On most weekends, I’m guilty of sleeping in late and lounging around my host family’s apartment until the afternoon. My host mom, who serves me mouthwatering meals every day, typically lets me sleep in until 11am before she calls me into the kitchen for breakfast. However, there was one Saturday morning in particular when she dragged me out of bed and piled me into the family car, all before 9am. This, of course, caught me off-guard, but I was still half asleep at the time so I didn’t ask questions.
After a thirty-minute car ride, my host parents and I arrived at the Saint Michael’s Vydubychi Monastery, which is located between the National Botanical Garden and the Dnieper River. Built in 1070, the monastery is now administered by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate. The original buildings of the monastery were constructed out of wood, so they were all reconstructed in the 1600-1700’s. Many of the buildings still possess the 17th century Ukrainian Baroque style, and the numerous mosaics and frescoes throughout the monastery have been refurbished.
My host father, who is particularly strong in his religious beliefs, referred to this monastery as one of his favorites spots in Kyiv, and clearly had a fond appreciation for the tranquil setting. My host mom also shared the same love for this location, and quickly started showing me around the different buildings.
Nelli, my host mom, handed me a scarf for my hair and led me into the main church, where a baby’s christening was taking place. Apparently, the Vydubychi Monastery is popular among Ukrainians for baptism ceremonies and religious blessings. Come to find out, this is also where my host sister was baptized when she was just a child.
My host mom walked me over to the Saint Michael portrait hanging on the wall and handed me a candle. She then explained to me that when you’re preparing to start a new chapter of your life or make way for new experiences, it’s ritual to light a candle for Saint Michael, who is believed to watch over you and protect you during your journey. Since my Christmas holiday will be spent backpacking and traveling to various countries, Nelli told me that she believed it was necessary to bring me to the Vydubychi Monastery and pray with me before I left the safety of her home.
Afterwards, while walking around the monastery grounds, we met up with my host dad, who was carrying large jugs of water back to the car. Another intriguing characteristic of the Vydubychi Monastery is the well of holy water that sits on the far corner of the grounds. To my great surprise, the water my host family consumes on a weekly basis comes only from this well. My host dad drives out to the monastery every Saturday and refills the family’s water jugs. By that time, I had spent almost an entire semester in Kyiv and I had no idea that I was drinking holy water every day!
Needless to say, my trip to the Vydubychi Monastery was beyond enjoyable! While this monastery isn’t given as much attention as the Pechersk Lavra Monastery or the famous Saint Sophia Cathedral, its smaller, more intimate setting is what truly makes it memorable. There are only a handful of visitors at any given time, so strolling around the monastery grounds was a pleasant way to spend my Saturday morning. Whether you’re with a group of people, your host family, or just wandering around on your own, the monastery is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a peaceful and scenic excursion.
Saint Michael’s Vydubychi Monastery in Kyiv, Ukraine
1.5 hour visit with my host family
Cost of candles: 10-20 UAH (~$0.35-0.75)