St. Nil Sorsky and the Hermitage Founded by him

On May 20, 2008, we marked the 500th anniversary of the death of the Great Russian saint Nil Sorsky, monk of the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery, founder of skete communities (hermitages) in Russia. The regional exhibition “St. Nil Sorsky and the Hermitage Founded by him” was opened in the Kirillo-Belozersky museum-reserve on May 18, on the occasion of this significant date. It was housed in the recently restored two stories of the bell tower – the architectural monument of the 18th century.

The displayed articles came from the holdings of the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve, the Vologda Museum-Preserve and the Cherepovets Museum Association.

A considerable part of icons, books, liturgical fabrics and other historical monuments was delivered to the Kirillo-Belozersky museum in the late 1920s - early 1930s after the closing the St. Nil Sorsky monastery. Some of them were displayed at permanent and temporary expositions of the museum. The exhibition “The Hermitage of Nil Sorsky” was open in the Treasury Chamber of the Kirillo-Belozersky museum-reserve in 1992-1993. It presented 66 exhibits, including 10 icons and 30 books. Over 100 monuments of history and culture, including 27 icons and 58 books, were displayed at the exhibition “St. Nil Sorsky and the Hermitage Founded by him”.

G.O. Ivanova, director of the museum, noted that the atmosphere of the rooms, where the exhibition was housed, was in tune with its content. The choir of the Nativity of Christ Church (Cherepovets) performed a music and literary composition about the life and righteous deeds of St. Nil Sorsky at the opening ceremony of the display. Archbishop of Vologda and Veliky Ustiug Maximilian greeted all guests who attended it.

The exhibition consisted of two sections: “St. Nil Sorsky” and “The monastery of St. Nil Sorsky”. Such rare things as a hair shirt and beads which belonged to St. Nil Sorsky according to the legend, held a special place in the first section. They had exceptional historical value as the material evidence of the great ascetic’s life. The hair shirt knitted of scratchy wool was worn next to the skin for mortification of the flesh. It was kept in the Cathedral of the Tikhvin Icon of the Virgin near the saint’s shrine in a special glassed case in the 19th – early 20th century. Sick persons put in on to recover when praying to St. Nil. The beads were kept next to the hair shirt. They look like a cord with knots – the ancient kind of the beads. The base of the shrine and two wooden carved figures of angels which supported the canopy over the shrine were exhibited in the museum. Literary works of Saint Nil were presented in the publications of the 19th century.

One of the most remarkable displayed icons was the image of the hermitage founder painted by the 19th-century ascetic Nil. St. Nil Sorsky was depicted in the schemamonk’s clothes like Ephrem the Syrian. This saint was especially venerated in the hermitage. You could see the patronal icon of the ancient wooden church of Ephrem the Syrian at the display.

Thanks to participation of the Vologda Museum-Preserve and the Cherepovets Museum Association, icons of St. Nil Sorsky’s contemporaries - St. Innokenty Komelsky and St. Joseph Volotsky - were also exhibited there.

The display included both individual images of St. Nil Sorsky and his images in the pair and many-figured compositions. Small icons of St. Nil Sorsky originating from different places were evidence of his great veneration.

The icons from the churches of the St. Nil Sorsky monastery, including the iconostases of the wooden churches of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and of St. John the Baptist and the stone Cathedral of the Tikhvin Icon of the Virgin, were of particular interest in the second section of the exhibition.

The Iverskaya Icon of the Mother of God which was the copy of the icon from the Valday Iversky Monastery was painted by hieromonk Nikon, builder of the St. Nil Sorsky monastery, during his exile to the cloister founded by Patriarch Nikon.

Many icons were first displayed at the exhibition. All presented icons from the collection of the Kirillo-Belozersky museum were restored by the artists-restorers A.R. Polyakov and N.N. Fedyshin. Some icons from the St. Nil Sorsky monastery will be restored in future.

Manuscripts and early printed books of the library of the St. Nil Sorsky monastery made up almost a half of all exhibits. By the estimate of A.V. Smirnova, research officer of the Kirillo-Belozersky museum, the museum collection contained 510 books, including 27 manuscripts and 244 printed books coming from the St. Nil Sorsky monastery. The commemoration list of the monastery was of great interest. The names of Saints Kirill, Nil and Innokenty were mentioned in its most ancient part. Besides, there were names of donors and venerators of the hermitage. The exhibition presented four Gospels decorated with precious covers; one of them was given by Princess Olga Masalskaya. A silver plate donated by the monk of the Kirillo-Belosersky monastery Mardary to the St. Nil Sorsky monastery was a rare exhibit of the display.

You could also see manuscripts, documents and photographs of monks of the St. Nil Sorsky monastery of the 19th – early 20th centuries, for example: an autobiography of the monk Nikon (secular name Nikolay Prikhudaylov (1801-1870)); notes of his cell-attendant hierodeacon Gerasim (secular name Gleb Nikitin (1831-1913)); a service record of Father Superior Ilarion (secular name Ivan Kozlov (1862-1937)); a photo of hieromonk Innokenty (secular name Ivan Kalinin (1886-1939)). It was exactly monk Ioann (Kalinin) who published two works about the history of the St. Nil Sorsky monastery – “Description of the St. Nil Sorsky Monastery of the Novgorod Eparchy” (1913) and “The St. Nil Sorsky Monastery and Its Ascetics” (1914). They were also displayed at the exhibition.

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