Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, Kyiv
The most famous among Orthodox monasteries in Ukraine, Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, was founded by St. Anthony and St. Theodosy in the 11th century. The monastery quickly became a prominent spiritual center that gathered believers all over the country and far beyond its borders. Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is listed in UNESCO heritage site as an ensemble: it includes unique churches with the underground ones, built in the 11th-19th centuries, a complex of labyrinthine caves, as well as domestic and household buildings dated the 17th-19th centuries.
The main monuments to explore on the site are the Dormition Cathedral, the Trinity Gate Church, the Great Bell Tower, the Church of All Saints, as well as the Refectory Church. Besides, the monastery also has defensive walls with towers and intricate cave complexes of St. Anthony and St. Theodosy that are connected to the overground churches.
Apart from the upper level, Lavra is also known for kilometers-long narrow underground passages and caves, where monks used to live throughout the monastery's existence. Numerous bodies are kept there, mummified, in stone walls of the caves. Walking tours in the lower Lavra are available in the Lavra excursion bureau.
St. Michael Monastery, Kyiv
St. Michael Golden-Domed Monastery often attracts tourists thanks to its prominent location on the right bank of the Dnipro River. The old Orthodox sanctuary lies on the Saint Volodymyr Hill and opens a view on Podil.
The monastery complex consists of the big church of Archangel Michael that has been demolished in 1930 and reconstructed in the 1990s; a high bell-tower, constructed in 1716—1719; and a frater with the church of John the Evangelist that remained unchanged since its construction in 1713.
St. Michael Monastery unites two key styles of religious architecture in the country: classic 18th-century Ukrainian baroque in the exterior and Byzantine style in the interior. The reason behind is that the original church was built in 1108-1113 at the request of Sviatopolk II and renovated later during the Hetmanate era. The medieval walls were covered in stucco and original mosaics and frescoes were restored. Nowadays, the monastery is opened to the public.
Bernardine Monastery, Lviv
To talk about the most famous monasteries in Western Ukraine, Bernardine Monastery in Lviv is noted not only by the people of faith but also UNESCO. The monastery along with the adjoining Catholic church belongs to the world heritage sites list. Among locals, this sanctuary is most commonly known as the Saint Andrew Church.
The first written mentions of the sacred land date back to the 15th century, when a wooden church has been erected here in 1460. However, it soon burned down during the siege of Lviv. At the very beginning of the 17th century, Sigismund III Vasa that reigned in Ukraine at the time, ordered to broaden the monastery's territory on one condition - the sanctuary should become a part of the city's fortification system. The deal was done and the monastery we now know was built during 1600-1630.
The monastery and church complex are luxuriously decorated and still preserve the original artworks. Thus, a Baroque tower and façade decoration were done by a Wroclaw architect Andrzej Bemer. Numerous 18th-century Baroque carved altars and original frescoes from the same era can be found in the monastery even today.
Univ Lavra, Univ
While Kyiv Pechersk Lavra without doubts stays the most well-known one, Univ Lavra is just as important in the history of Ukrainian religious architecture. The monastery located near the village of Univ, about 50 kilometers from Lviv, is one of the oldest monastery complexes in Ukraine. Moreover, it was the chief sanctuary of Galician diocese throughout the 14-18th centuries.
The first written mentioning of Univ Lavra dates back as far as 1395 by the Lithuanian monarch Władysław II Jagiełło. The monastery's construction was finished in 1400. During the 15th century, it was a wealthy center of religious life that owned two villages, several ponds, and even estates. However, the monastery was ruined during the Tatar invasion in 1549.
The monastery was soon restored and hosted Univ Printing House, which existed for more than a hundred years and published numerous religious books in Old Slavic. Univ Lavra is also known thanks to Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, who often visited the place, and Ivan Vishensky, the famous philosopher monk, who wrote one of his polemical works within its walls.
Nowadays Univ Lavra functions as one of the biggest monasteries in Western Ukraine and hosts a museum of ancient icons.
Pochaiv Lavra, Pochaiv
One more important Lavra is located in Pochaiv town of Ternopil region. Pochaiv Lavra is the chief Orthodox sanctuary of Volyn - and the second of importance after Kyiv Pechersk Lavra in the whole country. While the exact date of the monastery construction is unknown, the 19th-century legend states that it was founded by the monks that fled from Kyiv during the Tatar invasion of 1240. The first official written mentioning dates back to 1527.
In the 18th century, the monastery desperately needed reconstruction. The task was delegated to Johann Gottfried Hoffmann, a Wroclaw architect. The construction lasted throughout 1771 — 1791 and brought new fascinating details. One of them, for instance, is the original altar with columns and statues. It was depicted and immortalized in a drawing by Taras Shevchenko, the famous Ukrainian writer, poet, and artist.
