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Ensemble of the Ferrapontov Monastery

Cultural criteria: i, iv
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 2000

St. Therapontus Monastery is situated in the north of the European part of Russia, in Vologodskaya oblast, more than 400 km to north of Moscow.

At the end of the XIV century a monk Therapontus from Moscow Simonov Monastery looking for seclusion visited the vast area of Lake Beloye. Then he returned there with father superior of his monastery St. Cyril, follower of Sergius of Radonezh. They settled on the shores of the small Siverskoye Lake, where subsequently St. Cyril founded a monastery called the Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery. But Therapontus did not stay long with St. Cyril and in 1398 not far from here, on the shores of Borodavskoye Lake, founded his own Monastery of St.Therapontus. And in 1409 the first wooden structure was raised here - a church. After Therapontus’ death, hegumen of this monastery became his follower Martinian, under whom the monastery expanded, having also become a big centre for the enlightenment: here was a big library, books were rewritten, known church hierarchs visited this place.

The architectural ensemble of the Monastery of St.Therapontus, as compared with many other cloisters in the north of Russia, is notable for compactness and quite small dimensions, and it was mainly formed in the XV - XVII centuries. This complex comprises 6 main stone, small wall-enclosed structures: The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (1490), the Church of the Annunciation with a refectory (1530-34), the Government palace (the middle of the XVI century), the Church of St. Martinian (1640-41), “Holy doors” with two gateway churches (1649-50) and a belfry (the 1680s).

The oldest structure of this ensemble – the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin – a traditional for the Russian North one-domed church with a covered arcade. It is also the most famous because approximately in 1502 the painter Dionysius (born approximately in 1440, dead after 1503), who had already had by that time wide experience and gained prominence, together with three sons, created here his famous frescoes covering the whole internal space of the church from floor to ceiling. The total area of paintings is 600 square meters

Art historians note that “in Dionysius’ frescoes gracefulness and measure, concord and nobleness, harmony and light are reigning.” And indeed, all the painted figures’ lightness, “airiness” are amazing, being made with a refined combination of tender paints – pink, white, green, purple, violet, ocherous, with a predominance of blue color.

Majority of frescoes is devoted to Mother of God, for example, the outer part of the west wall is decorated by a beautiful image, dedicated to the feast of Mother of God. The most sacred place of the church – altar – is also decorated by the image of Mother of God: Here she appears in regal and divine aspect, with the child Jesus in her arms, and surrounded by genuflectory angels. Many paintings are devoted to evangelic subjects – instructive philosophic stories about Christ’s birth and life, and about miracles made by him. These are, for example, frescoes: “The Journey of the Magi”, “The Adoration of the Magi”, “The Healing of the Bleeding”, “The Healing of Two Blind Men”, “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” etc. Here one can also see the composition named “The Last Judgement” representing sinners, Hades, Satan etc.

It is noteworthy that the mural painting of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin that is 500 years of age, – is the only (of the extant ones) large-scale and integral work by Dionysius, the greatest representative of Moscow mediaeval school of painting. It is very important to note that these frescoes have never been seriously restored, time spared them as well. So they remained almost in a primordial state, and their special all-Russian and global value lies just in this fact.

The monastery itself represents a model of the monastery complex of the XV-XVII centuries in a good state of preservation, i.e. of the period of great importance for formation of Russian state and its culture development.

Remote from central regions of the country, the Monastery of St.Therapontus often became a place of disgraced church figures’ exile. At the end of the XV century the Metropolitan of Kiev Spiridion was in exile here, and in 1666–1676 the Patriarch Nikon languished here, initiator of reforming the church, which caused a schism in the Russian Orthodox Church.

Subsequently the monastery began to decline, and at the end of the XVIII century it was closed. In the early XX century it was revived, and became a convent, but in 1923 it was closed again. Now in the Monastery of St.Therapontus the museum of Dionysus's frescoes is functioning, being a branch of the Kirillov-Belozersky historical-architectural and art reserve museum; here, to the settlement of Ferapontovo, every year thousands of tourists come, but officiating takes place here as well.