By Vladislav DARKEVICH, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Archeology
The Solovetsky Archipelago is located in the northern part of the Onega Bay of the arctic White Sea. The Solovki, as the islands are commonly called for short, have been inscribed in a particular way into the eventful and dramatic history of this nation and take a place of prominence in the cultural legacy of the Russian North from the mid-15th to late 18th centuries.
Located on the Bolshoi Solovetsky Island, between the Gulf of Blagopoluchye (wellbeing) and Lake Svyatoye (holy) (at 65N), is a famous ancient monastery. Its brethren could communicate with the outside world from May to September only. In the rest of the year the treacherously unpredictable ice posed a mortal danger to navigators. The other islands of the archipelago are much smaller than Bolshoi Solovetsky. They include the Anzersky Island located to the east, Bolshaya and Malaya (big and small) Muksalma, and on the southern flank-the Bolshoi and Maly and Zayatskye islands. An ancient glacier buried the native granite rocks under a thick layer of moraine sediments. The banks of the isles are strewn with boulders, and their topsoil is thin but very fertile. Thanks to the relatively mild climate in the southern shallow part of the sea (the mean January temperature on the Solovki does not drop below -10C), and cyclones passing over Europe, the archipelago boasts a mixture of forests, taiga woods and treeless tundra patches.
An unforgettable panorama which opens up from top of Mount Sekir-naya (70 meters high)- the highest point of the Bolshoi Solovetsky Island-is a unique blend of a rugged seacoast and a carpet of woods with a shining necklace of blue lakes. These occupy close upon 15 percent of the territory of the archipelago.
Forests, teeming with birds and beasts; lakes and streams with plenty of fish; fragrant meadows and shrubs covered with sweet juicy berries-all of these blessings of Mother Nature blend into an environment ideal for human economic activities. And yet the isles remained uninhabited up until the arrival at the Solovetsky Island of the monk Abba Sawatiy It was only in summertime that the solitude of the isles was disturbed by the inroads of local hunters and fishermen.
House of the saviour on Solovki
The story of the founding of the cloister has come to us in The Tale of Zosima and Sawatiy of the Solovki (Povesti o Zosime i Sawatii Solovet-skikh). More than one hundred of its manuscript copies of the 16th-18th centuries have come down to us since that time, and, as usually is the case, the facts about the holy ascetics have been larded with legends, which not only satisfied the demands of the hagiographic genre ("lives of saints"), but were also meant to quench the thirst of a devout reader for edification.
Mentioned among the first few settlers on the desert island are usually three holy fathers- Sawatiy, Hermann and Zosima. A monk of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery(*), Father Sawatiy decided to seek solitude on the Valaam Island on Lake Ladoga. But then he felt that was not enough. He heard pilgrims saying about some wonderful isle in the midst of the ocean, called Solovki, and left the Valaam cloister in secret. On his way he met a monk by the name of Hermann, and the two decided to continue their journey together. They finally reached the coveted Solovki in a small boat, selected a convenient spot and marked it with a monastic cell of their own construction and a cross (1429). During the next several years the recluses remained on this spot, "tilling land with hoes and feeding themselves with the fruits of these labours", and spending nights in sleepless prayers for the salvation of their souls. But then brother Hermann went on some business to the Onega River, leaving his elder companion in complete solitude. When Sawatiy felt the approaching end of his earthly journey, he moved to the remote Vygnavolok harbor on the mainland where he passed away in 1435.
