History of Russian monasteries in Suzdal, the Russian Vatican

Victoria Derzhavina | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Suzdal is one of the oldest Christian centres in Russia. For centuries, this small city was famous for its numerous monasteries and churches. Many of them were destroyed, but even now, 35 churches and five monasteries exist on the surface of 9 sq. km. Some of them are more than 700 years old. Suzdal is called “Russian Vatican” or “Orthodox Mecca”. The permanent exhibition in the Brethren's building of the Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius in Suzdal tells the history of Russian monasteries and convents.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

First monks lived in the caves

At the exhibition, the illustrations from the ancient chronicles show the early monastic life in Russia. The first monks didn’t build the monasteries, but lived in the caves around Kiev, which was the Russian capital. They did everything with their own hands, sewed their dresses and shoes, grew grain, worked and prayed from morning until night. The spiritual instructions, written by st. Theodosius Pechersky in the 11th century, describe their way of life that became common for the monks.

Photo © credits to Runivars.ru/ Radzivilovskaya ancient chronicle. St. Theodosius Pechersky

Monasteries are the light for the world

There is a saying “Monasteries are the light for the world”. A thick wall separates a monastery from the day-to-day life with its joys, worries and bustle. Only praying is a sense of life and leading light for the monks. Their task is self-transformation, removing their burden of sins and purifying their mind and heart through prayer, work and sufferings. Some monks wore metal chains called "verigi" next to the skin.

Photo © credits to photoshare.ru/Ivan Popov

The Orthodox Christianity was chosen for its beauty

In the 10th century, Prince Vladimir sent his emissaries to study different religions and choose one for Russia. They found their ideal in Byzantine and chose Orthodox Christianity for its beauty. At the exhibition “Golden Treasurer”, there are 600 beautiful items produced by monks and nuns or given to the monasteries by the rulers and rich people. Golden and silver censers, crosses decorated with jewels, special golden covers for the Bible called “oklad”, clerical clothing and many others, you can find here.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

Monasteries were centres of education and charity

Monasteries were centres of education and charity. First hospitals, schools, libraries were open in the monasteries. Monks wrote the chronicles, books, grew medicinal herbs. Only righteous people had a right to paint icons, and icon painting was the important part of monastic life. At the exhibition, you can see models of an icon workshop and a monastery library. On the territory of the monastery, there is a small garden with medicinal herbs and exhibition “Russian icons of the 18–19th centuries”.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

The main craft of nuns was embroidering

Russian monasteries and convents were centres of crafts. The main craft of nuns was embroidering. Priests’ robes embroidered in gold, pearls and jewels were made by the nuns in the Intersession convent and the Convent of deposition of the robe in Suzdal, as well as in many other convents in different cities and villages. Nuns also made the palls on the coffin, where they embroidered the portraits of the dead persons.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina
Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

Russian monasteries were fortresses

The Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius, as many Russian monasteries, was built as a fortress to defend the town. It has thick and high walls and powerful towers. You can go up to the walls and look at the town through the narrow embrasures.

Photo © credits to Victoria Derzhavina

The exhibitions of the Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius in Suzdal, the Russian Vatican, tell the history of Russian monasteries and convents and give the idea about the monastic way of life, that included work and prayer, education and charity, struggle with the enemies and with their own impure thoughts.

Photo © credits to photoshare.ru/Ivan Popov

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