Solovetsky Monastery stands on a small archipelago in the
harsh Russian environment of the White Sea. It grew from a small community
of Russian Orthodox monks during medieval times into one of the largest and
most prominent monasteries in Russia. During the 20th century Solovetsky
Monastery also became famous as one of the first Soviet concentration camps
in a newly formed USSR.
Location: Solovetsky island, Archangelsk
Solovetsky Monastery spreads across several islands of
the Solovetsky archipelago in the White Sea. First human settlements date back
to the 3000 BC. In the first millennium BC Sami tribes erected pagan
religious structures known as "seyda" still visible today. First Slavic
fishermen and hunters from the Novgorod Republic moved to the region in the
12th- 13th century.
Solovetsky Monastery was founded in 1429 by Gherman (Herman) and Savvatiy (Sabbatius) from
Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. Officially however the date of foundation
is tied to brother Zosima who moved here in 1436. Soon the Novgorod Republic
establishes ties with a monastery and sent a deed acknowledging their
position as a Russian Orthodox Monastery. Another letter from
Moscow tsar Ivan III soon followed.
Meanwhile the Solovetsky Monastery grew in size and
number of residents. Monks became famous for their spiritual and physical strength as they
developed an island in a harsh and unforgiving climate of the Russian North.
During the reign of Ivan the Terrible the hegumen or abbot of the monastery
Philip was invited by the czar himself to become Philip II, Metropolitan of
Moscow. It is hard to explain why the tyrant wanted this man by himself. Whether
it was genuine attempt to change himself or whether it was a psychological
game. The end of the story was logical and predictable. Monk Philip frankly
and openly accused tsar of crimes and violence. Ivan IV sent him away from
the palace and ordered his execution.
Solovki in the Crimean War
In the nineteenth century Solovetsky Monastery unexpectedly becomes a strategic military location.
Despite the fact that the cannons were removed from the
monastery walls in 1814, the monastery still had enough firepower to repel British attack in 1854 during
the Crimean War. Two
British warships "Brisk" and "Miranda" failed to break the
defenses and had to retreat from the Solovetsky archipelago
despite firing over 1800 rounds fired at the monastery. British
naval officers didn't dare to venture into the Solovetsky
Monastery bay out of fear they might run aground and become easy
targets. So they stayed at the far distance firing cannons with
little effect. Both ships were forced to retreat.
Just several months later British ships arrived
at the doorsteps of the Solovetsky Monastery. The head of the
monastery refused to invite foreign soldiers on the sacred
grounds. Instead he met their representatives on the shores of
the White Sea. The British left without achieving any results.
They could force monks to give up their monastery, but the
British couldn't take the citadel without significant loss of
life. They retreated again. The monks carved an inscription on a
rock on a site of the meeting as a dedication to God's grace.
This Negotiation Rock as it is known today is still visible.
Trapeznaya or Dining Hall. Its size give you
an impression of the size of the monastery in its glory days.
Soviet period of the Solovetsky Monastery
After October Revolution in 1917 Communists started to
implement their atheist beliefs. In 1918 first platoon of Red Guards shows
up on the island and confiscates part of the food provisions from a
monastery. This was followed by complete closure in 1920. The head of Soviet
government M.S. Kedrov who arrived on the island ordered execution its abbot
Archimandrite Veniamin (Benjamin) (Kononov) along with his personal aid
ieromonk Nikifor (Kuchin). Both were closed in a small house and
subsequently burned alive near river Lodma. Ironically the date of the death
coincided with Russian Orthodox Easter of 1928. Between 1922- 1939
Solovetsky Monastery was turned into concentration
camp. It became officially known as Solovetsky Lager' Osobogo Naznachenia,
which is translated as the "Solovki Special Purpose Camp". Its Russian
acronym SLON, that is also translated as "elephant", became widely known
among prisoners and later among common Russians. Later experience of Solovetsky concentration camp or simply Solovki as
it became popularly known, was used in establishing a massive Gulag system
all across the Soviet Union. It is no surprise that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
called SLON "the mother of Gulag".
