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The Collegiate Church Of The Assumption Of The Virgin Of The Monastery Of The Caves
(Uspenskyi Sobor Kyyevo - Pecherskoyi Lavry)

The Monastery Of St. Michael Of The Golden Domes

 

Built in 1078, rebuilt in the 1720s, demolished on November 3,1941.

As the Monastery of the Caves grew in the eleventh century, an imposing edifice of the Collegiate Church of the Assumption of the Virgin was built on the highest point in the Pecherske hills above the Dnieper River. The simple and austere monastic structure was completed in 1078. During the following centuries the main church of the monastery underwent repeated renovations and alterations. In the middle of the seventeenth century additional Baroque cupolas and small pediments were added and, in the end of the same century, the building was altered and enlarged by the Hetmans I. Samoilavych and I. Mazepa.
On April 22,1718, a major fire engulfed the entire monastic complex and seriously damaged the Collegiate Church and the surrounding buildings. The rebuilding of the church started only in 1721. In its final appearance, the Collegiate Church was probably one of the more successful works of the Ukrainian Baroque.
The interior of the rebuilt Baroque Collegiate Church was dominated by a five-tier-high gilded wooden iconostasis, funded by Hetman Ivan Skoropadskyi and his wife Anastasia, and executed by master Hryhoryi Petrov of Chernihiv. The silver royal gates of the iconostasis were executed by Master Mykhailo Yurevych (1752), and the icons were painted by Yakym mynskyi.
In 1729, after the reconstruction was completed, work began on the interior wall murals. These were executed by the Lavra's studio headed by Stefan Lubenskyi (Lubenchenko), a graduate of the Kiev Academy who later studied both in Poland and Italy. Among the interior murals was a unique portrait gallery of the building's benefactors-medieval Princes of Kiev, the monastery's archimandrites, and Hetmans, including Hetmans Khmelnytskyi and Mazepa.
In 1896 the upper four tiers of the main iconostasis were removed and in 1883-1901 the main portal of the church was replaced by an unattractive and awkward glass porch. At the same time the interior wall murals of the eighteenth century, including the "portrait gallery", were painted over, as they were considered an undesirable Western and Catholic influence.
After the Soviet victory in Ukraine, the Monastery of the Caves' valuables were confiscated and a Museum of Cults and Customs was organized on its territory. At the initiative of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, which was concerned with the preservation of the ancient landmark, the Monastery of the Caves was reorganized into an All-Ukrainian "Museum-town". Subsequently, the Soviet Ukrainian Government declared the Monastery of the Caves a national cultural and historic landmark on September 29,1926.
German troops occupied the Monastery of the Caves on September 20th, 1941. The monastic complex, located on the highest point in the city - in the center of the old citadel-was used by the Germans for installation of anti-aircraft gun batteries and the billeting of soldiers. When the explosions on the Khreshchatyk commenced on September 24, the Germans searched the center of the city for explosives and removed tons of TNT from major public buildings. Some forty days after the first explosions on the Khreshchatyk, Kiev's City Hall and Soviet Ukraine's Parliament Buildings exploded. If the Nazis knew that the oldest church of the Monastery of the Caves was mined, they either could not, or did not seem to be in a hurry to dismantle the mines. On November 3, -1941 an explosion in the medieval church building destroyed the eleventh century Collegiate Church.
The Soviet Union maintains that the Collegiate Church of the Assumption was blown up by the Germans. Testimony by eyewitnesses and documentary evidence concerning events in Kiev in the fall of 1941 convey a somewhat different story. The demolition of the Collegiate Church of the Assumption seems to be related to similar destruction of other Kievan buildings that was executed by the retreating Soviet armed forces and their agents. Considering that the Soviets had mined such Soviet public buildings as the Lenin Museum or the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) Buildings, it does not seem far fetched that they would mine the main church of the Monastery of the Caves, and recollections of former residents of Kiev concur that the Soviets did indeed mine this building.
Numerous valuable and rare works of art were also destroyed with the church. Eyewitnesses of these events seem to place equal responsibility for the loss of this grand building on both the retreating Soviets and the Germans.
Recently published German intelligence reports, written on November 7,1941, provide additional information:
President Tiso (of Slovakia) visited Kiev on 3 November 1941 and paid a visit to the Lavra monastery. He arrived with his suite at the monastery at about 11.40 and left the monastery square around 12.30. A few minutes before 14.30 there was a small explosion inside the monastery. One of the police guards caught sight of three fleeing figures: they were shot dead. A few minutes later an enormous explosion followed which destroyed the entire building of the monastery. The explosive must probably have been placed in position earlier. It was only thanks to the thorough Gardening off and careful guarding of the entire building that the detonation did not take place earlier. Evidently the act is to be seen as an attempt on the life of President Tiso. The three apparent perpetrators could not be identified since they carried no identity papers of any sort.
The history of the immediate post-WW II years of the Collegiate Church of the Assumption drastically differs from that of the war-destroyed historical landmarks of neighboring Poland, Hungary, or Russia. Its bricks were not reverently collected and stored. It was not rebuilt. In 1947 an archeological expedition by V. A. Bohusevych dismantled the rubble on the southern side of the ruined building, primarily to rescue a collection of ancient textiles which had been in the vestry. Most of the rubble was carted away before archeological investigations commenced on the venerable building. Only in the summer of 1952 did Kievan archeologists find time to commence work on the planned removal of the ruins, initiate careful architectural and archeological investigations, and attempt conservation of the remaining portion of the structure.

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