Since old times Kyiv is known as an important religious and pilgrimage centre. The legend tells that once Saint Andrew came to Kyiv, erected a cross on one of Kyiv hills and said that Good blessed these hills and soon huge Christian city with many churches and monasteries will be here.
At the turn of the 9th century, Slavic tribes united around Kyiv and created huge kingdom Kyiv Rus. This Kingdom was placed on the territory of modern Ukraine, Belarus and the European part of Russia. At that time, Slavic people were pagans and believed in different gods such as gods of sun, lightning, fertility. However, Kiev Russ’s princes had strong economic relations with the Christian Byzantine Empire. In 988 prince Vladimir the Great baptized Kyiv Rus with the help of Byzantine emperor. He refused pagan habits and left 300 his pagan wives. According to paganism, the prince could have as many wives as he wished. Instead, Vladimir took a sister of Byzantine emperor Anna as a wife. He and the following princes built many churches. Until the 13th century, 400 churches appeared in Kyiv.
Kyiv was turned into a big pilgrimage and religious city with the centre in Lavra monastery. Lavra keeps the ancient church of the 12th century and churches from the period of baroque 17-18th centuries. It has a magnificent Great Bell Tower from the 18th century. Unfortunately, some churches were ruined during by atheistic Soviet state including the main church of Lavra Assumption cathedral.
The wonderings of Lavra are two caves where the relics of saint monks are kept. Lavra monastery was started in far 1051 when monk Antony settled. He was very modest and instead of building a house he dug a cave in the hill for a living and praying. The tradition of cave monasteries can be traced back to the Middle East where the first monasteries were founded. A cave is a symbol of Jesus as he was born there and his resurrection happened in the cave. Ascetic monks considered a cave as a symbol of the death for a previous sinful life.
Soon some religious men joined Antony and among them was Theodosius. This man is considered as a founder of Lavra together with monk Antony. He showed himself as a good organizer of daily monastery life. Many monks of Lavra monastery had an active life. They did agricultural and craft work, cooked, wrote books. Monks often visited the city where they sold their hand-made products and spread Christianity among people.
However, many monks followed the austerities of hermit life. They immured themselves in small cave rooms with just small windows. Through the windows, monks gave them bread and water because they refused to eat anything else. In such an extraordinary way, they trained their soul to be close to God. Their bodies were not important for ascetics because a body is dying but a soul lives forever. Bodies of many of those monks did not start to decompose after their death but turned to the relics and Church named them Saints. Monks keep their relics in caves. Until today people come here to visit the underground caves. Where there are more than 100 holy relics are kept.