The unique 12th-century frescos in the Mirozhsky Monastery in Pskov

Victoria Derzhavina | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Many churches and especially frescos in Russia were lost during the Mongol Yoke that lasted during the 13–15th centuries. The Transfiguration Cathedral of the Mirozhsky Monastery in Pskov is one of those few churches that survived and the only one that keeps the treasure of pre-Mongol frescos. Although the lower part of the paintings on the wall suffered from the floods, 80% were preserved. The unique 12th-century frescos strike with their bright colours, emotional images and rare themes.

© Saint Tikhon's Orthodox University

Themes and images here are not typical

The frescos cover all the walls and the ceiling of the church as “a carpet” and illustrate the New Testament. The idea was to tell the life-story of Christ in pictures for the illiterate people. The 12th century was the beginning of Christianization of the Russian lands, so the artists didn’t follow strictly the canonical iconographic. That is why some themes and images here are not typical for Orthodox churches.

© Saint Tikhon's Orthodox University

Paintings of the people and saints look real and emotional. You can tell they are of different age, wearing various clothes, having different expressions on their faces and lively eyes. The images remind more of the portraits than icons.

© Victoria Derzhavina

Thus, a small man with a jug represents the antique spirit of the Jordan River in the picture of baptising. On the table during the Lord's Supper is not traditional bread, but fish. A magnificent and emotional fresco on the north wall represents the Lamentation of Christ, a very rare theme in churches. Mother Mary hugs her dead son for the last time, and even the angels in the sky shed tears.

© author

Bright and precious colours

The walls of the Transfiguration Cathedral were painted nine centuries ago, and for a few centuries, they remained covered with the layers of lime. Still, the colours impress with their brightness. They are not only bright but precious as well. To prepare them, artists used semi-precious gemstones. To paint the Transfiguration Cathedral they used the blue colour made of Afghan lazurite and the green made of malachite, Chinese cinnabar and golden ochre brought from the East.

© Saint Tikhon's Orthodox University

Functioning St. Stephen's Church

Nowadays, the Transfiguration Cathedral is a museum; however, in the Mirozhsky Monastery you can visit the functioning St. Stephen's Church. Here you can see a splendid stone iconostasis and a replica of the miracle-making icon Our Lady Orant Mirozhskaya with Pskov prince S. Dovmont and his wife Maria.

© author

Scenic views around the monastery

You can enjoy the scenic views around the monastery. Since it's located on the bank of the wide Velikaya River, on the opposite side, you can see the fortress tower and, in good weather, even the Pskov Krom. Behind the monastery, the small and immersed in greenery, the Mirozhka River flows. A sand beach is also nearby but, honestly, locals use any place they like on the riverbank to swim.

© Victoria Derzhavina


If you have time, you can walk to the monastery along the Velikaya River; otherwise, it takes less than 10 minutes to come here by taxi from the city centre. Keep in mind that there are some rules for the visitors that help to preserve the unique 12th-century frescos in Mirozhsky Monastery in Pskov. The Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour is closed in rainy weather. There should be a 20-minutes gap after a visit of a big group. So, it is better to make a call to the museum first and ask if it is open and if they are waiting for some tourist group that particular time.

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