The Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra
(The Monastery of the Caves)
By Gary McDonald


Monks founded the Monastery of the Caves in 1015, under reign of Iaroslav the Wise, outside of Kiev on the cliffs along the right bank of the Dnieper River.  These monasteries played a major role in the cultural and religious development of Kiev.  The Kyiv-Pehersk Lavra was home to one of the first known hospitals (11th century).  Damain (the first pediatrician), Alimpy (dermatologist), and Prochor-Lobodnyck (first Pharmacist) all had their bodies buried in the caves1.  Arguably the most famous person from the early history of the Monastery of the Caves was St. Agapit.  He was a doctor who used prayer and plant remedies to cure internal diseases.  Dr. Agapit never took any payment for his work.


Once Prince Wolodymyr Monomarch of Chernihiv became ill.  He called on doctors to cure him but none could do so.  Soon he was on his deathbed and sent for Dr. Agapit.  St. Agapit went to him and studied the history of his disease.  He recognized the disease and knew what plants to use in order to cure him.  The Prince lived.  Dr. Agapit believed the practice of medicine was not simply diagnosing a disease but finding remedies for the disease and caring for the patient.  When the Prince sent gifts to the doctor for his help, Dr. Agapit hid in the caves.  Finally coming out to tell the gift bearers to give the gifts to the poor in Kiev.  Dr. Agapit founded the first classical medical school in the region.  He died in 1095.2


By the 16th century Kiev had deteriorated into nothing more than a frontier fortress.  Abbots and Priors that had bought their position from the King ran the Monastery of the Caves.  They were only interested in lining their pockets with the wealth of the Monastery.  The monks were also spending large amounts on themselves. 

A progressive movement in the Orthodox Church began in the 1500ís.  The Church Union Force was formed and the Union's goal was to get the governmentís influence out of the church.  Since the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra was the wealthiest monastery in the Ukraine they began there.  Earlier Nicephorus Tur with his Kozak army had repelled the Uniates from the city3.


This left the door open for the city to develop without the worry of being invaded.  In 1599 after the death of Nicephorus Tur, Eliska Pletenisky was made Abbot.  Eliska was a competent man, who immediately began to rebuild the prestige of the monastery.   He started by limiting the excessive spending of the monks.  Next he set out to raise the cultural level of the city.  In 1615 after raising money in Kiev he was able to buy a printing press from Strintyn in Rohatyn district of Galicia and in 1616 the monks printed their first book.4


 A new brotherhood, the Pletenitsky, was formed, many prominent people joined them along with the entire Kozak army.  Now with guaranteed protection the monastery began to build a school on land donated to them by Halshka Halevichivna.  Kiev quickly grew into the cultural center of the Ukraine.  The printing press the monastery had previously acquired supplied the books for the school.  The press at the Monastery of the Caves printed more books in the time between 1616-1630 than had been printed in the Ukraine up to that time5.  At the lavra they even built factories to supply themselves with paper and other printing materials.


Next the monks set out to improve the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church.  When the brothers learned of the visit from the Patriarch Theophanes of Jerusalem to the Ukraine they sent him a letter inviting him to visit Kiev.  In Kiev the Patriarch was impressed with the school and the cultural work the monks had done.  The brothers wanted him to ordain a metropolitan and some bishops to strengthen the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine.  At first Theophanes was worried of retribution from the king or the Poles for doing this, but when the Kozaks promised him protection he ordained a metropolitan and five bishops in secret.6


Today the Monastery of the Caves is still a cultural center and is visited by many people because of itís cultural significance and for its natural beauty. The architecture of the buildings is also a major attraction.  The most famous of the buildings is The Great Bell Tower built from 1731 to 1745 by Johann Shadel.  At 318 feet tall, it is considered to be the highest point in the city7. It is said that the tower was so tall that at first the monastery did not want to pay Shadel because they believed there was no way a building that tall would be able to stay standing8.  Two hundred and fifty-five years later the tower is still proving itís worth.


1 www3.bcity.com/lita/Agapit.html?inFrame

2 www3.bcity.com/lita/Agapit.html?inFrame

 3Michael Hrushevsky, A History of Ukraine (Archon Books, 1970)pg238

 4Hrushevsky pg239

5 Orest Subtelny, Ukraine A History (Univ. Toronto Press 1988)pg120

6 Hrushevsky pg243

7 www.uazone.net/go/gallery.cgi



Michael Hrushevsky,  A History of Ukraine. Archon Books, 1970

Orest Subtelny, Ukraine A History.   University of Toronto Press 1988

RL Novakovych, SV Dudnyk, VV Stoliarov, SV Pashkovych, Lavra cave monastery is religious sacred place.Posted at http://www3.bcity.com/lita/Agapit.html?inFrame

The Great Bell Tower, posted at www.uazone.net/go/gallery.cgi

Unknown, www.lavra.kiev.ua/lavra/tour.html  


St. Agapit picture from http://www3.bcity.com/lita/Agapit.html?inFrame

 All others from www.uazone.net/go/gallery.cgi





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