A well seasoned approach to travel and food

Monastery On A Hill

July 31, 2019

At 9:00 a.m. sharp, Anna from Lviv Buddy was waiting in front of my apartment building.  We were off on a trip out of Lviv to visit the Pochayiv Lavra, the second largest monastery in Ukraine.  While not as high in the monastery hierarchy as the Lavra in Kyiv, it is the holiest place in Western Ukraine.  I really can’t compare the two because the church interiors at the Kyiv Lavra were off-limits due to the pilgrimage and we were able to go into all of them in Pochayiv.  It is beyond gorgeous. 

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with Anna.  She has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and di her thesis on religious icons and their use as personal, familial, and more global protection.  Anna worked at the university, where her salary was less than $200 per month.  Although she is clearly overqualified, she makes more money in tourism than in the profession for which she was educated.  She is smart, funny, very sweet, and an excellent guide.  We got along swimmingly.

It was a two-hour drive from Lviv to Pochayiv, so we broke it up with a stop at an auto stop along the highway for coffee (water for me) and the best maple pastry I’ve ever had.  The auto stop was no Buc-ee’s, but it did have an area to sit while eating a snack and chatting.  Something to consider Buc-ee’s!

The road wasn’t necessarily the best.  It seems some money needs to be allocated to Western Ukraine’s infrastructure.  By the time we arrived in the town of Pochayiv, my insides had been seriously bounced around.

The first thing I learned at the Lavra is that they are a lot stricter about the dress code here than in Kyiv.  While I had to cover my hair at the other Lavra, here I needed to cover my pants and my hair.  Anna loaned me a scarf for my head, but we both had to rent “skirts” before the guard would allow us to pass through the gates. 

An old lady would later whisper to Anna during mass that women who wear pants and carry cell phones are full of the devil.  At that moment, not understanding Ukrainian came in handy as she was speaking of me and I was none the wiser.

Portions of the Lavra are undergoing renovation, but we were able to see everything we wanted to see.  The grounds are lovely and the views from the top of the hill were expansive.

The church interiors were breathtaking.

We caught portions of mass as we entered the various churches.  Since it is a working monastery, there are enough priests and monks to say mass in all of them, at the same time.  Mass had just completed when we arrived at the underground church (no photos allowed), so we were even able to walk through the attached caves.  Mummified remains are entombed in a glass casket just as they had been in the Lavra in Kyiv.

In one of the churches, both Anna and I kneeled to accept the blessing of an ancient-looking, stooped-over priest.  I had seen others kiss his cross and then he would use it to make the sign of the cross over each person – or so I thought.  When it was my turn, I kissed the cross, then he took it and whacked my head with it three times.  Not what I expected.  As I watched him do the same thing to the others around me, I was glad to know I hadn’t been singled out to be smacked.  After all, I was wearing pants and wielding a cell phone.

The most famous icons associated with the Pochayiv Lavra are the Mother of God icon that hangs over the altar in the Uspensky Cathedral and the footprint of the Virgin Mary.  Both are said to work miracles.

The Virgin Mary’s footprint

Although many guidebooks say that you can’t take photographs except on the grounds, you can add on a “photo pass” to your ticket for a few extra hryvnias.  You just can’t use flash.  The pass came in handy as I took a lot of photographs.  We were only asked once if we had permission to take photographs – Anna showed our passes and everything seemed fine.

Once we had covered just about every inch of the monastery where we were allowed, we met our driver and went for a lunch of borsch and potato pancakes (with sour cream) in the town.

On our way to Pidkamin to see “something special,” we had the driver pull over so we could take photographs of the sunflower fields.  The fields were not as nice as ones we had seen earlier, but it didn’t stop us from snapping photos.

We arrived in Pidkamin.  Anna and the driver (I totally forget his name) started using their navigation apps to try and find the right road to take us to the top of the hill.  We got halfway up when the road became so bad, our van couldn’t go any further.  Anna and I got out and walked up the remainder of the hill.  As we came around a tree, the “something special” popped into view.  It was a giant rock sitting in a wide-open space at the top of the hill.  There were Cossack gravestones and stone crosses scattered about.

Pidkamin, when translated, means “below the rock.”  The rock is out of place as there is nothing like it for miles around.  Some say that it had to have been dropped there by the devil himself.  Anna and I were the only ones on the top of that hill.  It was quiet, there was a slight breeze blowing, and the views of the farmer’s fields far below were amazing.

On the adjacent hill, we could see the Dominican Monastery, which would be our next stop.

Established in the 13th century, the Dominican Monastery (now a part of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was sacked and put to ruins several times over its lifetime.  Depending on its ownership, it has been a monastery, a stable, a prison, and a psychiatric hospital. 

Currently, the back portion of the grounds is still used as a psychiatric hospital for about 50 patients.  The remainder of the grounds is under renovation although when we were there, there was very little activity.  While we weren’t able to get inside any of the buildings, Anna and I had free run of wandering the grounds. 

The location of the monastery is wonderful and I only hope the renovations pick up speed.  They will have to fix the state of the roads though if they want to increase the number of tourists visiting.

As much as I tried not to, I dozed off on the way back to Lviv.  One minute I was listening to Ukrainian pop music, the next I was out like a light.  I woke up long enough for Anna to point out a castle way off in the distance.  Perhaps it’s one of the ones I am visiting in a couple of days.

It was a wonderful day in inspirational places with a great guide.  I really love traveling.