mountain.

The monastery (Meros)

Great changes have took place at the monastery while  the famous Cornelius was the abbot. In 1541 huge works were completed: a refectory was built for the monks, they strengthened and expanded the Assumption Church, and the many caves were dug, while more stone walls were built.

In 1570 Cornelius died. Some historical sources says that he was strangled by his own king Ivan the Terrible for treason and willfulness. Another legend says that Ivan the Terrible cut off Cornelius’s head by a single flick of his sword, then deeply remorseful of his crime, he picked up the  abbot’s body and carried in the Assumption Church. Since then, the way of St. Nicholas Church (gate) to the Assumption Church is popularly known as "bloody".

In the following 150 years the walls of the Pskov-Caves Monastery saw waves of attack during numerous sieges and wars. The monastery survived the siege of the troops of the Polish king Stefan Batory, and the Swedish troops under the command of Gustav II Adolf, as well. The fortifications also paid witness to the attacks of the army of King Charles XII and the war with Napoleon too.

In the difficult years of the Great Patriotic War, Pskov-Pechora monastery continued to work and to take all those who needed help in. During World War II the monastery churches were damaged by artillery fire from the Nazis. From August 1941 till February 1944 the brethren with the abbot  Paul (Gorshkov) participated in the Pskov Orthodox mission. The purpose of this mission was to revive the spiritual life of the territories occupied by Germans. Priests exerted outwardly to the occupiers in order to be able to conduct spiritual services. There is evidence that in the Pskov-Pechersk monastery men soughted by the Gestapo were hiding under the domes of the church as well.

Fate was never kind to this holy place, but the faith and prayer of the monks helped the monastery to survive even in the most difficult years. Over the years the royal personages, emperors and other famous personalities have visited the Holy Dormition Pskov-Caves Monastery countless times. Peter the Great visited the abode four times,and Alesksandr the First prayed in the walls of the Assumption Church. The emperor Nicholas II and the Princess Elizabeth Feodorovna came on a pilgrimage to the monastery, as did many others. What a unique place this holy edifice is, a bulwark of the Orthodox faith, the Pskov-Caves Monastery is known not only in Russia but abroad also.

Photo credits: Monastery image courtesy Meros