Before the WWI broke out, all sacred items were evacuated from Pochaiv Lavra. The monastery survived two World Wars and Soviet anti-religious campaigns. Nowadays, the monastery is home to one of the most honored icons of the Orthodox faith - Pochaiv Icon of the Mother of God. It's interesting to note that Mary is considered the heavenly patron of Volyn region.
Basilian monastery, Buchach
Basilian monastery in Buchach used to be one of the most important Christian monasteries in Western Ukraine throughout the Polish, Austrian and finally Ukrainian reign. The monastery is another example of work by Johann Gottfried Hoffmann completed in the style of Vilnius Barocco.
The monastery was founded in 1712 after Potocki counts decided to form the proper environment for Greek Catholic clergy in the Lithuanian province, modern Ternopil region. That's why the newly-built monastery complex comprised not only a church but also a 2-floor gymnasium. The educational establishment transformed depending on the political party in power, at the time being a Lithuanian, German and Polish institution. Kids used to
study grammar, syntax, poetics, rhetoric up until 1946 when the Soviets banned any activities in the monastery.
Besides, Basilian monastery also was the center of icon painting in the late 18th century. The monastery's restoration was initiated in the late 1990s and the construction works are held nowadays as well. Everyone is welcome to visit the sanctuary with a luxurious golden interior and listen to the service.
Discalced Carmelites Monastery, Berdychiv
While on Google Maps this location is dubbed simply as 'Roman Catholic Church', in fact, it's much more than just that. The main sanctuary of Berdychiv, a historic city in Zhytomyr region, is connected to the 12th-century Roman order of Carmelites.
The monastery was founded by the Polish nobleman Janusz Tyszkiewicz and approved by the General Assembly in Rome as a missionary seminary of the Catholic Church in 1630. Four years later, the construction began in Berdychiv and was sponsored by Janusz Tyszkiewicz himself. The new monastery opened its doors in 1642.
During the 18th century, Carmelites initiated the construction of the second upper church based on the drafts by Jan de Witte, known for the Dominican Church in Lviv. Discalced Carmelites Monastery was an important center not only for the order but for common people, as the monastery took part in the educational process thanks to its printing house and school.
The monastery was consecrated by Pope John Paul II and is opened for visitors. There's a multimedia museum on the premises and an English-language tour guide is also available.
Rock monastery, Liadova
One of the most ancient and yet under-explored monasteries is located in Liadova village in Vinnytsia region. The peculiarity of this particular sanctuary is its location on a rocky terrace, 90 meters above the sea level. The monastery provides a magnificent view of Dnister River and surrounding green slopes.
It is believed that the monastery was founded in 1013 by Saint Anthony of Kyiv, who carved a cell in the mountain's rock. The cell still exists nowadays; it remained intact throughout the centuries. The first written mentioning is dated 1159. While the monastery isn't especially vast, the cells are indeed ancient-looking. Besides, one of the cells hosts an ossuary that lures in curious souls.
St. Panteleimon Women's Monastery, Kyiv
The magnificent women's monastery is often overlooked by tourists that come to Kyiv due to its location far from the center. St. Panteleimon Church lies on the territory of Holosievo in Feofania park.
The monastery was built by the Ukrainian architect Yevhen Yermakov in 1905-1914. The style of the monastery reminds of the classic Russian churches with its colorful exterior and big domes. The church was looted and closed in mere years after its opening due to the Bolshevik revolution.
During the World War II the Cathedral was a part of the defensive constructions in Kyiv, hence was greatly damaged by mortar fire. Since the end of the 1940s, the monastery area belonged to the Academy of Science of Ukraine. It is even believed that the first Soviet computer was designed in the cells of the St. Panteleimon.
Nowadays the monastery functions with its initial purpose and is the architectural crown of the Feofania park.
Cave Monastery, Rozhirche
Finally, one of the unusual monasteries in Ukraine is located in Rozhirche village near Lviv. The unique feature of this sacred place is its construction site - a cave by Stryi River.
According to various historical estimates, the cave monastery in Rozhirche was built during the 13-14th centuries.
The vast complex, which consists of several monasteries, is located in artificial caves. The oldest monastery is dated back to the 13th century, and the walls of the caves are decorated with the 17th-century frescoes. The monasteries are carved in the rocks and located on two levels. The first level has two rooms, and the second, reachable by the rock stairs, has only one.
There are different theories as to the purpose of the rooms. The common version states that the lower and large cave is the living room with an adjoined monastic cell, and the upper cave is a monastery church. Archeological exploration allows theorizing that the ‘living room’ was expanded during the construction so that in the end it could host about twenty people. Visitors are often astonished by the frescoes and carved faces that can be found on the site. It's better to visit this location with a local guide who can lead the way through the village paths.
Sources: vechersky.esy.es, lviv.travel.
Photo sources: depositphotos.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, berdychiv.in.ua, motolife.mk.ua, uk.wikipedia.org. All images belong to their rightful authors.