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The history of Valaam monastery

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During the spreading of the Christian belief, St.Andrey went to the north, preaching the Gospel. The legend tells that the follower of Jesus the Christ came to the lake of Nevo and created a stone cross on Valaam mountains. Nine centuries later two Enochs Sergiy and German came from the east, settled on one of the rocky islands and founded a cloister. The legend, which tells about their life, is lost. The imperishable relics of the saints were found in XII century and were concealed in the rock at the top of which the monastery was built.

The name Valaam means "a high mountain" in Finnish. The monks considered this name to be accordant to the name of the biblical prophet and called the island Valaam. During centuries monastery have been a single landscape and architectural complex. Churches, chapels, houses, cells and roads were constructed here. Besides, Valaam was one of the largest centers of book-printing in Russia.

The authentic history of the Valaam monastery starts since XIV century. The exact date of its foundation is 1407. It is mentioned in the "Tale of Valaam Island", which was recently found by scientists. It is also known, that till 1429 Enoch Savvatiy, the founder of the Solovetskiy monastery, lived here. The prosperity of the monastery accounted for XV century. Valaam monastery was called "an honest and great lavra". By the beginning of XVI century about 600 monks lived here.

The cloister suffered from lots of fire, massacres and years of oblivion. A few timed Swedish ships entered the bays of Valaam, the soldiers destroyed the monastery and killed the monks.

Epidemics and wars led to desolation. In 1715, emperor Peter I ordered to reconstruct the Valaam monastery. In 1719 the wooden Cathedral of Transfiguration, built upon the Saints’ relics, was consecrated. Ten years later the Church of Assumption was built. In 1752 the monastery complex was surrounded with a fence. In 1754 the fire burned down the buildings. Twice empress Elizabeth made considerable contributions for the restoration work. In 1765 there were only 11 monks in the monastery. At the end of XVIII — the beginning of XIX centuries the monastery was equipped with amenities. The relics of Saint Sergey and German were buried in the lower church. The cell buildings were built around the cathedral. In 1805 the Church of St. Peter and Pavel was built. A huge belfry of 38 meters is located on Valaam. The largest bell of 1000 poods was cast in honor of St. Andrey.

The most prosperity of the monastery was in XIX century. The abbot Nazary, who headed the monastery, began to construct stone buildings. He also started missionary activities and approved three forms of monastic life: hostel, skete and hermit.

In 1839 Father Damaskin was appointed the Superior of the monastery. During 35 years of his administration he achieved wonderful results. A few bakeries, pharmacies, saunas and different workshops appeared on the island. Father Damaskin paid a special attention to building. New objects were built only under the guidance of experienced architects. The first one, whom he invited to the island, was an architect A. Gornostaev, who constructed many beautiful buildings on Valaam and other islands of the archipelago. Father Damaskin established very strict rules of the monastic life. Any one, who came to the island, couldn’t leave it yet: the monastery, which was founded in XVI century was used as a place of deportation of ecclesiastics (leaving the monastery was prohibited till the beginning of XX century). Damskin canceled the system of hermit, which was organized by its predecessor. Monks did almost all work on the island.

After Damaskin’s death the monastery was headed by his follower Ivan Dmitriev (Ionofan II), who organized rich library of the monastery. By the middle of XIX century the monastery looked like a small state with its own autocrat, police, finance and trade. In the beginning of XX century 1000 people lived on the island.

The revolutionary events of 1917 and the separation of Finland from Russia had harmed the monastery. The archipelago then belonged to Finland and the monastery was the church of religious minority (the main part of the Finnish churches is Lutheran). In 1925 services in Finnish language were held in the monastery, in 1933 the number of monks decreased. The islands were equipped with fortifications and fortresses.

During the Soviet-Finnish war the monastery was bombed and the community leaved the island. The monks took the most valuable things – icons, bells and books with them. A few years later they bought the farmland of Papiniemi in Finland. A monastery, which became the center of Christianity in Finland, was built there. In 1945 this monastery was attached to the Moscow eparchy, but economically it belonged to Finland. In 1977 the services in Russian were stopped and the last Russian monk died in 1981.

The Soviet Valaam lived different life. In September, 1940 the school of boatswains was organized in the monastery. A year later young seamen went to the war. Finnish troops settled on Valaam and they stayed there till the capitulation of Finland. After the end of the war the islands of the archipelago belonged to Pitkjarantskiy cellulose factory. At that time a forestry was organized and monastic weather station was restored here. The churches and chapel were burned.

In 1950 The Home for handicapped people was founded on Valaam. The invalids of the World War lived in the houses and cells of monks. The buildings of the monastery were not considered to be monuments: the commission of architects didn’t regard the complex of Valaam buildings as valuable one. But in the end of the 50-ies the first steamships with tourists came to the island. Ten years later 9 of the monastery buildings got the status of historical and cultural monuments of Karelia. In 1979 historical and nature museum was organized on the island and two years later the restoration of the monuments started.

In 1984 the home of handicapped people was closed. In the end of the 80-ies the plan of the museum’s development was approved. It was intended to build a new village and piers in the Monastyrskaja bay. In reality the things went another way. December 13, 1989 six Christian Enochs came to the island. Three years later Valaam monastery passed to Russian Orthodox Church. A small community started to revive the monastery. Now the number of monks of the community is 200.