As fate would have it, it was Monk Zosima from Novgorod who became the actual founder and organizer of the Solovetsky Monastery in 1436. In the 15th and 16th century chronicles the cloister was usually referred to as an "Abode"' of the heavenly powers and of the saints who were in particular reverence on Solovki: "The Abode of the Saviour, and of the Virgin, and of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker and of the great and most wondrous founding fathers of Solovki-Zosima and Sawatiy" The central holy shrine of the cloister was its wooden Church of the Transfiguration. It was erected
* See:. V. Darkevich, "Northern Thebes", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2000.- Ed.
on the spot whereupon the Reverend Zosima saw the vision of a temple most wonderful in the shining rays of light from the East. Having established a monastic community, Fathers Zosima and Hermann, who returned to Solovki by that time, built a wooden fence around the church and the number of the brethren and monastic cells around began to grow. The newly established cloister then plunged into years of controversy with Finns from the mainland for the control of fisheries and arable land while also developing commercial ties with them. In the middle of the 15th century it became the main outpost of Christianity and Russian cultural traditions in the stem Pomorye region on the frontier of Russian colonization.
While labouring for the salvation of their souls through fasting and prayers, exposed to spells of hunger and cold weather, the Solovki brethren kept tilling their land and planting their crops; they felled forest for timber and firewood, and started salt-works, or salterns (with time this became the main source of income for the community). And the moral authority of the "Abode of the Saviour on Solovki" continued to grow.
The economic development of the archipelago was promoted in all possible ways by Novgorod the Great. The Novgorodian authorities issued the following charter (1450) to the Solovki hegumen Jonas: "Upon these isles the City of Novgorod granted to Hegumen Jonas and the brethren land for the trapping of beasts, and arable and wooded plots and lakes for fishing and engaging in other crafts without restraint." On Zosima's visits to Novgorod, the archbishop and many of the local boyar gentry donated to the cloister their land, icons in rich frames, church vessels and vestments, and expensive fabrics.
The demise of the founding father of the cloister (1478) coincided with the end of Novgorod's political independence from Moscow. Being fully aware of the economic, cultural and strategic importance of the monastery, however, the Moscovian rulers would support the Solovki brethren. Thanks to the donations of the Moscow landowners and land purchases at their own expense, the monastery extended its control over large areas on the shores of Pomorye, Karelia and Tersk, and also on islands of the White Sea. Monastery elders managed these landed possessions and maintained law and order among the local peasants who knew no serfdom, and dispensed justice. The economic activities on these lands went hand in hand with the ascetic labours of missionaries who erected churches and chapels, tall wooden crosses and laboured for the conversion of the heathens to Christianity.
The cloister acquired particular commercial and strategic importance in the latter half of the 16th century when a way was opened for establishing trade ties with European countries like England and Holland across the White Sea and along the Sevemaya Dvina. In the 16th and 17th centuries the monastery extended its influence
up to the estuary of the Onega with landed estates of the cloister appearing as far as the lower reaches of the Sevemaya Dvina with the emphasis on the development of virgin land-a task calling for special efforts. The Dvina route, as it was called, was of vital importance for the economic well-being of the monastery Every year its boats carried to Vologda and other local urban centers tens of thousands of puds (pud Russian equivalent of about 36 pounds) of salt, bringing back cargoes of grain, wax, cloth, sheepskins, leather and linen.
Both Zosima (canonized in 1547) and Sawatiy are revered as national saints and intercessors for fishermen and seamen, and their Lives abound in stories of their miraculous acts. The two saints are painted on their icons against the background of the island and the cloister, or holding the abode in their hands. The famous icon of the 16th century Novgorodian school called "Zosima and Sawatiy, their Lives" with 56 scenes originating from the main icon-stand of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration is now in the collection of the State History Museum in Moscow. The diverse plots of the scenes offer glimpses of the daily labors and devotions of the brethren.
Hegumen Philip, the good shepherd.
The monastery inventory of 1549 mentions but three modestly equipped wooden churches, a cattle-yard, three salterns, as many water mills and fishing grounds with twelve fishing boats. This situation changed sharply under Hegumen Philip (1548-1566) whose secular name was Fyodor Kolychev and who belonged to a boyar family. The swelling income of the cloister from its possessions and the personal financial means of its Father Superior made it possible to launch major stone-building works. Thanks to the zeal and the enterprising spirit of the Father Superior fine roads were built across the marshy terrain of the island, with chapels and crosses alongside; some have been preserved to this day. Local swamps were turned into cultivated fields and pastures. Herds of milch cows were grazing on them. A brickyard and a leather factory were built, as well as watermills. Under Father Philip fifty-two inland lakes were linked with a network of channels, forming a through-flow system which discharged its water into the sea, thus providing the cloister with a steady source of fresh drinking water.
