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Mirozhsky Monastery

Mirozhsky MonasteryMirozhka Stream ripples across the pebbles, splashes and murmurs along its way. Even the Pskova River is not very large but the Mirozhka is very small indeed. True, it is dammed up in two places. Behind the larger dam there is a pond where fishermen gather in winter. When the Mirozhka grows shal-low in the summer, ducks splash about in it - not domestic ducks, but wild ones. Some even stay on through the winter. No one disturbs them: on the contrary, people feed them. The stream freezes over only briefly and then the ducks fly away to the Velikaya River rapids. In the winter of 1979-1980 nearly one hundred and fifty wild ducks stayed behind on Mirozhka Stream. This natural phe-nomenon has been accepted, just as it is accepted that Our Saviour "on the Mirozhka", a 12th-century church with marvellous murals, stands at the point where the Mirozhka flows into the Velikaya. This church is part of the Pskov museum-preserve. It takes us into a world of heroic and lofty beauty. The traditional view of Mirozhsky Monastery is either from Intercession Tower in the Outer City, from which we can see a squat church with a massive dome and a large sanctuary apse extending out toward the river through a white fence; or from the Krom, from the Velikaya embankment and bridge. From here we can see the elongated parallelepiped of the church above the gates facing the city. This smaller church shields the cathedral like a screen and conceals the road that passes through the arched gates. The cathedral's powerful dome is visible, but it seems to belong to the long building above which the square bell-tower stands to the right of the gates. Mirozhsky Monastery existed as early as the 11th century. Prince Svyatopolk of Kiev is mentioned in its thanksgiving list. In 1015 this prince killed his broth-ers, Boris and Gleb, in order to take power for himself, and as a result he was excommunicated by the Church. The entry about him in the monastery book could only have been made before this date. It was discovered by the founder of the Ancient Manuscripts division of the Pskov State Museum, Leonid Tvorogov. We can only assume, therefore, that in 1015 Mirozhsky Monastery already existed. The stone Church of the Trans-figuration was built in 1156 at the in-itiation of Bishop Nifont of Novgorod. In its early period Mirozhsky Monas-tery was the focus of Pskov's culture - the centre for its chronicle-writing. At the end of the 13th century "Esif's Message to the Children" was written there. It argued against the pilgrimages which were so frequent at the time. The author of this work urged people to seek salvation in constructive work. The chronicle calls Iosif (or Esif), "a presbyter", which means a priest dis-tinguished for his scholarly work or other merits. Leonid Tvorogov has advanced the hypothesis that the most outstanding work of old Russian literature, The Lay of the Warfare Waged by lgor, which contains vocabulary and expressions typical of Pskov, was brought to Pskov by pilgrims from Kiev and rewritten in Mirozhsky Monastery either by Iosif or for Iosif. (At the turn of the 16th century it was rewritten again in the Monastery of Our Saviour and St. Yelizarius in Pskov, after which it was taken to Yaroslavl's Monastery of Our Saviour in the reign of Ivan the Ter-rible. Two centuries later it was brought to Moscow by a noted collec-tor of Russian antiquities, Alexei Musin-Pushkin.) Located on the path to the city, on the city's undefended side and without any fortified walls, Mirozhsky Monastery was an easy prey for enemies on their way to Pskov. The chronicle tells us that in the winter of 1299 the Livonians sud-denly seized the settlement, killing among others Mirozhsky Monastery's Father Superior - the famous "pres-byter" Iosif. In 1323 the monastery was again attacked by the Livonians, who won all of Zavelichye. In 1581, Stephen Bathory set up a powerful battery at the monastery during the siege of Pskov. A cannon was hauled up to the church's belfry to fire red-hot cannonballs at the city. In 1615 Zavelichye was occupied by the Swedes, who sacked neighbouring St. Clement Monastery. Between in-vasions, Muscovite or Novgorodian troops were garrisoned here. Muscovite troops were stationed in the monastery in 1463 and 1471, Novgorodian troops in 1474, and in 1668 Pskov troops were positioned here. Prince Aved of Pskov and Prince Evstafy of Izborsk, who saved Pskov in 1323, are both buried in the walls of Mirozhsky Monastery. Pskov's defender and beloved prince, Dovmont, made donations to the monastery. In the Icon division of the Pskov State Museum visitors can see the Orante Mother of God from Mirozhsky Monastery painted in the 13th century. It shows Dovmont with his wife, Maria, granddaughter of Alexan-der Nevsky, famous for his defeat of the German knights in the Battle on the Ice. From time immemorial until very re-cently the road from Pskov to Mirozhsky Monastery lay over the Velikaya River between the churches of St. George "on the Vzvoz" and St. Clement. When one approaches it this way the monastery ensemble could be seen as envisaged by the architects who built it, i.e. with all the might of its main build-ing, the Cathedral of the Trans-figuration. The church's north wall, fac-ing the main gates, spreads out to the right and is strengthened by the breadth and mass of the belfry. Once there was a tower-like belfry in its place, but it was apparently destroyed in the time of Ste-phen Bathory. The traveller had to go around it to reach the cathedral. Now that a new bridge spans the Velikaya, we can enter the monastery from its south side, passing through what was previously its "service" gate. A park has been planted between the bridge and the monastery's wall. During the monastery's patronal feast a large and noisy fair was held here with bears and monkeys to entertain the public. The Mirozhsky Transfiguration Cathedral creates such a powerful im-pression of wholeness, strength, and scope, yet at the same time simplicity and clarity, that there is hardly any equal to it in the entire existing heritage of Old Rus. Yet it is very simple: the chapel's triple arch occupies the full breadth of the cathedral and reaches midway to its top. Above the entranceway there is a half-effaced, softly glowing mural paint-ed on the white wall of the central arch-way. Above the vestibule rises the mighty wall of the central cube with the double outline of the large arch in the middle of the wall. A large cornice arcature circles the top of the broad drum. The enormous dome is copper-covered. The mighty belfry bounding the vesti-bule on the north is broad and heavy. The Mirozhsky Cathedral - magnifi-cent and unique - was the result of a creative effort by many generations. It is constructed of limestone slabs with rows of flat bricks forming arches around the windows and doors. Ground brick was added to the mixture cement-ing the slabs together, giving the church a rosy tint. Inside the church today there is a small-scale model showing the original architectural design of the edifice. The whole interior, excluding the vestibule, is decorated with murals and is entirely subordinated to the enormous upside-down cup of the dome, which seems even larger inside. Everything else was created for the cupola, and that is why the mural adorning its inside surface shows angels bearing a sphere with Christ on their outspread hands.
Pskov, Russia

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