This trip is intended as a comprehensive educational course on the development, tradition and various historical schools of Russian iconography presented in frescoes, stone and wood carvings, but most importantly in icons. Along with most of the major museum collections, containing masterpieces representing the very beginning of Russian iconography through the eighteenth century, we will visit several restoration workshops and icon/fresco studios where modern Russian iconographers are working on resurrecting the centuries-old tradition of the Russian Icon. The emphasis of our tour is definitely on the Icon, and for that we concentrate most of our trip on exploring numerous places where religious art is most brilliantly and explicitly present.
Along our tour we will see a lot of sites in both world famous and very secluded locations of rural Russia. Sometimes it will be done at the expense of not having "enough" free time for "souvenir shopping" or by overlooking the major tourist attractions. Knowledgeable travelers have to understand that it is impossible to cover everything along our way, but even under such circumstances group members will, in addition to a comprehensive study of the Russian Icon, get a good idea of the Russian Church and secular history that impacted religious art. Although we’ll be dealing for the most part with realities of Eastern Christian Church Art, every iconophile is welcome aboard.The only forewarning for a prospective traveler is to be prepared for a lot of walking during incredibly interesting and educational, but long, days.
Day 1: Group arrives to Moscow. Transfer to the hotel for dinner and o/n. Includes: (D).
Day 2: We will start our day with a visit to magnificent Moscow Kremlin. While all of the cathedrals are interesting and significant for our exploration, special attention will be devoted to the Dormition Cathedral - important for its age and its role in Russian church and state history. It is also very important as a museum since it houses a very fine collection of the earliest Russian icons. After a short break for lunch we will visit the Red Square with its famous Cathedral of the Protection of the Theotokos, more famously known as St. Basil’s, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, rebuilt just 15 years ago and the Chapel of our Lady of Iveron. Then we will explore the main church of the Sretenskiy (Holy Meeting) Monastery with some fine 17 century frescoes and modern Iconostasis. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 3: Today we’ll tour the best icon collection in the world that is housed in the Tretyakov gallery. We plan to spend several hours here, with some free time for lunch at the museum’s cafeteria. In the afternoon we will visit Novodevichiy Convent, with its magnificent iconostasis and frescoes that are preserved undisturbed from the 17th century. We’ll end our day with a visit to Arbat Street for some book and souvenir shopping. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 4: We will start our day with a visit to the church of St. Simeon, one of the most perfectly restored medieval gems of Moscow. Then we will explore the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. This Cathedral is marked in all tour books as a “must see” attraction. And it is indeed so. But few people know that along with its mammoth glory it contains some of the nicest modern icons in its lower church and fascinating collection of the Medieval Byzantine and Russian Icons in one of its galleries. After lunch we will visit Andronikov Monastery, home to the second largest (and probably second best) collection of Russian Medieval Art and Novo-Spasskiy (Savior’s “New”) Monastery, another significant religious site in Moscow, also adorned with an iconostas and frescoes from the 17th century. Later in the evening, we will transfer to the town of Sergiev Posad where we will stay overnight. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 5: Sergiev Posad is famous for its astounding Holy Trinity Lavra that needs no introduction. Holy Trinity Lavra, being a functioning monastery for several hundred years, also became a museum under the open sky with lots for anyone to see. Its Holy Trinity Cathedral contains not only the relics of one of the most beloved Russian saints and Lavra’s founder – St. Sergius of Radonezh - but also has the only surviving iconostasis attributed to Andrei Rublev. The main church of Lavra, Dormition Cathedral strongly resembles the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, and has some fine icons and frescoes painted by masters from the city of Kostroma.
After brunch we will continue our day with the exploration of Pereslavl’- Zalessky, the home town of the Russian Duke Alexander Nevsky. Here we will visit the Holy Transfiguration Cathedral (dated back to 1152-1157) and Goritsky Monastery (museum now) with its fascinating baroque cathedral and art museum with a collection of Russian icons. After Dinner we will travel some two hours south for an overnight at the “crown jewel” of the Golden Ring – the town of Suzdal. In route we will stop to see Yuriev Pol’skiy, a small and for the most part neglected town that nevertheless has some spectacular sites to offer. We will explore St. George’s Cathedral (built in 1152), in age and quality of artistry rival to that of St. Dimitry in Vladimir; then the Archangel Michael Monastery neatly situated in between medieval earthen ramparts. Includes: (L), (D).