On the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island they set up and reinforced with stone a deep and very convenient sea harbour, the oldest Russian structure of this kind still preserved. One of the sea gulfs was walled off with a stone dike which turned it into a fish-breeding nursery The Life of Father Philip and the Solovki Chronicle also contain accounts of some other technical innovations of the abbot, including a windmill equipped with bellows for the winnowing of grain; a sowing machine with ten screens operated by one person; mechanized grain delivery
to the dryer; a pipeline for kvas-the Russian soft drink-which was chanelled into the cellar where it was automatically poured into barrels. And so on and so forth. On the monastery grounds the Father Superior had stone cells built for the brethren and guest worshippers as well as hospital wards in which the sick and the elderly could meet their end in peace and comfort.
Under Father Philip the monastery became a model of communal living. The brethren had no personal possessions and shared common meals. Everything they had, including monastic vestments, was their common property.
The Father Superior believed that economic prosperity would help the monastery fulfil its Christian mission. One of his objectives was to replace all wooden monastery buildings with stone ones, and so the building works went on without interruption for some twenty years with the Father Superior always urging the monks and the lay workmen (who toiled in the cloister free of charge-by vows) to do their best. The first stone buildings in the cloister were the Church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin with the adjacent cellarage and a refectory (1552- 1557). These must have been built with the participation of skilled architects from Novgorod.
The three-domed Church of the Dormition is rather small, and it was heated for services in wintertime. Kept in its cellarage were some of the stores in custody of the manager of the cloister. The bulk of the building is occupied by a two-tier refectory- the biggest single-pillar chamber of this kind in Russia of that time (about 500 m 2 ) which easily accommodated all of the brethren whose number grew to 200 by that time. Thanks to a round white-stone central pillar the chamber has an air of firm stability and balanced strength. As such it was used not only for common meals, but also as an assembly room for common discussions.
All of these structures rest on elevated foundations (or "dry cellars"), and they include a bakery for communion bread and a brewery for the kvas beverage. There was a spacious stove chamber for heating all of the premises in cold and humid winters. And the architectural ensemble also included a belfry (erected anew in 1776-1777).
The construction of the Dormition Church and the refectory was but nearing completion when Father Philip conceived a new project-the building of a grandiose Cathedral of the Transfiguration (1558-1566) which could match in its splendor the fame of the cloister which had spread far and wide across the land. The project-a symbol of the political and spiritual authority of the monastery-was supported with "no meager" donations from worshippers and especially the tsar himself who donated a sum of 1,000 rubles.
The Transfiguration Cathedral of the Valaam Monastery is unique in the architectural legacy of Old Russia.
It exceeds in height Muscovy's main shrine-the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. The cathedral on Valaam rests on a solid foundation (the thickness of its walls is close to 6 meters) with dry cellars and burial vaults which used to be linked by underground passages. Set upon this foundation is the main hall of the cathedral on top of which there is another, third floor with four side-chapels. The rising walls have an inward slant and the four smaller domes are far removed from the central one and placed upon the four corner towers of the cathedral. The whole building, therefore, looks a bit like a fortified castle with ogee watch-towers at the comers. The massive structure, now restored, was in ideal harmony with the stem air of the northern cloister.
In later years the dominating group of buildings was joined by elevated galleries and passages which made it possible to access any of them without bothering to go out in rain or shine.
Under the administration of Philip Kolychev a reverential attitude to the royal family was encouraged as the protectors of the "sovereign stronghold" on the Studenoye More (literally- freezing sea).
