St. George's is a functioning, 12-century monastery founded by Prince Yaroslav of Kiev and situated upstream of Volkhov, near Lake Ilmen, the southern outpost of Veliky Novgorod. St. George's Monastery is considered to be the first orthodox monastery in the Novgorod lands.
There is a legend regarding the year in which St. George's monastery was founded, 1030. Following a victory over the a group of Chuds (local Finnic peoples), prince Yaroslav the Wise founded the city of Yuriev (now: Tartu, Estonia) and constructed churches in Novgorod and Kiev in honor of George (Yury) the Victorious, his patron saint. The St. George's Cathedral in Novgorod was built on the route fr om the city to the countryside residence of the prince in the village of Rakomo on the shore of Lake Ilmen. Near the cathedral a monastery of the same name was founded.
The earliest documented data about St. George's Monastery is dated 1119, when prince Vsevolod Mstislavovich founded «a stone church named after George and built by a master by the name of Petr.» St. George's Cathedral, together with the Church of the Annunciation constructed opposite to it in the fortress in 1103, formed a kind of propylaeum through which the people entered the city. The importance of St. George's Cathedral was stressed by the fact that the prince's chronicles were written in it and the cathedral itself was used as the burial vault of Novgorod princes. The mother and brother of Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Shemyak, among other historical figures, are buried here.
The cathedral was painted in the 12th century. In 1902, the old paintings were restored (actually, re-painted). The original frescoes were preserved in the window jambs and in the upper part of the stair tower, wh ere a small church was arranged back in ancient times. Ninety-three steps lead to them.
St. George's Monastery was one of the largest property owners. Its lands were situated in different places: from the Lovat river head up to Onega, and from Shelon up to Sestrinsky camp in Volokalamsk district near Moscow. The monks had their own granary in the Novgorod Kremlin and their own stands at the market. Even at the end of the 17th century, when some of the monastery's possessions were confiscated, it still owned 15 small monasteries, thousands of peasants, wide agricultural lands, fisheries, trade shops, and salt works granted by the grand ducal and patriarchal letters. The second rise of St. George's Monastery was in the first half of the 19th century, when countess A.A. Orlova-Chesmenskaya, the goddaughter of abbot Photius, sponsored repairs in the old buildings and funded the construction of new ones.
Even today, St. George's Monastery seems grand, despite the fact that it is not yet completely restored. It includes a 52-meter-high bell tower and five buildings: eastern (with prison cells), southern (with the Church of Our Lady of the Burning Bush), Archimandrite's (with the Cathedral of Our Saviour, under which both Archbishop Fotiy and Countess Orlova-Chesmenskaya are buried), northern and the Cathedral of the Rising of the Cross (1823). Its five sky-blue domes with shiny golden stars attract attention from afar. The cathedral is squat, a bit too heavy, but convenient for services.
In the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century, the monastery had a wonderful garden and flower beds, from which the roads led to Orlov's country house and to the house of A. A. Orlova-Chesmenskaya and to Novgorod. Willows were planted along the roads. These 150 years old trees remain to this day.
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