Back to Ancient Rus, seventeen years later

This has little to do with our Monastery, but I feel I must write and share with you at least some of the places I get to see while I’m in Russia. I’ll be posting a few photos and a few notes from here and there, nothing much.

I’d been to Yaroslavl before. Seventeen years ago. I had a vague memory of an ancient white city, covered with show, a huge river and horse driven carriages. I also remembered the most extraordinary museum of Old-Russian icons outside Moscow. At 5.30 am on Saturday, as I was getting myself started towards the train station, I was very much afraid the reality of the city would not match my memories. Seventeen years ago, I was nineteen and that tends to turn everything into events of mythological importance.

I shouldn’t have been afraid. Almost four hours later, Yaroslavl greeted me as beautiful and ancient as I remembered it. I spent the whole day looking for that icon museum of seventeen years ago. As everywhere in the world, local people have no idea about anything in their own city. Eventually, not only did I find it, but – as I run from one place to another looking for it – I discovered a second museum, I got to visit the Kremlin and I saw some beautiful churches on the way.

Eight centuries after it was built, the Transfiguration Cathedral of the Saviour’s Monastery in the Kremlin (on the low bank of the Kotorosl River, just a few metres before it unites with the great Volva) still feels like the centre of the city. The Cathedral was built in 1215, which makes it the oldest surviving stone church in Yaroslavl. It was founded during the reign of Prince Constantine Vsevlodovich, before the Mongol Invasion. The frescoes inside the Cathedral date back to Ivan the Terrible and they are in excellent condition for that age.

The Monastery itself is one of the oldest in the ancient Rus. It was founded in the early thirteenth century. Lavrenty’s Chronicle mentions that the monastery was founded in 1216 around the new Cathedral. One year later, construction work already began for the Church of the Entry into Jerusalem, just next to the Cathedral. This explosion of buildings and the establishment of the monastery had a lot to do with the fact that Yaroslavl was by now the capital of a medieval Russian principality. As such, God’s blessing and the prayers of a monastic community had become a necessity.

The Kremlin and its churches went through a lot of changes since then. Yet despite Mongol invasions, horrible princes, Communism and indifference, they are still here. As when we get off our boats and walk on our beautiful deserted isles in Scotland, there is a lot these ancient walls have to tell us. Centuries after their moment of glory (and with no intention or desire to recreate that world) I am inexplicably attracted to these ruins. The Yaroslavl of Ancient Rus, as well as Mull and Iona of the ancient Celts share a treasure, something I (we) am supposed to grasp and re-create in my own world.