Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Kiev Caves Monastery, Ukraine and its mummified monks

Kiev’s astonishing monastery complex, which is full of cave churches and golden domes, is well worth its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Caves Monastery (or Pechersk Lavra) is the size of a small village, and is crammed with museums, churches, treasures and bizarre passageways. It sits on the hills above the Dnipro River, and supposedly dates back to 1051.
This was when the Greek Saint Antoniy and his lackey Feodosiy started digging caves out of the rock for their fellow monks to worship and study in.
It’s still regarded as the holiest place in the Ukraine and the lower Lavra (as the part with the caves is known) is still run by the church. Bearded monks can be seen sweltering in their long black robes as they work the gardens.
But the monks everyone comes to see are dead. They lie in glass tombs underground, and can be visited via a series of dark, claustrophobic passageways. Travellers can just buy their candle at the gate, then head down the steps.
Silence, respectful dress and “no blackguarding” are expected, as the Caves Monastery is a pilgrimage site.
For non-believers, however, the sight of women in headscarves frantically crossing themselves every few seconds, then attempting to kiss the feet of the long-dead holy men is rather unusual.

Getting to Pechersk Lavra
Nearest international airport:
Kiev Borispol is a fair trek out of the city, but only domestic flights tend to go to the smaller (but closer) Zhulyany airport.
Using public transport: Get the Metro to Dnipro or Pecherska – it’s about a fifteen minute walk from both. Taxi drivers will happily take tourists there as well, but may impose special nationality and gullibility surcharges.
More information: Go to the Kiev caves monastery website.

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