Valaam Monastery

Image of Valaam Monastery



Location: North of lake Ladoga  Map

Constructed: 1407


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History of Valaam Monastery

Valaam Monastery is one of the most important and famous monasteries in Russia. It is located on a small island in the North part of lake Ladoga. The name Valaam comes from the Finno- Ugric name "valamo" that literally means a "mountain" or a "high ground. Located in the north part of the lake Ladoga Valaam archipelago covers the total of 36 km2. Although the term Valaam usually refers to the monastery on the main island. According to the legend these lands were once visited by apostle Andrew who even built a stone cross on top of the mountain. The first monks that first settled here were Herman and Sergius in the late 10th century. They are said to come "from the East" that probably refers to Greece. They built a small wooden cabin on a site of a future Valaam Monastery. New monks soon followed.


Valaam Monastery was officially established in 1407. By the early 16th century community had over 600 monks. Despite its position on the frontier and constant warfare between Russians and Swedes the convent managed to remain neutral and isolated from the rest of the World. Monks organized themselves into a small state within a state. They had their own law enforcement, practiced very efficient subsistence farming and had enough money care for the sick pilgrims who came here. Most of stone buildings were erected in the late 18th and early 19th century when Nazari became head abbot of Valaam Monastery.



The Russian revolution gave independence to Finland including the islands of Valaam and over 1000 of its monks. During the Winter War of 1939- 40 most of the residents left for Finnish city of Heinävesi. After the war Valaam Monastery was used as a sanatorium for invalids from the World War II. Most of them were sent here forcefully. Soviet government didn't want younger generations to see the scars of war on people's bodies. In 1989 the monastery was returned to its rightful owners and now Valaam Monastery is an active Orthodox monastery.


Valaam Monastery Layout

Central buildings of the Valaam Monastery is located on a high hill. The main church of this spiritual compound Spaso- Preobrazhensky (Savior's Transfiguration) Cathedral stands here. Its magnificent blue domes are visible from most corners of the Island. This cross like temple contains two churches. The Lower Winter Church is dedicated to Saint Sergius and Saint George. Its Upper Summer Church was dedicated to Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on mount Tabor in Jerusalem. Tiered bell tower used to have 13 bells, but they were stolen by the Communists so only one still remain in place. Holy Gate and the Church of Peter and Paul are facing the grand staircase leading to the marina below. Both buildings were constructed in Russian classicism architectural style and date back to the 18th century.



Nicholas Island is located at the entrance of the Monastery Bay in the Northern end. Monks settled this island in the 18th century. Back then it had a wooden memorial cross with few wooden cabins for monks who used to fish here. Later they erected a wooden chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas, patron saint of fishermen, sailors or anyone who travelled over seas. In 1809 wooden chapel was replaced with a stone building and in 1853 a bugger church was erected here. In the old time 12 monks lived here. Their job was to fish for other brothers of the monastery and in case pilgrims came to Valaam Monastery, monks had to inspect them for alcohol and tobacco. Neither products were even allowed on the island.


The largest communities of the Valaam Monastery is Skit (monastic community) of All Saint also known as the White Skit. It was found in 1793. Skit of All Saints was the most strict community of the Valaam Island. Pilgrims were allowed here only once a year. The rest of the year monks lived in complete seclusion from the rest of the World. Monks a constructed a stone church of Saint Alexander Svirsky in 1850 on a site of the original wooden chapel.