Since ancient times hermits have come to live, pray, and be buried in the caves along the slope of the ravine in Pechory, in Russia’s Pskov Oblast.
The deep ravine is the site of the Holy Dormition Pskovo-Pechersky (Pskov-Caves) Monastery, which was founded in 1473 with the first consecrated church built into the hillside. The Russian Orthodox monastery has never ceased operation since then, even throughout the years of World War II and the atheist Soviet regime, making it a rarity in Russia.
The Pskov-Caves Monastery, as it’s sometimes shortened to, withstood many changes over the centuries, and remained a spiritual haven for those of the Orthodox faith. It was at one point part of Estonia, then was occupied by the Soviet regime (which made some attempts to abolish the complex), then invaded by German troops in World War II (during which the monks tried to help civilians and prisoners of war). The monastery was restored after the war and has thrived and expanded since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The whole religious complex is developed over a system of burial caves. The caverns branch off to several galleries, where the bodies of thousands of hermits and monks have been interred within the walls. Over time impressive towers and walls were built over the caves, which run up and down the hills. Central to the complex is the Church of the Intercession, a lovely Russian baroque building with number of blue and golden cupolas on top, where the old cave system is accessible inside. Visitors that tour the caves will receive a small candle that is the only source of light in use, giving an even more mysterious feel to this ancient complex.
Know Before You Go
Pechory is just few kilometers from the Estonian border. Public transport connects it with some Estonian towns (Tartu, Võru), and Pskov in Russia as the main hub with most frequent connections. The monastery is accessible to visitors, but the caves can only be visited by previous appointment. Be sure to register in advance, as the monks are very strict about this. Modest dress is appropriate, and women should cover their heads and shoulders.