The St. Nil Monastery has a beautiful yet tragic history which is what ultimately sparked my interest in this being my first blog post. The St. Nil Monastery was established in 1528 Stolobnyi Island in Lake Seliger in Tver’ Province. For reference, this is northwest of Moscow. In the 1600’s the members of the monastery began constructing what would be considered one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in all of the Russian Empire. This photo was taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, best known for his work in brining color photography to the Russian empire. Like many of his pictures, this one depicts the St. Nil Monastery in all its beauty.
Whether it’s the gorgeous bridge that catches your eye, the dome roof tops, or the landscaping there is a lot going on in the picture that pleases the eye. Alas, not all good things last and you should never judge a book by its cover. In 1927 the monastery was closed by the Soviet regime and repurposed at times as a concentration camp and other times as an orphanage. You would never assume looking at a structure this beautiful that hateful acts of a concentration camp could ever occur here. In 1939, 4700 Polish prisoners of war were held captive here in what they knew it called as the “Otashkov Camp”. The reason this site was decided upon as being used for such purposes is its location to the front line of the war. It was also used as a military hospital. Later, it was used again as a place to house juvenile delinquents and then a place for the elderly. Needless to say, the monastery had a wide variety of purposes over a 100 year time span.
Between 1971 and 1990, the once St. Nil monastery, was attempted to become a tourist attraction. That ultimately failed after multiple attempts due to a lack of resources but further the hypocrisy of the situation. They were trying to sell this place to tourists as a place of beauty when so much ugliness has occurred on the same grounds. In 1990, the church and the grounds was finally returned to the Orthodox Church. Recovery efforts are slow but each year they are seeing progress. Today, you can cross the bridge and go visit the once beautiful monastery of St. Nil while soaking in the deep troubling history of what occurred on a place so pure.