From the mid-16th century regular prayer services for the royal family were established in the monastery by its Father Superior. This, incidentally, explains Ivan the Terrible addressing the Father Superior in his letters as his "prayerful intercessor". This special relationship with the ruling family ensured a place of prominence for the monastery among all others by the second half of the 16th century But the fate of Philip himself was really tragic.
In the early spring of 1566 Ivan the Terrible sent envoys to the Solovki hegumen offering him the post of the Metropolitan of Moscow. The royal offer set the course for a chain of subsequent events. The tyrannical traits of Ivan the Terrible were somehow combined with sincere faith and devotion to the Church. The tsar knew Father Philip over many years and respected his strict monastic way of life and his organizational and creative talents. But as a stern and uncompromising shepherd of his spiritual flock he could not reconcile himself to the gory horrors of the oprichnina(*) terror launched by the tsar, and expressed his open opposition to the violent extremes.
* Special administrative elite established in Russia by Ivan IV; also the territory assigned to this elite.- Ed.
On that fateful occasion Father Philip conducted a service in the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin during which he refused to give his blessing to the tsar and publicly accused him of shedding innocent Christian blood. Right there and then tsar's guards rushed into the altar (an act of gross irreverence), stripped the Metropolitan of his vestments, cladding him in some rags; they pushed him out of the church and put him under arrest. The Metropolitan, stripped of his rank, was exiled to the remote Otroch Monastery in Tver. In late 1569 he was strangled in his cell by tsar's henchman Malyuta Skuratov.
Spiritual treasures of Solovki.
The Solovki Monastery, needles to say, had a key role to play in the cultivation and accumulation of the spiritual values of our people in general, and it was a spiritual teacher for thousands of people in the Russian North. Its "book-storing chamber" not only kept and lended books and manuscripts, but also organized their copying in accordance with the best standards of the art.
Old manuscripts acquired under the monastery's first hegumens held pride of place in the book collection of Solovki. Their copying was started in the 15th century Hegumen Dosifei, for example, (died 1503) ordered a total of 24 manuscripts to be prepared in Novgorod. The inventory of the cloister dated 1514 lists a total of 127 hand-written manuscripts, and by the end of the 16th century this number rose to 481 manuscripts and 38 old printed books. Under Metropolitan Philip Kolychev the monastery developed into a major center of book learning. With the blessing of the Father Superior a starets (elderly monk) produced in 1551 what was called a Ceremonial, or Parade Gospel. Solovki scribes diligently copied the works by Russia's leading church writers of the time, irrespective of the shades of the doctrine to which they belonged. Many of these copies are marked as personal donations of Metropolitan Philip; the cloister received quite a number of manuscripts from the Rev. Silvester, an eminent political and literary figure of the time, who played a prominent role in the affairs of the government under Ivan the Terrible. And gifts of books came even from the tsar himself.
There were quite a few dedicated bibliophiles among the monastery brethren and skete recluses with the
monastery library meeting practically all of their demands. Thus apart from theological books and works of edification there was also considerable interest in secular works like the "Jewish War" of Josephus Flavius or "Christian Topography" by Kosma Indikoplov. In the 17th century the book collection at Solovki contained close upon 1,500 volumes; the cloister opened an orphanage-school where children of the local folks were not only brought up and educated for free, but also fed and clothed.
As of the 15th century the cloister began to attract a wealth of icons with some genuine works of art arriving there from various Russian cities like Novgorod, Moscow, Kargopol, Vologda and Kostroma and also from abroad-"from Greek brothers on the Holy Mount Athos". On his part Hegumen Philip took special pains to attract some of the more prominent icon-painters from Novgorod who must have painted many icons in the four-tier iconostasis of the Transfiguration Cathedral and other churches. The special Chamber of Icon-Painting set up in the 17th century also trained some local talents who combined the artistic traditions of both Novgorod and Moscow. Their icons are remarkable for what one could call the laconic brevity and simplicity of composition. And the total number of icons in the monastery of that time is really impressive: in 1678 there were no less than 1,000 of them in the Transfiguration Cathedral, and in the beginning of the 18th century there were as many icons in various auxiliary premises and monastic cells within the monastery walls.
