Old Europe believed that temples determine face and soul of the city. Much of Kyiv’s sacred architecture had been destroyed during wars that tore this land quite often in the past, but many unique temples built on those extremely complex terrains have survived and add their glory to Kyiv’s picturesque scenery.
Saint Sophia’s Cathedral
St.Sophia is the most ancient stone building in Kyiv and Eastern Europe. Grand Princes of Rus Volodymyr the Great and Yaroslav the Wise built it around 1017 or 1037. The builders of the temple had a vision that this temple would to some extent compete with the Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia and symbolically embody the complexity of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom into architecture. Psychologically, St.Sophia’s structure can be viewed as a model of Medieval Universe.
From its beginning Saint Sophia’s Cathedral had been a religious center of Rus and a burial place of it’s rulers and metropolitans.
During the latter centuries it suffered fires and devastation, but it survived even during Mongol invasion, has been rebuilt and restored for several times (the last major changes to constructions were applied in eighteenth century under Ivan Mazepa who had ordered to reconstruct it in Ukrainian baroque style.
The Saint Sophia’s Cathedral is known for the largest surviving collection of mosaics, frescoes and wall-paintings of the XIth century. The most mysterious one is called Oranta, which is a unique depiction of Virgin Mary with hands raised for prayer. From different perspectives it looks like being in different postures: standing, leaning, and praying knelt. The old Chronicles of Rus inform about a prophecy of yore: Kyiv will exist and prosper as long as Oranta’s image is intact.
In 1990 the UNESCO listed the temple as a world heritage site.
Among kyivites and pilgrims there’s a belief that one’s dream will come true after walking around the Saint Sophia’s Cathedral clockwise for three times with concentration and humble prayer.
Trinity Gate Church (Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra)
Chernihiv’s duc Svyatoslav Davydovych built this temple in 1106-1108 as a part of fortifications of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. He had renounced the title of prince and became a monk. Svyatoslav has also founded the first in Kyiv Rus “official” hospital on the territory of Kyiv Pechersk Lavra.
Gate Church of the Trinity is the only building of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra that survived the Mongol invasion and latter wars and is the only building of the monastery which is authentically more than 900 years old.
The main entrance to the famous monastery Lavra is located under the arch of this temple. People believe that if you walk under the holy gates twice (it is enough to go in and out) you are freed from sins.
The atmosphere in the church is calm and sacral, it makes your eyes open wide and admire this beauty. Although it is small, there are about 120 narrative wall-paintings many from XIIth century.
The origin of this church is unknown. Chronicles tell us that one of the sons of Volodymyr Monomakh built this church in the beginning of XIIth century. This church was the main temple of Kyiv’s Podil for merchants and artisans. It was the first building in Kyiv entirely built of brick, without any use of stone — a simplistic basilica with 3 naves and 3 .
The church was named in honor of byzantine icon of the Mother of God called “Pyrogoscha”. This masterpiece was kept in the temple for a long time until it was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Batu Khan.
During its long history Pyrogoscha Church had been destroyed and damaged more than five times and each time it was reconstructed in different style, including Ukrainian baroque and classicism. In the middle of the XXth century Soviets demolished the church. Only in 1997 a new concept of the church had been approved and the church was rebuilt a year afterwards.
The new church appearance was the subject of criticism as it war rebuilt not according to historic pictures and plans in baroque or classic forms. But whatever one may say – the church is beautiful, and it is certainly a jewel of Kyiv.
St. Cyril’s Church
Construction of the church was completed in 1150, the year of Vsevolod’s accession to the throne.
Most of the buildings of St. Cyril’s monastery firstly were wooden and the main church as well. Hordes of Batu Khan sacked St. Cyril’s Monastery and destroyed its wooden fortifications. Still some element’s have survived as well as some unique frescoes of XIIth century. In the end of XVII century Ivan Mazepa invested a huge sum in reconstruction of the monastery, but 50 years later devastating fire damaged the monastery. It was in decline until Empress Elizabeth visited it and donated a large sum of money for reconstruction.
Now St. Cyril’s church combines the features of the architecture of Rus era and Ukrainian Baroque paintings of the XIIth century and masterpieces of famous artist Mikhail Vrubel, who worked here in 1884. A lot of church’s romantic legends are connected with this famous artist. It is believed that young Vrubel was madly in love with his colleague’s wife. He painted the most famous “Blessed Virgin” on the walls of St. Cyril’s church from that woman.
There are several legends about the origin of the church. According to the one of them it was named after St. Cyril, one of the Slavic enlighteners. It is also believed that a huge treasure of Hetman Mazepa is hidden somewhere near the church. Another, more ancient legend says that Kyiv Snake lived here in ancient times and his hole were so deep that they reached the hell far beneath the ground. There’s archaeologic evidence that there were many cavern beneath the monastery hill. According to the legend, Kyivite hero Cyril Kozhumyaka has defeated the Snake at this place.
St. Michael’s Cathedral (Vydubychi Monastery)
One of the legends tells that Kyiv started from Vydubychi hills. In these picturesque sceneries Vsevolod (a son of Yaroslav the Wise) founded the temple in the beginning of XIth century.
In the sixteenth century the church was in decline and required renewal. Thus, metropolitan of Kyiv Peter Mohyla decided to restore Vydubychi Monastery. The modern look of the ensemble of the monastery emerged in the middle of the XVIIIth century. Now the monastery complex is located in a small amphitheater between high hills on the banks of the Dnipro.
Territory of the Vydubychi monastery was a burial place for elite. Famous Rus teachers, doctors, artists and many others were buried here.
In the late 20ies of the XXth century Soviets closed the monastery, but in 1992 the Orthodox church took over the place renewed its activity. The archeologic investigation done in 1974–1981 found that the cathedral houses XIth century frescoes and some elements of typical Rus architecture.
We can tell you a lot about the famous churches of Kyiv, but you will never feel the sense of the words, if you don’t walk under sacral walls with ancient masterpieces of art, full of eternal prayers. To feel it you should just come to Kyiv, from where Christianity has gone to all the lands of Rus.
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