Ferapontov Monastery. (The St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery)
The St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery of the Virgin Nativity was set up at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries during an era of expansion of the political authority of the Moscow principality and for 400 years was one of the leading cultural, religious and educational centres of Belozero region.
The history of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery at some key moments coincides with the important historic events of the formation of the Russian centralized state and major historic episodes that took place in Moscow in the 15th-17th centuries: the capture and blinding of Grand Prince Vassily II the Dark; the strengthening of the authority of the “monarch of All Rus” Ivan III; the birth and rule of the first Russian tsar Ivan IV, the proclamation of the new royal dynasty of the Romanovs and the exile of Patriarch Nikon.
Traditionally, the year of 1398 is generally acknowledged as the year of the foundation of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery. During this time, an adherent of St. Cyril of Belozero Ferapont settled down on a hill between the two lakes, Borodoevskoye and Paskoye. Several years later, at the urgent request of the Belozero Grand Prince Andrei Dmitrievich, Ferapont had to leave for Mozhaisk, near Moscow, where he founded his second monastery, the Luzhetsky.
The St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery was well-known thanks to the activity of St. Cyril’s disciple St. Martinian who was the confessor of Vassily II and the hegumen of the Trinity St. Sergius Monastery in 1447-1455.
In the late 15th and early 16th centuries the Ferapontov monastery became a significant spiritual, cultural and ideological centre of Belozero region, one of the most famous Volga monasteries, whose elders exerted a considerable influence on the policy of Moscow.
Along with the St. Cyril Belozero Monastery it becomes the traditional site of worship and donations of the Russian feudal elite (Andrei and Mikhail of Mozhaisk, Vassily III, Ivan IV and others). At the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries the monastery produced prominent hierarchs of the Russian Church, notably, Archbishop of Rostov and Yaroslavl Joasaphus (Obolensky), Bishop of Perm and Vologda Philotheus, Bishop of Suzdal Ferapont, who actively participated in the life of the country.
At the same time, major religious figures who attempted to assert the superiority of church over state (Metropolitan Spiridon-Savva, Patriarch Nikon) were exiled here. Book calligraphers Martinian, Spiridon, Paisy, Matthew, Efrosyn as well as icon painter Dionisy worked here.
Throughout the 16th century, the monastery flourished, which can be inferred from the donations and patents given by secular and spiritual authorities, above all Ivan IV. Vassily III, Elena Glinskaya and Ivan IV came here to worship. The monastery donation book, started in 1534, names among donors “the Staritskys, the Kubenskys, the Lykovs, the Belskys, the Shuiskys, the Vorotynskys … the Godunovs and the Sheremetevs” along with high clergy from Siberia, Rostov, Vologda, Belozero and Novgorod.
The monastery grew in importance with the recovery of St. Martinian’s relics and his further canonization which increased endowments and income. At the beginning of the 17th century, the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery, the largest proprietor in Belozero region, owned a few country settlements (selo), around 60 villages, 100 uncultivated land plots and over 300 peasants.
In 1490, the construction of the first stone cathedral in Belozero initiated the creation of the stone ensemble of the Ferapontov monastery of the 15th-17th centuries.
In the 16th century, the monumental Church of the Annunciation with a refectory, treasury chamber and auxiliary premises were built. Having recovered from the Lithuanian devastation in the middle of the 17th century, the monastery erected the churches above the Holy Gates , the Church of St. Martinian and the bell-tower.
In 1798, by the Synod decree, the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery was disbanded.
In the 19th century, during the parish period, the decreased territory was enclosed with a stone wall.
In 1904, it was revived as a convent, but soon closed down in 1924.
At present, the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery houses the Museum of Dionisy’s Frescoes that opened at the beginning of the 20th century and in the 1930s – 1960s employed just one guard to protect the whole collection. Since 1975 a modern type of museum has been evolving. It has turned into a scientific research and educational centre that promotes knowledge and information on the unique monuments of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery via various museum means. At the end of 2000, the ensemble of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery with Dionisy’s frescoes was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The ensemble of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery
The complex of the monuments of the St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery with Dionisy’s frescoes is a rare instance of an intact and stylistically unified northern Russian monastery of the 15thand 16th centuries featuring particular characteristics of its architecture of the period of consolidation of the Russian centralized state. The St. Ferapont Belozero Monastery ensemble is a striking example of harmony with the surrounding countryside that has not much changed since the 17th century, the harmony that reflects a special spiritual order of northern monasticism and at the same time displays features of northern peasantry.
The monastery buildings are perhaps the only buildings in the Russian North that have preserved décor and interior details.