History of the Nilova Monastery

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. View of the Monastery from the Solarium, 1910. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03973 (44)


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.


6 thoughts on “History of the Nilova Monastery”

  1. I really enjoy the juxtaposition of the picture, a serene monastery, with the horrifying history of the place that you detail so well. It is particularly ironic that this was also an attempted tourist attraction for two reasons, one that it is a monastery and meant to be a holy place of worship as well as the dark past that haunts the area. While the architecture of the building is very eye catching the real history of the places defines it even to this day. It is also interesting that the building is still a recovery effort by the church. Rather than let it be turned into a museum or retire it to history, it is still being worked on.

  2. Really interesting post! The photo you chose was very complex, and I like how you dug so deep into the tumultuous history of that one building. It’s hard to believe that so much beauty can coincide with such atrocities, which will continue to be a theme throughout many of the events in this class. It’s interesting how it was sold as a place of beauty to tourists, when such a complex history lies beneath. I think it will be interesting to see what happens to this church in the future as the Orthodox church tries to rebuild.

  3. I really enjoyed your post! What a cool photograph of The St. Nil Monastery by Prokudin-Gorsky. I really appreciate how you talked in depth about the history of the monastery. I think it is so interesting and horrible how many uses the monastery has had. One thing I found particularly fascinating was that the monastery was returned to the Orthodox Church in 1990. Last semester I wrote a paper on the resurgence of the Orthodox Church and I think that the return of properties like this one highlight that the Church will definitely be something to watch in Russian public life going forward.

  4. I really liked your post. I also picked a religious site as my picture. I find churches, mosques, monasteries, synagogues, and any type of religious site so interesting. I really believe that history is rooted in these places. This picture is so beautiful as well! I wish I could visit. I find it really interesting that they used a monastery as a concentration camp. Even though it was located close to the front line, you would believe that the Soviet regime would have some sort of dignity and moral compass to keep it out of that evil.

  5. I really love the difference between the two sides of the bridge. On one side it looks like heaven on earth with a beautiful church and a blue sky , while on the other side the grass is dying and there is a dirt road. In your post I really enjoyed the history you provided it brought a whole new meaning to this photograph.

  6. The monastery depicts the Russians architectural capabilities in the 20th century. It is interesting to view the country in a time of its economic weakness or early development, and still be able to see what the country was able to accomplish. These pictures are aesthetically pleasing and were probably revered in the land at the time of their creation. The history of the building is in depth and I think that you did a good job at describing the background of this environment.

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