Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra: 2 posts

Postcard from Ukraine : Lavra and Cornflowers

One of my first rituals on returning to Kyiv is to visit the Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra, the 11th century Monastery of the Caves, to see the painting of Ukrainian artist Kateryna Bilokur (1900-1961) in The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art. At a time when the only acceptable art style was socialist realist, her paintings of flowers were subversive. She was refused admittance to art school or even a transfer out of her village, although her paintings were exhibited abroad as a showcase for the success of Communism–“see, even our peasants can create art.” Pablo Picasso once said of her work, “If we had an artist of this level of skill, we would make the whole world talking about her!”

Those of you who shall be joining me on the Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this year will be discovering more about Ukrainian art as part of the trip. And those who are planning a trip to Kyiv shouldn’t miss a visit to the Lavra complex. I recommend setting aside a whole day for it, because besides The Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art and the stunning churches (each with different wall paintings), you can descend into the caves bearing the remnants of the saints who came to this hill above the Dnieper River as early as 1057.

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Scented Saints, Written Images, Endangered Heritage

Beautiful sillage is a sign of sainthood in the Orthodox tradition. The fragrance, or mirro (holy myrrh), can be emitted by real life saints, saint’s relics or even icons, painted images of saints. It’s common even today to hear stories of icons shedding myrrh and filling the whole church with the heavenly scent. Such events are called thaumata, a Greek word for wonders. They’re not miracles in the supernatural sense like walking on water or feeding 4,000 with seven loaves of bread. Thaumata are everyday marvels, brief glimpses of the divine through the veil covering us. The same kind of wonder is held responsible for icons, because to paint a saint it’s not enough simply to have artistic skills. One has to be inspired.

lavra-artist-studio1

“I didn’t mean to become an icon painter. It was never my goal as an art student. I can’t explain it, but in the end, that’s just what happened,” says Natalya Gladovska, an icon painter at the Lavra Art Studios. My mental image of an icon painter owes much to Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev–a somber bearded monk in black robes. Gladovska laughs when I tell her so. She’s warm and bubbly, and everything about her, down to her tendrils of abundant red hair escaping from a loose bun, is filled with energy and verve.

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