Kamenny Monastery

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Kamenny Monastery in 1909.

Kamenny Monastery (Russian: Спасо-Преображенский Свято-Каменный монастырь) was the name of a Russian Orthodox monastery situated on a small eponymous island in the very centre of the Lake Kubenskoye. It is distinguished as the very first stone monastery of the Russian North. The monastery is named Spasso-Kamenny or Saviour on Stone, in honour of the main temple of the Transfiguration of Our Savior.

Kamenny Island (literally, "Stony Island") is very small, measuring just 120 metres by 70 metres. It is so named after stony ramparts set up by the monks around the island's perimeter in order to preclude its erosion. The lake is known for its inclement weather and frequent storms.


In 1260, Duke Gleb Vasilkovich, Prince of Belozersk, while going from White Lake to Ustyug by water, was caught by a severe storm on Lake Kubenskoye and at the minute of danger he made a vow to lay a church and a monastery at the place where he would reach the coast. His vessel was washed ashore on Stone Island. There were twenty three hermits living on the island, who being poor, had no church. The Prince ordered a church to be built in the name of Transfiguration of Our Saviour, and wooden cells. Ever since then the monastery of Spasso-Kamenny was patroned by the princes of Belozersk, thrived became populous and well-equipped.


In Middle Ages the monastery became the ecclesiastical and economic center of the region. Under Dmitry Donskoy (1359-1389), the Kamenny Monastery was run by Dionisius, a Greek monk who introduced the coenobian rule of Mount Athos, whereby the brethren were closed alike, took their meals (usually limited to bread and scarce vegetables) in the refectory and were bound to possess no private property. Female animals were banned from the isle to avoid any impure thought on the part of the monks.

The monastery was quite rich, owning seven larger villages (selo), four average villages (seltso) and 98 small villages, in addition to two salt pans in Tomta and two branches in Vologda. The monastic community reached its peak under Paisiy Yaroslavov, a former hegumen of the Trinity Lavra and one of the most influential clerics of the time. This starets authored The Tale of the Kamenny Monastery whose main themes are the history of this monastery and the struggle of its monks against paganism in the area.

In 1476 the monastery burnt down. Ivan III's brother Andrey Menshoy, who was the ruler of Vologda, commissioned a stone four-pillared cathedral to be built on the island. The two-storey two-domed edifice was constructed in 1481 by a team of masters from Rostov, who proceeded to erect very similar cathedrals in the Ferapontov Monastery (1490) and Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery (1497). Paisiy Yaroslavov mentions that he engaged the great artist Dionisius to paint a deesis for the cathedral. It is believed that Dionisius's works perished 185 years later, during a great fire, which resulted in the collapse of the domes.

In the 16th century, the Kamenny Monastery did not develop as quickly as the two last-mentioned abbeys, because of the limited territory that the tiny and remote island could afford. In the 1540s, the monks constructed a church-belltower of curious architecture and a refectory, after which the monastery gradually declined to obscurity. It was remembered in Moscow primarily as a place of exile, where the famous Old Believer, Ivan Neronov, was deported.

On July 24, 1774 one of the exiles set the monastery on fire, whereupon the monks were transferred for 26 years to Vologda. When they finally returned to the island in 1801, the cathedral was restored with five domes instead of one. The only post-medieval buildings on the island were an inn and two lighthouses, built for the needs of the monastery in the 1870s.


The Soviet government closed down the Kamenny Monastery in 1925 and had its brethren evacuated from the island. The buildings were adapted to house a penal colony for minor delinquents. This establishment proved a failure and by 1937 the island had been deserted. The regional administration profited from the situation to blow up the Transfiguration of Our Saviour Cathedral, the oldest building of the Russian North, in order to obtain brick required for construction of the local "palace of culture", which eventually failed to materialise.

During the war a station was organized on the island for the reception and processing of fish. Then the island became a haven of local fishermen and hunters. Out of all of the monastic constructions of the island, only the unique Dormition church - belltower of the XVI century has come down to us, although the ruins of the cathedral are still in place (picture).


In 1991 restoration work on the monastery began. Financing was carried out within the framework of the Russian program "Heritage". The management of the restoration work was undertaken by Vologda resident Alexander Nikolayevich Pligin, an engineer by education. In many respects it was due to the efforts of A.N. Pligin, his family and all their volunteer assistants, that the destroyed monastery was being revived and restored.

Since 1995 the island has been frequently visited by the acting bishop of Vologda and Veliky Ustyug, Maximilian. In 1999 on the southern side of the island near The Church of Dormition, there was erected a chapel which was consecrated in the name of all the saints of Vologda.[note 1]

In 2004, A.N. Pligin died, and his widow Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Pligina continued to take care of the monastery.

On the 750th anniversary of the monastery on August 18, 2010, a Refectory church in honor of the Assumption of Virgin Mary was restored and sanctified.


  1. The Greek Synaxarion for May 3 commemorates a certain:
    • Saint Gregory Archbishop of Rostov, Yiaroslavl and White Lake (Abbott of Kamennoi Monastery (Monastery of the Transfiguration) at Kubenski Lake, in Vologda province) (+1416) / Ὁ Ἅγιος Γρηγόριος Ἀρχιεπίσκοπος Ροστώβ, Γιαροσλάβλ καὶ Λευκῆς Λίμνης (+1416) -- (3 ΜΑΪΟΥ, ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ)


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