St. Michael`s Golden-Domed Monastery

While approaching St. Michael`s Golden-Domed Monastery, which is located in Mykhailivska Square not for from St. Sophia Monastery, one feels, that their bell-towers face each other as if they were native sisters. Indeed, both monasteries are almost of the same age.

It might have a similar faith as well, but in 1934 the Soviet Power blew up the monastery, remaining only St. Joan`s Refectory Church. Thus today St. Michael`s Monastery is a replica. Atheistic government wanted to destroy everything related to religion. Historians have counted about 200 churches and monasteries, which Kiev lost after revolution 1917.

The main temple of the monastery was famous for its beautiful ancient mosaics, giving miraculous beaming light, which as if covered all the space inside the temple with a mysterious fog. And its old frescos were the first samples of Kiev-born icon-painting school. St. Alipiy, a monk of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, a well- known icon-painter and a healer, painted some of the icons there. Year by year, the reach interior of the Cathedral was created on voluntery donations during its centuries-old history.  And the name Golden-Domed was given to the monastery for it had the first church, which dome was covered with thin slabs of gold. Therefore the tradition to decorate the church domes in such a way arose.

Thus no doubt, that no efforts of modern art studios, today`s replica id only a light shade of the previous luxury.

Since its very foundation, St. Michael`s Cathedral played a great role in the life of Kievans, being consecrated in honour of Kiev patron saint Michael the Archangel.

Generally speaking, the temple and the monastery itself both were built and enlarged in honour of someone`s patron saints. In the Xth century Michael, the first Kiev Metropolitan from Constantinople, buit here a wooden church. Then Izyaslav, a son of Yaroslav the Wise, (whose Christian name was Dimitry), found here St. Dimitry`s monastery. In 1108 his son Svyatopolk (Christian name Michael) ordered to build here a stone church instead of wooden, thus thanking his patron saint for the victory over the nomadic Polvtsians, which he had recently won. In 1113 the church was consecrated and got the relicts of St. Barbara the Great Martyr, who had withstood the torments of the Roman governor and died for her faith in Christ in the hands of her pagan father. The Prince`s consort Barbara brought here the relicts of her patron saint from Costantinople.

In the late 17th century St. Barbara`s side altar was attached to the northen side of the cathedral. Since then a shrine with the relicts of the virgin-martyr was kept in it.

Later on Peter the I of Russia and his consort Empress Catherine I decided to attach another side altar (in honour of St. Catherine the Great Martyr). Thus the cathedral acquired the refined and rich forms of the Ukrainian Baroque and was crowned with 7 domes.

Originally it had only one dome. It was gilded, giving the name to the cathedral. It was unique for those times and since then the tradition to decorate church domes with thin slabs if gold spread all over. Later it became regular in Kiev Rus. All the other parts of the church were built in a usual way: a mixed brickwork of stone and thin but wide ancient bricks called plinfa. It was a cross-domed six-pier temple with 3 apses and a narthex.

In 1240 Baty troops (and in the 15th century the Crimean Tatars) destroyed and damaged it. Golden slabs became their trophies and the holes in the destroyed cupolas speeded destroying the cathedral because of natural calamities. Nothing is known about its faith during the next 2,5 centuries.

When the raids of foreign invaders stopped, several reconstructions were held and the prosperous period in the history of the monastery began. It enjoyed the patronage of Ukrainian Cossacks and Cossack Hetmans. They presented rich gifts to the monastery, defended it from the Uniates, who tried to capture it according to the order of Sigizmund and renewed its property (fields, etc.), which was partly lost after Ukraine and Russia union. Those fields remained on the territory , which belonged to Poland.

Hetman Ivan Skoropadsky presented the temple a sublime five-tired wooden iconostasis with a splendid carving. Numerous other gifts made it one of the wealthiest monasteries in Ukraine.  

Year in and year out, the popularity of the monastery and the number of its pilgrims grew. The chief magnet was the relicts of St. Barbara, kept in a silver reliquary, donated by Hetman Ivan Mazepa.

Once the monastery even became the residence of Kiev metropolitan. In 1620 its Father Superior Iov Boretsky became a metropolitan and remained in his own monastery.

In the begining of the XIXth century conductor school was located on the monastery grounds and many prominent composers (such as Kyrylo Stetsenko) either studied or taught at that school.

In 1870 about 100,000 pilgrims paid tribute to St. Barbara at St. Michael`s monastery.

Before the Russian Revolution 1917 rings were manufacture and blessed here. They were known as St. Barbara`s rings, being very popular among Kiev citizens. They were believed to protect against witchcraft, serious illnesses and sudden death. The Monastery was not affected by the plague epidemics in 1710 and 1770 and cholera epidemics of the XIXth century.

In 1908 during the festive celebration of the 800th anniversary of St. Michael`s Monastery, it was acknowledged that it stands next to Kiev-Pechersk Lavra as to its significance. 240 monks resided here in the XIXth and XXth centuries.

Probably this very fact incurred anger of the communist rulers who came to power after the 1917 revolution. Firstly they closed the monastery, turning its living quarters into students` hostels. The refectory became a dining-hall and the cathedral itself was turned into a storehouse.

But a real misfortune fell upon the cathedral in 1934 when the capital of Ukraine was transferred back from the city of Kharkiv to Kiev. In this connection it was decided to build a grandiose governmental centre on the hill above the Dnipro. Two huge symmetric edifices had to be erected here destined for the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine and the Central Committee of the Communist Party. And between them they were going to construct a 75-metre-high statue of Vladimir Lenin, facing the river.

Thus the so-called artistic council and different commissions were created to approve that the cathedral was of no historic and artistic value.  

Just before the XXth century, old frescoes were found on the cathedral walls. But the soviet art “historians” from the newly organized commissions stressed that very little of the mediaeval temple remained after numerous rebuilding. The few art connoisseurs (M. Makarenko and his friend) who tried to save the temple became the victims of Stalin`s terror. The scholars only managed to get permission to take off the fragments of the unique mosaics and frescoes from the walls of the cathedral before its explosion. But they certainly did not have enough time to save all of them – only 26 fragments. They have recently been given back to Ukraine by different museums of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Some of them can be seen in St. Sophia Cathedral.

On August 14, 1937 the Cathedral was literally raised to the ground, being blown up, as well as the belltower and the superior`s residence with the 19th century church.

On May 24, 1997 the Cathedral revival began. A Plaque in memory of M. Makarenko was placed on the wall near the monaster Economic Gate. In May, 2000 Patuiarch of Kiev Ukrainian Orthodox Church Filaret consecrated the central chancel.