It took no small measure of courage defending the islands and the land possessions of the monastery on the continent against enemy attacks from the West. At the height of the Livonian War in 1571 a fleet of Swedish and Dutch ships was sighted off the Solovki. And although there was no military engagement, it became very obvious that the Solovki fortress with its wooden walls and towers had to be replaced with some more reliable fortifications. As the Solovki Chronicle says: "In the year 7090 (1582) ... they began building houses of stone on Solovki." The construction works, which continued up until 1596, was headed by an "urban craftsman", Brother Trifon-a local monk and an eminent architect of that age. Using some novel building methods and relying on a most up-to-date defense strategy, he produced a fortress that had no peer. It was built by some hired Cossack workmen coming from far and near. The Solovki fortress, or Kremlin to use the Russian name, became the mightiest and most impregnable citadel in the whole of the Russian North.
The building materials used for the purpose were rather unusual-huge
granite boulders, including giants measuring up to 1.5 meters across and weighing 6 to 7 tons each. Polished by the glacier, they possessed excellent shock resistance, conveying to the fortifications an air of stem might.
On a map the fortress looks like an elongated pentagon (more than one kilometer in perimeter). Its walls, intended for all-round defense, were in straight sections with two tiers of battlements on top. Wall-towers made it possible to keep frontal or flank fire on the enemy. In the beginning there were only 6 of them-five round and a square one, facing the sea. In 1621 an additional fortification was attached to the eastern wall with two rectangular towers, called Kvasovarennaya and Povarennaya ("kvas brewery" and "kitchen" towers, which protected some vital cooking facilities). The central Holy Gate with the Church of the Annunciation (1596- 1601) faced the Bay of Blagopoluchye ("wellbeing"). The register of 1597 mentions 68 cannon, some of the "monastery make". In 1621 the Solovki stronghold and its outposts on the mainland maintained a military force of over one thousand.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the "cloister-sovereign" controlled all Russian defenses from the Murmansk shores to Western Karelia and saw to it that the local tribes "maintain their loyalty to the tsar without fail". The Father Superior was the chief authority and power in spiritual, civilian and military matters. During the dramatic Time of Troubles the strategic role of the monastery increased even more, and it consolidated its hold over the Karelia coast, including Sumy, Kem and Kola. An attempt by a Swedish military force of Jacob Delagardi to capture them in 1610 ended in failure. In 1613-1614 the fortress defended its possessions from what was left of the Lithuanian and Polish armies after the collapse of the campaign of False Demetrius II in Central Russia. In 1623 the monastery defended the Pomorye region from a Danish naval landing.
In the following years the construction and updating of defense fortifications in Belomorye was continued. In 1657 in order to cut down the cost of maintenance of a military garrison made up of career streltsy soldiers it was decided to "call to arms" some of the monastery brethren (425 monks) with every monk being assigned to his battle station in case of emergency In the middle of the 17th century the fortress had 80 to 90 cannons.
After the Time of Troubles the monastery received special privileges; Tsar Mikhail Feodorovich granted it the right to address all of its problems and petitions to the Grand Palace Prikaz (the royal chancellery) directly over the head of the lower government offices.
The period from 1660 to 1670 saw one of the most significant and dramatic pages in the history of the Solovetsky Monastery-an uprising described in the old chronicles under a vivid metaphor-"the Solovetsky sit-in". At the time of the church reforms of Patriarch Nikon (1652- 1658)(*) the movement in defense of "the Old Belief brought together monks and laymen, peasants and soldiers many of whom sought refuge from the "unfaithful" regime behind the Solovki walls. The most dedicated and inspired of the Solovki brethren refused to accept the "corrected" service books, and a total of nine petitions
* See:. V. Molzinsky, "Old Belief and Russian Culture", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1999.- Ed.
Dam between the Bolshoi Solovki Island and Bolshaya Muksalma.
