St Cyril’s Church and Monastery
St Cyril’s Church, which forms part of St Cyril’s Monastery complex in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, is considered to be a superb example of 12th century Kievan Rus architecture. Despite the fact that changes have been made to the church at different times in its history, it retains distinctive elements of its origin. This is particularly evident in the interior of the church, with every wall, archway and ceiling richly and artistically decorated. Changes to the exterior have resulted in its appearance being largely Ukrainian Baroque in style, with definite influences from the 17th and 19th centuries.
The monastery was built in 1140 under the orders of Vsevolod Olgovich who held the position of Prince of Chernigov from 1127 to 1139, and the title of Grand Prince of Kiev in 1139 to 1146 – the year he died. He named the monastery after Cyril of Alexandria, whom he looked to as his spiritual protector. Later in the 12th century, Vsevolod’s widow, Princess Maria, had the St Cyril Church built and it became the Olgovich family’s ancestral burial place.
In 1734, the monastery was damaged by fire. Its restoration and renovations were undertaken by Ukrainian architect Ivan Hryhorovych-Barskyi from 1750 to 1760, during which time he enclosed the courtyard of the monastery and added some buildings as well as an ornate tower and gate. The St Cyril Monastery was shut down by Ukraine’s then-ruling Tsarist Government in 1787, with the living quarters later being used as a hospital. Under Soviet rule, the historic value of the monastery and its picturesque church was recognized and in 1929 it was ordered that the buildings be preserved. However, the church was declared closed for the purpose of worship and some of its more obviously religious structures were dismantled, including walls, gates, a tower and the belfry. Fortunately, the church and its superb examples of religious art by famous Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel, dating back to the 1880s, were preserved, offering visitors to St Cyril’s Church and Monastery the opportunity to view these masterpieces. Other points of interest for visitors are the remaining monastic walls, a corner tower, some ancient buildings and two graves from the 18th century.
In 1965, the National Sanctuary ‘Sophia of Kiev’ took over caring for St Cyril’s Church and Monastery. This state sponsored museum cares for other historic sites in Ukraine’s beautiful capital city, including St Andrew’s Church of Kiev, the Golden Gate, and the Saint Sophia Cathedral. As the 20th century drew to a close, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted permission to conduct religious services in St Cyril’s Church, and continues to do so on a regular basis.