Museum of Dionisys Frescoes

The Museum of Dionisy’s Frescoes is situated in the architectural ensemble of the Ferapontov monastery (St. Ferapont’s monastery) of the 15th-19th centuries in the village Ferapontovo of the Kirillov district of the Vologda Region. The village is located at a distance of 1,5 km from the road of federal importance Vologda – Vytegra, 20 km from Kirillov, 115 km from Vologda, 600 km from Moscow and 650 km from Saint-Petersburg. You can reach it going by bus from Vologda, Tcherepovets and Kirillov. Guests can stay in the hotel or private sector. In the village there are grocery stores and a house of culture.

An attempt to create a museum related to 1917-1918. Ivan and Veniamin Brilliantov, the sons of the local priest of the St. Prophet Elijah’s church, were its initiators. In the 1920-s the museum of Ferapontovo formed a part of the “Kirillo-Belozersky and Ferapontov museum-monasteries”.Since 1975 it was called “Museum of Dionisy’s frescoes”. This name was connected with its main sights - frescoes in the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral created in 1502 by the outstanding Russian icon-painter Dionisy. In 1997 the monuments of the museum of Dionisy’s frescoes, the branch of the Federal State Cultural institution “Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve for history, architecture and art”, were included into the List of the most precious objects of cultural heritage of the peoples of Russia. The museum of Dionisy’s frescoes is the laureate of the contest “Window into Russia”. According to the results of the contest in 1998 it became one of the five best provincial museums in Russia. In 2000 the architectural ensemble of the Ferapontov monastery with Dionisy’s frescoes was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 1992 the territory of the monastery became a part of the National Reserve Park “Russian North”. The nearest monuments of nature are the moraine Tsypina hill (its height is 80 metres above the foot and 205 metres above sea level) and Lake Borodaevskoye, formed by the melted ice “river” (it is the second deepest lake in the National park - 27 metres).

The Ferapontov monastery was founded simultaneously with the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery in the late 14th - early 15th centuries when two monks of the Moscow Simonov (St. Simon’s) monastery settled in the Belozersk district. Later on, in 1408 Ferapont left Kirill and went to the place between two lakes, Borodoevskoye and Paskoye, where the Ferapontov monastery appeared. Already in the 15th century the monasteries of the Belozersk district became prominent cultural, religious and educational centres of Russia in the Volga Region. Kirill died in 1427 in his monastery, and Ferapont passed away in 1426 far from his favourite places in the Luzhetsky monastery of Mozhaisk which he had founded at the request of the appanage prince Andrei Dmitrievich.

The Ferapontov monastery became well-known thanks to the activity of St. Kirill’s disciple St. Martinian, a peasant son Mikhail Stomonahov. Being the Father Superior of the Ferapontov monastery Martinian gave spiritual support to the Grand Prince of Moscow Basil II who was in exile in the Vologda Region. His pilgrimage to the Belozersk monasteries together with his family acquainted him with local ascetics.
In 1447-1455 Martinian became the confessor of Basil II, who had ascended the Moscow throne again, and the Father Superior of the Trinity-St.Sergius Lavra. The last decades of his life the saint spend in the Belozersk district having turned the Ferapontov monastery into a real religious centre: a library of manuscripts was created there; chronicles and encyclopaedic collections were compiled. St. Martinian’s disciples, the hierarchs of the Russian church, took active part in the internal life of the Russian centralized state in the late 15th – early 16th century: the Archbishop of Rostov and Yaroslavl Ioasaph (Obolensky), the Bishop of Perm and Vologda Philophey, the Bishop of Suzdal Ferapont. At the same time the Greek prince Konstantin Mavnukski, the founder of the Kassian hermitage near Uglich, took the monastic vows under the name Kassian the Greek there. Spiridon-Savva, the famous scribe and metropolitan, and God's fool Galaktion, the locally venerated saint who foretold the conquest of Kazan by Ivan IV, lived in the Ferapontov monastery.

