Ensemble of the Ferapontov Monastery
Ensemble Of The Ferapontov Monastery
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The wall paintings of Dionisii in the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin at Ferrapontov Monastery are the highest expression of Russian mural art in the 15th-16th centuries. The Monastery itself is the purest and most complete example of an Orthodox monastic community from the 15th-17th centuries, a crucial period in the cultural and spiritual development of Russia.

The Monastery was founded in 1398 by St Ferrapont, a friend and associate of St Kirill Belozerskii. It achieved renown thanks to St Kirill's pupil, St Martinian Belozerskii, who was hegumen (abbot) of the Troitse-Sergiev Monastery in 1447-55. Together with Kirillo-Belozersk Monastery, it became the favoured place of worship and of endowment for many members of the Russian feudal aristocracy and rulers. At the turn of the 15th century, it produced many notable leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church who played leading parts in the country's life.

Work began on the brick ensemble of the monastery in 1490 with the erection of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin by master builders from Rostov, followed by the Church of the Annunciation, the Treasury Chamber, and ancillary buildings. In the 17th century the Gate Church, the Church of St Martinian and the bell tower were added. Princes and tsars came to worship there and Ivan IV granted it special privileges and charters. Securing the relics of Martinian and his subsequent canonization made it a place of pilgrimage and attracted many gifts and endowments. It became the richest landowner in the Lake Beloye region, owning some 60 villages, to be formally abolished by the Synod in 1798. In the 19th century a diminished area of the complex was enclosed by a brick wall. It reopened as a convent for nuns in 1904, but this was closed in 1924. It currently serves as the museum of the frescoes of Dionisii, opened in the first half of the 20th century, but greatly enlarged and improved since 1975.

There are six major elements in the complex of the Ferrapontov Monastery:

The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin (1490), the nucleus of the monastery, is a three-aisled structure surmounted by a dome, its slender proportions emphasized by vertical rows of pilasters. The upper parts of the facades are decorated with rows of balusters and ceramic plaques with floral ornamentation, while the lower portions bear fantastic masks and floral ornament reminiscent of the white limestone carvings of the Vladimir churches. The interior is divided by two rows of four stout pillars and the drum is supported by vaulting. The entire surface of the interior is covered by the mural paintings of Dionisii Mudrii (the Wise), arranged in rows that vary in size with the architectural elements of the building. There are also paintings on the exterior, in the central part of the western wall and in the lower part of the southern wall, above the grave of St Martinian.

The Church of the Annunciation (1530-31) and refectory was donated by the Great Prince Vassilii II to commemorate the birth of his heir, the future Ivan IV. It is the earliest example in northern Russia of a church surmounted by a bell tower. The two-storey Treasury Chamber is the oldest brick civil building in northern Russia. It was used for storing the monastery's documents and other treasures.

The Church of St Martinian (1641), characteristic of 17th-century Russian church architecture, was built above the grave of St Martinian, up against the southern wall of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin. In form it is a simple cube with an eight-faceted 'tent' or spire and a slender drum. It is lit from above, directing the daylight on the grave of the second founder of the monastery.

The small Gate Churches of the Epiphany and St Ferrapont (1650) are built around the double Holy Gates, and their structure is unusual. Their spires surmount the centre of the gate building and are supported on its walls rather than those of the churches themselves. The bell tower (1680s) crowns the building linking the refectory and the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin. It contains 17 bells and the spire contains a clock mechanism from 1638, the oldest in Russia.