Day 6: This morning, we will explore very important and interesting medieval Russian city of Vladimir that is situated some 20 miles south of Suzdal. Here, our plans are to visit Dormition Cathedral with frescoes by Andrei Rublev, St. Dimitry Cathedral with its fantastic stone bas-reliefs, Cathedral of Knyaginin Convent, with frescoes dating back from 1649 and the newly restored/rebuilt Bogoyavlenskiy Monastery. After the tour of Vladimir we will visit the complex of the convent in Bogolyubovo, built on the spot of one of the earliest residences of the Russian dukes. At the end of the day, we will walk through the pristine fields to explore the world-renown monument - church of the Protection of the Theotokos on Nerl’ River. For overnight we will return to our hotel in Suzdal. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 7: It is practically impossible to try to describe Suzdal’ - that miracle little town, doubtlessly the jewel of the Russian Golden Ring and of all Russia. Multiple churches and monasteries always leave something new to explore for an attentive visitor, no matter how many times you have been in Suzdal’. Here we will visit the Suzdal’ Kremlin with its fascinating Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos, built in 1220’s. Along with the cathedral we will see the collection of church artifacts and the icon museum in the former archbishop’s palace. After lunch we will explore the architectural ensemble of Spaso-Ephymiev (St. Ephymius) Monastery. The latter is especially famous for its magnificent cathedral adorned with splendid frescoes by Guriy Nikitin. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 8: After an early breakfast we will transfer to yet another “jewel” of the Golden Ring, the “fairy tale” city of Rostov the Great. Being small, it nevertheless fully lives up to its name “the Great” due to its stunning monuments – Kremlin, monasteries, churches and museums filled with ancient artistic treasures. After lunch in the restaurant in Rostov Kremlin, we will transfer to the city of Yaroslavl’ that will be our home for next couple of nights. In the evening, weather, time and strength permitting, you’ll be offered an optional tour to a little town of Tutaev some 25 miles away from Yaroslavl’. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 9: Today we will explore the city of Yaroslavl’ – the greatest icon center of medieval Russia. Its artistic treasures easily can compete with those of Moscow and Novgorod. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, our starting point for today, with its 16th century cathedral, houses an important icon collection, with some of the most ancient and most splendid pieces of Yaroslavan’ art. Then we will continue to some of the most famous churches that will give us a good overview of the history and splendor of the Yaroslavl’ fresco school. Among them: Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos, St. Nicholas Church (“Nikoli Nadeina”), St. Elias (perhaps most famous of them all), ecclesiastical complex of St. John in Tolochkovo, and Church of the Holy Theophany. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 10: In the morning we will visit Tolga Monastery on the outskirts of the city, to honor, to admire and to adore the Tolga Icon of the Mother of God. We will have a brief tour of the monastery as well. There isn’t anyone who was not moved by the site of the efforts that the sisters made to bring this desecrated convent to its former glory. After a visit to Tolga convent we will spend some three hours getting to the city of Vologda that Russian Tsar John the Terrible envisioned to be the northern-most capital of Russia ever. That city at times is justly called the “sleeping beauty of Russia”. Vologda will “treat” us with its monumental Kremlin Cathedral, collection of church antiquities, icon gallery that can compete with the world famous icon collections of St. Petersburg and Moscow, and the splendidly decorated churches of St. John in Roschenie and St. Dimitry of Priluki in the city center. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 11: Today we’ll be spending in rural Russia – the legendary Belozerye or country of the White Lake. Being remote and distant from all major Russian cities, this land still is invaluable in Russian state, church and art history. Our trip here will be rewarded with visits to the town of Kirillov and the village of Ferapontovo. Kirillov is the location for one of the most famous and important Russian monasteries in all of Russia, that of St. Cyril of Beloozero or of the “White Lake”. It is functioning as a museum now, although the faithful are allowed to worship in a little church on the monastery grounds, where the relics of its founder St. Cyril are. Besides being a place for pilgrimage, the monastery has a very important icon collection on display in the museum and in two churches that are converted into exhibition halls. This remote place has magnificent collection of icons that makes visit here absolutely “a must”. In the village of Ferapontovo, another monastery still has awe-inspiring and well-preserved frescoes by Dyonisios, one of the most famous and talented medieval Russian iconographers. The state of art and quality of preservation of these frescoes earned Ferapontovo the name of Northern Sistine Chapel. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 12: Upon arrival to the Northern Russian capital - the glorious city of St. Petersburg we will explore a number of churches, tracing the architectural and iconogrpahic development of the Russian Sacred Art and Architecture in 18th the and 19th centuries. We will start our exploration with a visit to a bran new church, dedicated to the victims of a 900 days siege of Leningrad by German forces. This building, that looks very much like it much older and venerable predecessors, still relates very special feeling of a distinct architectural style of the Northern Russian capital.