Martinian died in 1483 and was buried at the southern wall of the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral. 30 years later during the burial of his disciple Ioasaph Martinian’s relics were found there. A shrine and evidently a wooden church were erected over them. In 1641 the wooden building was replaced by a stone church of St. Martinian with a tent-shaped roof and expressive laconic architecture. The saint’s relics are still in the church and above them there is a small fresco created by Dionisy on the once exterior wall of the stone cathedral – “the Virgin with the suppliant archangels, St. Nickolas the miracle-worker, Ss. Ferapont and Martinian”. The iconostasis and the wall-painting date back to the middle of the 19th century.

In 1490 the Rostov craftsmen constructed the first stone church in the Ferapontov monastery - the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral which turned out to be the first stone structure in the Belozersk district. 12 years later, in August-September 1502, the cathedral was decorated with frescoes by the outstanding icon-painter of Ancient Rus Dionisy the Wise with his sons.

The 16th century was the time of flourishing of the Ferapontov monastery. Along with the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery it became a traditional place of worship. Charters of the secular and spiritual authorities witnessed the Russian nobility’s attention to the monastery. In 1528 Basil III and Elena Glinskaya came there to pray for the birth of an heir. Their son Ivan IV visited the monastery twice in 1547 and 1553. Among those who made rich donations we can mention the Staritskys, the Kubenskys, the Lykovs, the Belskys, the Shuiskys, the Vorotynskys, the Godunovs, the Sheremetevs, members of higher clergy from Rostov, Vologda, Belozersk and Novgorod.

The construction of the second stone structure in the monastery – the church of the Annunciation with a belfry and a two-storeyed refectory – was supposedly connected with the birth of the future tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1530. A carved inscription on the church board tells us about its erection in 1530-1531. Surprisingly integrated and adjusted architecture with the skilful use of scanty decorative details show mastery of the Russian architect Grigoriy Borisov. His works are known thanks to many monuments in the Rostov eparchy, in particular, in the monastery of Transfiguration in Yaroslavl. The one-pier refectory of the Ferapontov monastery with communal charter was the place where the brethren and guests gathered for meal. Original objects and copies telling us about the history and artistic monuments of the Ferapontov monastery – icons, books printed in Russia before the 18th century, fragments of the interior, chasubles of St. Martinian and the shrine of the 16th – 17th centuries from his grave – are represented in the exhibition of the refectory. A one-pier lower storey of the refectory with the extant brickwork of the vaults served as a cellar for storing household supply and equipment. The museum displays a part of cultural heritage of the peasants in the Feraponvoto neighbourhood there. In the beginning of the 17th centuries about 60 villages, 100 waste grounds, more than 300 serfs belonged to the monastery. Weaving-looms, distaffs, a stone idol, mortars, vats, fabrics are the material traces of life of the local peasantry whose labour nourished the monastery which became the cultural centre of the Russian North.

One of the best surviving civil buildings was constructed in the monastery in the 16th century – a stone two-storeyed treasury chamber with the archives being stored on its upper floor. It was replaced by the library of the monastery which contained about 30 thousand volumes. Its basis was formed by three large collections of books: of the art critic V.I. Antonova, the historian and academician L.V. Cherepnin and one part of the library belonging to the Moscow publishing house “Soviet artist”. Every year several exhibitions of modern artists whose creative activity is connected with the Ferapontovo localities are organized on the ground floor of the treasury chamber.

Having recovered from the Lithuanian destruction in the middle of the 17th century the monastery erected three tent-shaped buildings which were practically not reconstructed later - the church of St. Martinian, the Holy Gates with the gateway churches, the belfry. The gateway church which came down to us with its unaltered interior was the home church of Patriarch Nikon for 8 years. The reformer of the Russian church spent 10 years in exile in the Ferapontov monastery (1666-1676).

Since 1989 the over-the-gate church of Epiphany with a side-chapel dedicated to St. Ferapont has been given to the orthodox community for services. They are also performed in the St. Martinian’s church on the days of great church feasts. People have free access to the shrine of the saint for worship.

The last construction of the monastery was the belfry built in the 1680-s with the most ancient mechanism of the striking clock of 1638. Thanks to the efforts of master Y.P.Platonov the chime was restored in 1990.

As a result of the reforms carried out by Catherine the Great the monastery lost its lands. Having fallen into decay it was closed in 1798 and turned into a parish church. In the 19th century when there was a parish there, the decreased territory was enclosed with a stone wall constructed with the bricks of dismantled 16th century buildings.