In 1939 SLON was given
to the Northern Military Navy and a school of young officers was
established here. On October 25th 1990 the archipelago was
transferred to Russian Orthodox Church once again. Soviet stars
were removed and Christian crosses were raised to their rightful
location. Even though
it is an active monastery, it is open to the tourists.
Kremlin (Solovetsky Monastery or Solovki)
is not just a description of military fortifications in Moscow.
It is a general term that describes any defended Russian or
Solovetsky Monastery in this sense is no exception. Main
complex of Solovki Monastery was constructed from huge boulder
that reach thickness of up to 6 meters. Massive round towers
protected the site from all directions. Each tower was intended
as a semi- autonomous defense position. If parts of the wall
fell, defenders would retreat to these walls and close
Negotiation Stone (Solovetsky Monastery or
This stone is located on the shore just south of Kremlin. It was
placed here to commemorate retreat of the British fleet after
second failed attempt to take Solovetsky Monastery during the
Botanical Garden (Solovetsky Monastery or
It is hard to imagine that cold archipelago in
the middle of the White Sea could harbor any significant
diversity of life. Yet human ingenuity and prowess made it
possible. Over 100 plant species of different plants are found
on the islands of the Solovetsky Monastery. Many were brought
from other parts of the World as a donation to the monastic
community. Unfortunately many of the species went extinct during
the Soviet period, yet the tradition to grow various plants
Obviously Botanical Garden is the center of such
is located north of the main Kremlin. The explanation of such
unusual growth is actually quite simple. Solovetsky Monastery
accepted thousands of pilgrims from all across Russia and abroad annually. Additionally close to
1000 people lived on the island. The need for candles for the
churches of the monastery required a local monastic factory that produced thousands of
candles. The heat from the this massive production was channeled
into small covered farms of the Botanical Garden. Monks of Solovetsky Monastery created
a true miracle of the Russian North. They grew many species of
flowers and fruits, including pineapple in the midst of
Canals (Solovetsky Monastery or Solovki)
Island has numerous lakes left from the times of the Ice Age.
Tons of ice carved lakes, but it left no rivers. The monks
quickly changed this situation by digging canals that cover
parts of the island. Starting from the 16th century under
leadership of hegumen (head of the monastery) Phillip
inhabitants of the monastery connected 52 lakes into one single
meshwork of channels. They were used for transport of fish and
merchandise. Today it is used by tourists and locals alike.
Sekirnaya Hill, The Church of Ascension, Commemoration Cross
(Solovetsky Monastery or Solovki)
Hill is situated north of the main Kremlin complex on the
highest mountain on the island. Monks
constructed a Church of Ascension here. The church also served
as a lighthouse with a lens placed at the base of the cross.
During Soviet years, then Solovki were turned into a
concentration camp, the church was turned into worst punishment.
It was always cold and few prisoners survived here. Among these
lucky survivors was Vladimir Stepanovich Gundyaev, a priest who
was punished by atheist government for serving masses at his
house and also grand father of current Russian Patriarch Cyril. A
Commemoration Cross was erected here after fall of Soviet Union.
Sekirnaya Hill is also notable for its ancient burials and a
religious pagan complex that once stood here. It was abandoned
centuries before first Christian monks settled here.
This is how it might have looked like. The picture is taken from
a map made by Anthony Wood in 1552-55. However it is unknown
what was his source for the depiction, whether it was a remains
of the previous structures made by pagan tribes or imagination
of the traveler who used familiar Russian Orthodox Christian structures.