Canals across the Bolshoi Solovki Island.
were sent to the tsar in defense of the authenticity of "the old faith". Tsar's "admonition writs", full of threats and luring promises, were rejected out of hand by the community.
The year 1668 saw the beginning of an open military confrontation with government troops. But a passive siege of the monastery produced no results. The unassailable fortress was defended by well-armed monks and peasants who had full stores of the necessary provisions and food, and had an uninterrupted supply of fresh drinking water through underground ducts from Lake Svyatoye ("holy"). But the atmosphere of mutual hostility continued to grow with the government troops reducing to ashes all boats in the area and also stores of hay, firewood, tools of the local hunters and fishermen and even the herd of the monastery milch cows. In their turn the brethren held a "black assembly" at which they decided to cease their traditional prayers for "the almighty tsar".
In 1674 the tsar sent to Solovki his new military "voivode" (commander) Ivan Meshcherinov with a stringent order "to root out the rebellion without delay". But all of these attempts run into a stubborn resistance of the rebellious monks. The walls of the citadel withstood some of the heaviest bombardments even when cannons were positioned on 13 elevated platforms built for the purpose. Attempts to use battering rams and dig tunnels under the fortress walls likewise produced no tangible results for the attackers. Meanwhile the beleaguered garrison counterat- tacked with daring sallies and sorties, reinforced their defenses and opened fire on government troops from the walls, house roofs and even church domes. Archimandrite Nikanor himself was daily inspecting the cloister's defenses, aspersed the guns and their crews with holy water and burned incense on the fortress walls. The siege continued for two years and there would have been no end to it in sight had it not been for the betrayal by one of the brethren-Monk Feoktist. On a dark and cold winter night of 1676 he led a detachment of government troops into the fortress through a secret passage under the Drying Chamber. In the bloody reprisals which followed only 14 monks survived out of the total number of 400 brethren who were all put to death. The monastery was plundered by the invaders.
The Solovki uprising-which had a tremendous impact upon the local population and the neighbouring cloisters-inscribed one of the most dramatic pages in the history of Russian Raskol (schism). The main stronghold of the Old Belief in the North was crushed at least for several years, although eventually the Solovki drama served to strengthen the authority of "the Old Faith" among the population of the Pomorye region.
Fortress and prison.
The economic structure of the Solovki Monastery with all its possessions was restored and even augmented within a short period of time. The stronghold retained its strategic importance in the 18th and 19th centuries and remained a center of active support for the government administration and the economic and cultural life of Russia's North.
Tsar Peter the Great first set foot in Solovki in 1694 when he was still in his tender years. He arrived by sea from Archangel and donated a large sum of money for the renovation of the iconostasis of the Transfiguration Cathedral. The young tsar joined in diligent prayerful supplication to the local saints. The tsar's second visit to Solovki was during the Northern Campaign in August 1702 when he arrived there with a flotilla of 13 battleships. His chief preoccupation was defense of the Pomorye region against piratic Swedish raids on the White Sea. The Tsar inspected the fortress, its armory and vestry. The Russian fleet, which carried more than 4 thousand men of the Preobrazhensky and Semenovsky Regiments, was moored off the Bolshoi Zayatsky island. In a matter of only few days a church was erected on the island dedicated to St. Andrew the First-Called who was revered as the Divine Intercessor for the Russian Navy. Since that time Russian men-of-war flew St. Andrew's ensign with the blue St. Andrew's Cross on a white background.
The flotilla weighed anchor a week later with some of the warships sailing back to Archangel and others sailing southwest towards the Pomor village of Nyukhcha, one of the major landed estates of the Solovetsky Monastery This was the starting point of a 10-day Russian military expedition along a secretely built "tsar's road" leading from the White Sea coast across mountains, woods, rivers and swamps to Lake Onega. From there the Russians intended to launch a surprise attack against Swedish troops from the rear and push them back to the shores of Lake Ladoga and the Neva river. The Russian force was reinforced with two frigates which were hauled across dry land by scores of the local peasants recruited for the occasion. Crossing the Svirj and Lake Ladoga, the Russians advanced on the Swedish fortress of Noterburg which they stormed and captured.