In 1904 the Ferapontov monastery was revived as a convent owning to the efforts of the Mother Superior of the Leushinsky convent Taisiya, the spiritual daughter of St. Ioann Kronstadsky. The “All-Russian Father”, as Father Ioann was called, visited it several times. In the course of the October Revolution transformations affected the convent as well: in 1918 the Mother Superior Seraphima, the priest Ioann Ivanov and the Kirillov bishop Varsonofy were shot (They were all canonized in 2000). The convent was closed again in 1924.

Scientific study and publication of the monuments of the Ferapontov monastery started after the book of I.I. Brilliantov dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the ancient cloister had appeared in 1898. The monastery began to attract attention of architects, artists, scientists, museum workers, lovers of the antique as a monument of the Old Russian architecture with the only surviving frescoes of the Moscow icon-painter Dionisy the Wise. In 1912 the restoration work designed by K. Romanov and P. Pokryshkin was started and in spite of all difficulties it was completed in the 1920-s. A new stage of the restoration was begun in the 1970-s. The current architectural restoration is directed to complete the works of the previous stages and to carry out museemfication of the monuments.

The book of honorary guests of the Ferapontov monastery has been kept since 1911. Impressions of many famous people who visited the monastery were reflected there: the native of Ferapontovo I.I. Brilliantov, V.T. Georgievskiy, the author of the first monograph about the Dionisy’s frescoes; artists A. Makovskiy, N. Tyrsy, K. Petrov-Vodkin, L. Stelletskiy, restores and scientists I. Grabar, A. Anisimov, G. Tchirikov, V. Lazarev. M. Alpatov, I. Danilova, ecclesiastics starting with the educated Novgorod Archbishop Arseniy Stadnitskiy and ending with the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexi II.

The Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral in the Ferapontov monastery occupies a special place in the history of the Russian culture. According to the text on the northern door this church was decorated with frescoes by Dionisy and his sons during 34 days - from the 6th of August till the 8th of September in 1502.

After the famous wall-paintings of the 12th-15th centuries in Novgorod (Nereditsa, Volotovo, Kovalevo, Skovorodka) had been destroyed by the fascists during the World War II, Dionisy’s frescoes remained the only completely surviving ensemble of murals of Ancient Rus. They are especially important because they had never been renovated and cleared and preserved their inimitable beauty, colour and style.

The wall-painting of the cathedral covers about 600 square metres. The individuality of Dionisy’s frescoes is expressed in the tonal richness of soft colours, rhythmical and subject harmony, numerous compositions with architectural divisions of the cathedral. The thematic cycles (Nativity of the Virgin, Akathist Hymn to the Virgin, Works of the Church Fathers, Ecumenical councils, Last Judgment and others) inside and outside of the church, the diversity of colours and philosophic depth give an opportunity to define the wall-painting in the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral as “theology in colours’. Since 1981 the specialists-restores have been carrying out research and conservation works, exercising supervision of the temperature, humidity and conditions of the primer coat and layer of paint. These works formed a scientific basis for the preservation of Dionisy’s frescoes as a national treasure of Russia, a monument of the world culture. They were awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation in 1999.

In 2002 the only surviving wall-painting representing the Old Russian art in the formation period of the unified Russian state in the late 15th – early 16th centuries, turned 500 years.

Contacts of the museum:

Address:161100, Vologda Region, Kirillov district, Ferapontovo village, Kargopolskaya St., 8.

How to get there:from Moscow to Vologda or Tcherepovets by train (about 500 kilometres), then to Kirillov by bus (about 100 kilometres) and then to the village Ferapontovo also by bus (20 kilometres).

Opening hours:

From September 1 to May 31 - 9 a.m. – 17 p.m.; from June 1 to August 31 – 9 a.m – 20 p.m. Closed on Monday. In summer it is opened every day.

Telephone:(81757) 49-261

Main officials:

Director of the branch:
Parshukova Irina Nikolaevna, tel.
(81757) 4-93-85

Curator of the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral:
Shelkova Elena Nikolaevna,tel.