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Picturesque site with ties to Lermontov

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This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.  You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.

The original headline for this article was: St. Avraam Gorodetsky Monastery: Picturesque site with ties to Lermontov


On the way to Soligalich in the northern part of Kostroma Region lies one of Russia’s most picturesque monasteries, located on a steep bluff overlooking the deep blue Lake Chukhloma. The monastery is dedicated both to the Intercession of the Virgin and to its founder, St. Avraamy of Gorodets. Also known as Avraamy of Galich and Avraamy of Chukhloma, this venerable sage led a monastic existence for much of the 14th century until his death in July 1375.

Avraamy was tonsured at the Nizhny Novgorod Cave Monastery, but he soon moved to the renowned Trinity Monastery to the north of Moscow. Like other Russian monastic pioneers in the 14th century, Avraamy was a disciple of St. Sergius of Radonezh (1322?-1392), founder of the Trinity Monastery and the avatar of Muscovite monasticism.

At some point in the middle of the century, Sergius gave his blessing to Avraamy’s departure for the Galich principality, far to the northeast of Moscow. In the area of Lake Galich and its nearby town, Avraamy established three monasteries, all of which would be reduced to simple parishes during the monastic reforms of Catherine the Great.

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Seeking greater isolation, Avraamy moved to the north shore of Lake Chukhloma, where he built a log chapel at the water’s edge. As other monks asked to join him, Avraamy gave his blessing to a community to be established on the bluff above his hermitag and a wooden church dedicated to the Intercession of the Virgin was built there. Sensing his impending death in the summer of 1375, Avraamy moved a short distance from the monastic community and passed away. His remains were interred at the Intercession Church.

During the 15th century, the monastery received donations from the region’s nobility, and from the princes of Galich and Moscow. Much of its income came from salt refining derived from the area’s many brine pools. Grand Prince Ivan III (the Great) also gave the monastery exclusive fishing rights in the late 15th century.

By 1553, Avraamy was locally venerated at what had become known as the Intercession-Avraamy Gorodetsky Monastery. (The Russian Orthodox Church has a system of locally venerated saints in addition to those whose sainthood is venerated throughout the Church.) In 1981, his sainthood was acknowledged by the church as a whole.

As was usual in Russia, the Gorodetsky Monastery for the first centuries of its existence was built entirely of wood. The monastery’s original masonry structure, the modest Church (Cathedral) of the Intercession, was begun in 1607 and consecrated in 1632. It is one of the few churches initiated during the brief reign (1606-1610) of Tsar Vasily Shuisky, who had the misfortune to rule during the dynastic crisis known as the Time of Troubles and died in 1612 as a prisoner of Polish King Sigismund III Vasa.

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The Intercession Cathedral also contained a chapel dedicated to the Prophet Elijah, as well as the remains of the venerable Avraamy. Vandalized during the Soviet period, the church itself survived, and its interior has been sensitively restored both with wall paintings and with a new icon screen.

By the mid 17th century, the monastery gained another brick church, dedicated to St. Nicholas and built over the Holy Gates, or main entrance, on the west side of the monastic compound. This church, with an additional altar to St. Paraskeva-Pyatnitsa, has also been restored.

During the reign of Catherine the Great, the Avraamy Gorodetsky Monastery was stripped of its landholdings, but continued to survive on local donations. In the 19th century, it further benefited from the large trading fairs (the Avraamy Fairs) that were held near the monastery several times each year.

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Indeed, the monastery’s regional prominence and favored location led to a surge of construction in the latter half of the 19th century. The first phase began in 1857 with the dismantling of the Chapel of the Prophet Elijah attached to the north wall of the Intercession Cathedral. In its place, a large cathedral dedicated to the locally revered Tenderness Icon of the Virgin was built during the decade from 1857 to 1867. Fortunately, the 17th-century Intercession Cathedral was preserved, and the two structures were connected by a passage.

The design of the new cathedral followed the Russo-Byzantine style developed by the prominent architect Constatine Thon, author of the original Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The structure, crowned with four large cupolas, has extensive paintings on its white facade. The interior is well illuminated and has a new icon screen.

After the completion of the Tenderness Icon Cathedral, work began in the 1870s on a grand four-tiered bell tower over the North Gate. Together with new cloisters, the 19th-century buildings transformed the monastery’s appearance.

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Following the Russian revolution, the monastery was subject to harassment throughout the 1920s and closed in 1929. During the Soviet period, the buildings were used for various purposes, including as a village school, but vandalism and lack of maintenance took their toll. The monastery walls and part of the St.Nicholas Gate Church were dismantled for brick by local villagers. An attempt to conserve the monastery in the early 1970s had only limited effect. Under these circumstances, it is something of a miracle that the historic structures were preserved at all.

