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A Thousand Years’ Faith-Keeping: Pechersk Lavra and Saint Sophia Cathedral

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The Pechersk Lavra of Kiev Ukraine is a 1,000-year-old Christian sanctuary that still functions as a monastery and is the official residence of the head of the Church of Ukraine. This famous religious site was voted by the citizens of its great country to be one of the seven wonders of the Ukraine. It is also one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Eastern Orthodox Christians. Pechersk Lavra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, together with another famous religious building, the Saint Sophia Cathedral of Kiev.

The unique subterranean cave monastery of Pechersk Lavra is made up of more than 600 meters (0.37 miles) of underground passageways that reach depths of up to 15 meters (49 feet). The site began as a humble place of retreat for a monk, the Venerable Saint Anthony, who dug the first cave in the 11th century. The essence of the founding saints of Pechersk Lavra are said to be reflected in its two wells, one dug by the founder, the Venerable Saint Anthony, and the other by his successor, Saint Theodosius. One water is said to reflect kindness, and the other a more strict and disciplinary nature.

The first aboveground center of prayer for the monks of Pechersk Lavra was the Dormition, or Assumption Cathedral, that was constructed in the latter part of the 11th century. The legend also maintains that the Holy Mother also showed the chosen architects a vision of the “temple in the sky,” upon which the cathedral was inspired.

It was in the early 11th century, 1037, that Saint Sophia Cathedral was inaugurated in dedication to the ideal of wisdom by Prince Yaroslav the Wise. Known as the Church of Holy, or Divine, Wisdom, the cathedral was the social and political hub of Kievan Rus' culture for hundreds of years. Saint Sophia of Kiev is one of the oldest cathedrals in Eastern Europe and the oldest cathedral in the city. During the Renaissance in the 17th century, renovations in the Ukrainian Baroque style was carried out by Italian architect Octaviano Mancini. These renovations give Saint Sophia Cathedral the distinction of one of the most attractive churches in the world.

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