Two Poltava Churches Tied To Pivotal Battle
Story and Photographs by Robert Thomas
Situated in central Ukraine approximately 350 kilometers east of Kyiv the city of Poltava is a blend of old and new.
The site of one of the most historic battles – the Battle of Poltava July 9, 1709 - in the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721) Poltava is rich in a historic past while at the same time there is a large newer area of the city where modern housing exists in a blended fashion with Soviet era dwellings. There are approximately 270,000 inhabitants.
Approximately one-third of Poltava's economy is employed in various industries including food processing, forestry, manufacturing amongst others.
Although much of the original historic buildings are not original or reconstructions Poltava's historical core is a treasure trove of landmarks and churches seemingly all tied to the July day Peter the Great defeated Swedish forces breaking that country's hegemony in the region as well as the Baltic.
Two historical churches are tied to that battle.
Poltava does not have an international airport so access to the city is by car, bus or train. See how to take the train by reading this story.
Holy Cross Monastery
A short taxi 15 minute taxi ride – costing approximately $4 Canadian - from the cobblestone street city center is the Holy Cross Monastery.
The taxi trip itself is up a winding paved road reminiscent of a few roads made famous in San Francisco. There is a video below showing some of the taxi ride
The monastery was built in 1650 following the defeat of the Poles by local area officers and Cossacks. Although outside the city the monastery's cathedral's seven golden cuppolas and white walls seemingly dominate the landscape and draw your view to the hilltop from the lower older region of Poltava.
Constricted atop a large and predominant hillside the monastery was occupied by Swedish troops under command of King Charles XII. Upon the Swedish retreat the monastery's wooden structures were completed. The wooden structures were later replaced with stone structures.
During the time of the Soviet Union much of the monastery was destroyed with only the original bell tower and the cathedral spared.
The monastery no longer is occupied by monks but today it is a convent.
The grounds of the monastery are protected from the outside by a large stone wall surrounding the monastery.
Inside the stone walls there is the cathedral and two other reconstructed smaller churches representing the Holy Trinity.
The grounds are well kept by the nuns and feature well kept fruit trees and flowers in garden which are throughout the property.
Many tourists who have visited the monastery as serene, peaceful, healing and comforting.
Visitors are welcome to the monastery but if you should go please remember the monastery is not a museum or an amusement park it is a functioning retreat and place of worship. There is no admission charge.
As you walk into the monastery grounds and walk past the bell tower you will see to your left about 80 .Peters away a church store.
Inside the church store they sell icons, candles, crosses and other religious articles.
There are natural healing creams made from local ingredients by monks in a tradition centuries old.
Although it is a monastery and a place of worship a small selection of religious souvenirs such as reasonably priced fridge magnets with photos of the cathedral are available for purchase.
It needs to be noted the likelihood of finding anyone who can speak English is unlikely at the monastery.
The cathedral itself is open to the public but it needs to once again remember it is a house of worship and there are rules steeped in centuries of faith and tradition.
Women must wear a scarf over their heads, noise must be kept to s minimum, respect needs to be demonstrated to the icons, those praying or at worship and relics plus additionally photography and videotaping are not allowed. Cellphones must be turned off.
Additionally if it is Summer fo not expect to enter wearing shorts, cutoffs, revealing clothing or muscle shirts.
Although the monastery is part of the Ukrainian Orthodix Church it is under the Moscow Patriarch.
The cathedral houses the relics of a saint.
About a 15 minute walk from downtown Poltava is Saviour Church. The church is the oldest surviving building in the the city.
As the oldest building in Poltava the church holds historical significance as following the Battle of Poltava this is where Peter the First or Peter the Great went to offer thanks after defeating the Swedish army.
The church itself is quite unique in the fact it was originally a wooden structure which has been preserved in its entirety by building stone walks around it. This makes the church actually two buildings in one. Whike walking in the courtyard a visitor is walking on unmarked graves.
The church square is paved with brick and it holds a deep spiritual meaning as it was once a marked graveyard full of those killed in the Battle of Poltava. The grave markers were destroyed by the Bolsheviks after they seized power.
The courtyard features s separate prayer chapel to allow worshippers to go and light candles and pray. Once again as this is an active religious site dress modestly and sales must cover their heads before entering
In the prayer chapel there is a large selection of scarves which may be borrowed.
There is a modern - built in the last 26 years - non-original bell tower. During its construction human remains were found from the original graveyard surrounding the church.
Directly behind the church and across the street there is a monument commemorating where Peter the Great spent the night following the Battle Poltava.
NEXT - A trip to the Battle of Poltava national historic site