View from the hill
Anzer Island (Solovetsky Monastery or Solovki)
Anzer Island is situated just North West of the Big Island. It is famous
for its mountains that the local monks called Golgotha after a mountain
near Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was Crucified. According to a legend
three centuries ago two monks Job and Paisy were working on this island
then they saw a vision of Holy Mother of God, Mary. She told them to
call this mountain a Golgotha and build a church here to honour the
Biblical Golgotha. One of the monks was genuinely surprised for such a
grim and strange choice for a namesake and asked maybe Holy Virgin a
church devoted to herself. Holy Mary responded that this Golgotha is set
for the Russian clergy. The monks abided and constructed a church here,
named a mountain. Just two centuries later the prophecy came true and Solovetsky islands were turned into a concentration camp. Anzer Island
had a hospital and a birth centre. Untold number of prisoners died here.
There is no records and the building itself today lies in ruins.
Church on the Anzer Island today
No, this is not a Photoshop. It is an old birch on Golgotha in shape of
a cross. By the way the only cross that miraculously survived being
destroyed on the orders of political officer Uspensky in the 1920's was
a cross that was erected here by brother Efrem on October 25th Julian
Calendar or November 7th Western Calendar, 1917. Ironically it was the
date of Russian Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power. It
stands here on the Anzer Island. Solovetsky Crosses were big and
required months of manual work. They marked holy places, graves and
other important locations. Slowly, but surely their number on the
islands of Solovetsky Archipelago grows.
Zayatsky Island (Solovetsky
Monastery or Solovki)
Sami called their
religious megalith structures- Seyda. The most
popular is located here on a Zayatsky Island, although there at
least 30 such structures on the Solovetsky archipelago. There is
no agreement on the purpose of the structure, but discovery of
iron objects and burned human bones suggest that it had an
important role in the cult of the dead. Age of construction is
also uncertain. Most historians date it to 1st and 2nd centuries
Russian Orthodox Church Of Saint Andrew. This seemingly small
and unimportant church was created by Russian Emperor Peter the Great and his
sailors in the late 17th century. They managed to complete the task just in 6
days. Once they completed they blessed the first Naval Military Flag of Saint
Solovetsky Kamen' (Stone) in Moscow
covered by flowers and candles. Behind is the main building of Soviet
Secret Police that had different named through its history: CheKa, NKVD,
KGB and etc. Soviet Concentration Camp located within walls of the
medieval Christian monastery that became widely known as Solovki became
a symbol of oppressive totalitarian state. Shortly after a fall of
Communism a stone from the monastery was brought here on Lyubyanka
Square as a reminder of millions lost in Solovetsky Camp as well as
other camps around former Soviet Union.
some the famous prisoners of the Solovki prison camp-
Соловецкий лагерь особого назначения (СЛОН)
Professor A.E.Anisimov - art critic
I.P.Antsiferov - historian
Vladimir Artemyev - inventor
V.W.Bakhton - inventor
Vladimir N. Beneshevich - historian, paleographer
A.V.Bobrishev-Pushkin - descendant of Decembrist Pavel Sergeievich
I.E.Braz - artist
Leonid Feodorov - Bishop and Exarch of the Russian Catholic Church.
Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky - priest, scientist, encyclopaedist
G.J.Gordon - historian
A.K.Gorsky - poet
Archimandrite Illarion (Troitsky) - Professor of the Moscow Theological
Academician Dmitry Sergeyevich Likhachov - philologist
Mirjaqip Dulatuli- Kazakh writer
I.V. Popov - Professor of the Moscow Theological Academy
Varlam Shalamov - writer
Vladimir V. Tchernavin - ichthyologist
H.H.Vinogradov - ethnographer
Oleg V. Volkov - writer
M.N.Voronoy - poet
There is no exact list of casualties in
this camp. The official number lists them at 8000 people, however many
of the prisoners were used in various construction projects in the
regions. Their numbers were not officially added to the number of dead.
Thus about 8,700 men from the Solovki camp died during construction of
Belomor- Baltiysky Channel.
Soviet documentary from 1928- 29 traces a journey from Moscow to
Solovetsky Concentration Camp