The Yuriev Monastery, the oldest religious site in Russia

190 kilometers from St. Petersburg, in Novgorod, the Yuriev monastery is located, the oldest in Russia. Its location is ideal, on the banks of the Volkhov River, at its arrival at Lake Ilmen. The views are wonderful, due to the nature that surrounds it and due to the reflection that the monastery creates in the crystal clear and calm waters of the river.

history of Yuriev monastery

Yuriev Monastery – cat_collector /

Although it is also called St. George’s Monastery, this place is popularly known as the oldest monastery in Russia. Legend has it that it was founded in 1030 by Yaroslav the Wiseresponsible for the construction of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv.

However, the first data of the existence of the monastery are from the 12th century. It was when the construction of the main church began, dedicated to St. George, which is Yaroslav’s name in Christian. Specifically, it would have been Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich of Novgorod who, in the year 1119, had ordered the start of the works.

Already in 1345, the church of St. George was renovated and a new roof was added. History books refer to the inhabitants of the monastery as the Novgorod Archimandrites. Most of them were buried there. But also part of the princes of the city, such as the sons of Yaroslav I and his respective successors.

A miraculous event in the Yuriev monastery

St. George’s Cathedral – Grigory Gusev /

Among the characters buried here is Grand Prince Alexander Nevsky’s elder brother, Theodore. His figure is very important for the history of Russia, since with his death a period of instability began, which did not end until the arrival of the Romanov dynasty in 1613.

Specifically, during this unstable period, the Ingrian War took place, between Sweden and Russia. Amid an advance from Sweden, the warriors stormed the monastery and discovered the tomb of Prince Theodore.

The Swedes removed his remains and, leaning it against the wall, it seemed to them that it was alive. As a result, the people of Novgorod decided to canonize Prince Theodore and he is currently the patron saint of the city.

Highlights of the monastery

St. George’s Cathedral – David Casteel /

One of the most important parts of the monastery is the church of Saint Georgenot only because it was built in honor of Yaroslav, but because of the elements that make it up.

It is formed by only three silver domes, when churches usually have five. The one that does have the five domes is the church of the Exaltation of the Cross. It is located in the north corner and the domes are blue with gold stars.

Also, at the entrance there is a tall tower with a golden dome, visible from the center of the city of Novgorod. Otherwisein the interiors of Yuriev there are frescoes depicting Christ and some archbishops of the monasterybut they are barely preserved due to the reform that the place underwent in 1902.

Besides, the Russian government destroyed five of the six monastery churches in 1928. Then, during World War II, it was taken over by German and Spanish forces. Again, the monastery continued to suffer deterioration.

Although in 1991 the restorations of the monastery beganparts of the complex still remain in ruins.

Historical importance of the monastery

Yuriev Monastery – David Casteel /

The monastery is an important source on the history of Novgorod, that for nearly three centuries was a republic which controlled much of what is now Russia. The capital was Novgorod itself, and it was one of the most important cities in the kingdom. In addition, they had their own government.

During their existence on the mainland, they had to face two main enemies. The Swedes, whom they tried to stop in their advances, and Russia, which in 1478 definitively ended the republic.

As the republic no longer exists today, historians are working to learn as much as possible about that time. Thus, the Yuriev monastery is the main provider of informationdespite being heavily damaged.


“History is, of course, exactly what was written, but we do not know if it is what happened.”

-Enrique Jardiel Poncela-

The Yuriev monastery is one of the treasures of Russiaa good excursion to do from St. Petersburg, for its history and its beauty.

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