A sustained revival of the Avraamy Gorodetsky Monastery began in 1990, and in 1991, the first liturgy was held. Since then, the monastery has regained its active status and attracts numerous pilgrims. Its three churches have been beautifully restored and the cloisters refurbished. Parts of the monastery cemetery, which was desecrated during the Soviet period, have also been reclaimed.

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One of the most interesting discoveries in the cemetery is a wooden chapel consecrated in 1997 to honor the 400thanniversary of the birth of George Learmonth, a Scottish mercenary who entered the service of Polish King Sigismund III Vasa during the Polish-Muscovite War (1609-1618). Captured by Prince Dmitry Pozharsky at the siege of the Bely Fortress in 1613, George Learmonth decided to enter Russian service, and after years of loyalty, was granted land in the Chukhloma area. Killed in battle against Polish forces in 1633, he was buried at the Avraamy Gorodetsky Monastery.

George Learmonth’s most famous descendant was one of Russia’s greatest writers, Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841). There is no evidence that the young poetic genius and author of the psychological masterpiece A Hero of Our Time (1838-1840) visited the monastery, yet its connection to his courageous Scottish forefather is now commemorated.         

Thanks to the efforts of the “Lermontov Heritage” Association (which includes Lermontov family descendants in the United States) as well as the support of the Diocese of Kostroma and Galich, a chapel-monument to the Lermontovs now stands on the sacred territory of the Intercession-Avraamy Gorodetsky Monastery.

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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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Ryanair reports €273m loss as passenger traffic rebounds

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Ryanair has reported a €273 million loss for its first quarter even as traffic rebounded during the period.

The carrier said it carried 8.1 million passengers in the three month period, which cover April to June. This compares to just 500,000 in the same period a year earlier.

Revenues increased 196 per cent from €125 million in the first quarter of 2020 to €371 million for the same quarter this year. Operation costs also rose however, jumping from €313 million to €675 million.

Net debt reduced by 27 per cent on the back of strong operating of €590 million.

“Covid-19 continued to wreak havoc on our business during the first quarter with most Easter flights cancelled and a slower than expected easing of EU travel restrictions into May and June,” said group chief executive Michael O’Leary.

“Based on current bookings, we expect traffic to rise from over five million in June to almost nine million in July, and over 10 million in August, as long as there are no further Covid setbacks in Europe,” he added.

Ryanair said the rollout of EU digital Covid certificates and the scrapping of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals to Britain from mid-July has led to a surge in bookings in recent week.

First quarter scheduled revenues increased 91 per cent to €192 million on the back of the rise in passenger traffic although this was offset by the cancellation of Easter traffic and a delay in the relaxation of travel restrictions.

Ancillary revenue generated approximately €22 per passenger the company said.

Mr O’Leary foresaw growth opportunities for the airline due to the collapse of many European airlines during the Covid crisis, and widespread capacity cuts at other carriers.

“We are encouraged by the high rate of vaccinations across Europe. If, as is presently predicted, most of Europe’s adult population is fully vaccinated by September., then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel for the second half of the fiscal year and well into 2022 – as is presently the case in domestic US air travel,” he said.

However, the airline warned the future remains challenging due to continued Covid restrictions and a lack of bookings and that this meant it was impossible to provided “meaningful” guidance at the time.

“We believe that full0year 2022 traffic has improved to a range of 90 million to 100 million (previously guided at the lower end of an 80 million to 120 million passenger range) and (cautiously) expect that the likely outcome for the year is somewhere between a small loss and breakeven. This is dependent on the continued rollout of vaccines this summer, and no adverse Covid variant developments,” said Mr O’Leary.

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Switzerland’s Credit Suisse settles with star banker over spying scandal

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CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign in February 2020 after admitting the bank had hired investigators to follow Khan, head of international wealth management, because he had opted to move to arch-rival, UBS.

As well as sending shockwaves through banking circles, the case sparked a criminal probe in Switzerland.

“All parties involved have agreed to end the case,” Credit Suisse spokeswoman Simone Meier told NZZ am Sonntag, which revealed the agreement.

Meier declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.

The public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich has also ended his investigation, as the complaints have been withdrawn, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Thiam’s resignation followed a torrid six-month scandal that began with revelations in the Swiss press that Khan had been shadowed by agents from a private detective company hired after he joined UBS. 

At one point, Khan physically confronted the people following him.

In October, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned, acknowledging at the end of an internal investigation that he “alone” had ordered the tailing without informing his superiors.

He had wanted to ensure that Khan was not trying to poach other employees, according to the internal investigation.

The case was reopened in December 2019 when the bank admitted to a second case of espionage, this time involving the former head of human resources, and then in February after media reports that the surveillance had also targeted the environmental organisation Greenpeace.



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