A hundred and fifty years later, during the Crimean campaign in July 1854 Solovki was approached by two 60-gun British frigates which opened fire on the cloister. The shelling continued for 9 solid hours during which time the attackers fired about 1,800 cannon balls and bombs. But the damage to the fortress was only slight and there were no casualties among its garrison, although the soldiers went in religious processions along the walls in full view of the enemy. And the British withdrew from the practically unprotected monastery which was seen as a sign of Divine Providence, especially when an unexploded enemy shell was discovered behind an icon of the Mother of God.
Thus ended the heroic saga of the cloister-fortress which was able to retain its well- established and skillfully maintained economic structure and potential. It ran a brick yard, a rope-making factory, a sawmill, a leather factory, workshops which produced footwear, clothing, jewellery and icons, as well as a print-shop and a bindery. The monastery operated a flotilla of steamships and rowing boats which carried considerable numbers of passengers and large volumes of freight.
A visitor to Solovki is impressed with the scale and size of some of its structures, such as a maze of canals interconnecting the local lakes which were dug by hand at the turn of the 20th century by some devout local peasants under the guidance of Monk Irinarkh. The builders used some of the old ditches, dug at the time of Father Superior Philip Kolychev, which were enlarged and clad with stones. The canals could be navigated by boats and small steam- powered cutters which delivered to the cloister timber, hay and catches offish. Even more impressive is the famous dam-a giant hydrotechnical structure linking the Bolshoi Solovetsky island with Bol-shaya Muksalma. The dam, erected in the 1860s, spans a bay over a distance of nearly one kilometer. It is about 4 meters high and 6 meters wide, which makes its safe even in stormy weather. The guest teams of building workers were headed by the "engineer and mechanican" of the project-Monk Feoktist.
Finally, one can not pass over in silence some of the tragic pages from the history of Solovki which finally led the cloister to its decline. From the 16th and 17th centuries on it was chosen as a place of exile for opponents of the tsars or dissenters "in need of spiritual healing". Preserved since that time are the terrible underground prison cells-these "stonebags" in deep niches hidden amidst huge boulders.
One of the inmates of Solovki at the start of the 17th century was Simeon Bekbulatovich, a member of the Tatar ruling elite, who was finally admitted to monastic vows under the name of Stephan. Among the prisoners from 1620 to 1626 was Avraamiy Palitsin, the disgraced and banned cellarer of the Trinity and St. Sergiy Monastery near Moscow, the author of the famous "Narrative" about the Time of Troubles. After the death of Peter the Great the ranks of the Solovki inmates were joined by Prince Pyotr Tolstoy, a diplomat and close associate of the late Emperor. The prison was administered by secular authorities; the total number of "select" inmates was slightly above 300. In the 18th century, a special prison was built for religious dissenters, unfrocked clerics, eunuchs, and dangerous "free-thinkers".
In the years of Stalin's political reprisals a new and tragic chapter was added to the history of Solovki. Set up on the islands in 1923 was one of the most-feared punitive establishments, the so-called Solovki Prison Camps of Special Regime in which thousands of innocent victims of the Soviet regime were exterminated. Their unmarked common graves are scattered all over the islands and the lists of these martyrs include some prominent scientists, philosophers, cultural figures and high-ranking clerics. The monastery, half ruined by the Bolsheviks and turned into one huge prison camp, remained as such until 1939.
The revival of the ruined Christian shrines calls for some really massive efforts. Over the past few decades the diligent efforts of professional restorers have helped to put the ancient buildings and structures into their proper shape. Plans are afoot for the restoration of the central iconostasis of the Transfiguration Cathedral; a monastery has already been reopened on the grounds of what is known as the Solovki State Historical and Architectural Museum and Natural Preserve-one of its kind in the North of this country.
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