From there we will proceed to the historical Vasilievskiy Island for a visit to two oldest surviving churches of St. Petersburg, one dedicated to the Apostle Andrew and another one to three Holy hierarchs – St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian. After that, we will cross the river and will come to St. Nicholas Cathedral, the most illustrious example of the Baroque style in Russian Church Architecture. Just before Lunch, we will visit the largest church of St. Petersburg - St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a museum now. If you’d like, you’ll be given a chance to climb up some several hundred stairs to see St. Petersburg from the observation deck that surrounds mighty cupola of the Cathedral. After Lunch, we will stop to see Alexander Nevsky Lavra, monastic foundation of Peter the Great that he established to “sanctify” the newly initiated Northern Russian Capital. Later in the afternoon we will transfer to the Ancient City of Novgorod. Includes: (B), (L), (D).
Day 13: Novgorod for centuries was the rival center to all of the Russian capitals and cultural centers. The magnificent remnant of this splendid glory can be seen till the present day. We will start our exploration of the city with several surviving churches on the former site of Novgorod’s market place, after that we will see the Grand Icon museum, perhaps with the most icons on display anywhere in Russia. After a visit to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, also in Novgorod Kremlin, you’ll be given a choice to visit Novgorod Treasure Gallery at Granovitaya Palata or to go back to study the treasures of Novgorod Icon Museum some more.
In the afternoon we will see Transfiguration Cathedral with some Theophane the Greek frescoes, Znamenskiy Sobor, with some good 17th century frescoes, the Church of St. Theodore the Stratylates, also with frescoes from the 14th century and the Church of St. Simeon the God-receiver in the former Zverin Monastery. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 14: Today we will start our day with a visit to the restorers’ workshop. People from that workshop literally saved dozens of square feet of frescoes from the churches in and around Novogorod that were ruined during WWII and that were considered to be lost forever. We will see some restored churches, among them Church of Our Savior on Nereditsa, Church of the Nativity on the Red Field (Rozhdestva na Krasnom pole), the Annunciation Church (Blagovescheniya na Myachine). Besides that we will see St. Anthony of Rome Monastery, St. George’s Monastery with its famous 11th century cathedral and the Museum of Wooden Architecture “Vitoslavlitsi”. Following that we will transfer to another ancient Russian city of Pskov, in medieval times the western-most outpost of the Russian Lands. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 15: After transferring to the ancient Russian city of Pskov, we will start with a visit to the Holy Trinity Cathedral with its fascinating 17-18th century iconostas, historical museum with its excellent icon collection, and special chambers where many more icons that are never seen on general display are stored. Then we’ll continue to explore the treasures of Pskov – among them two splendid jewels – Snetogorskiy and Mirozhskiy monasteries with 13th and 14th century frescoes. Mirozhskiy Monastery also hosts the monastic icon workshop and a church with another white stone frescoed iconostasis completed by contemporary iconographer Fr. Zenon. After that we will visit the most ancient church in Pskov – the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (12th century) where another famous Russian iconographer – Fr. Andrei Davidov tried to recreate icons and frescoes in a style that would be contemporary to the cathedral’s founding age. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 16: This morning we will transfer to St. Petersburg for further exploration of that grand city. Today we will explore the State Russian Museum and the Cathedral of the Savior “on the Spilled Blood” (a splendid example of 19th century Russian mosaic art). From there we will continue to the Modern Icon Gallery, where you’ll be able to purchase some modern icons and iconographical supplies. From the gallery we will go to the Cathedral of our Lady of Kazan. There, those who desire may stand for the All-Night Vigil, go shopping or just enjoy a leisurely night in the heart of St. Petersburg. Includes: (B), (L).
Day 17: Departure back home. Includes: (B).
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