Monastery of the Transfiguration of Valaam Island

Ladoga Lake is the largest lake found in Europe and has many islands on the northern side. The largest of these islands is Valaam, which is about thirty-six square kilometers. This name is Finnish and when translated means ‘the high land’, it has also been ascribed to the name of the pagan god Baal or the prophet Balaam. It has also been said that before the Christian Finno-Ugric and Slavic peoples lived on the Ladoga Lake shores, the island was a place of pagan ‘sanctity’.

In the southern part of Valaam the Snake Mountain also known as Karmil Mountain, was once a place where altars from different pagan gods stood. Christian legends say that in the first century AD, one of the disciples visited Valaam and destroyed all these pagan altars, but no evidence has been found to prove it.

Christianity on Valaam Island began in the 10th century when two monks by the names of German and Sergius arrived and started a growing monastic community. Throughout the centuries many attacks have been made on the monastery by both Swedish pirates and soldiers, leading to the reconstruction of the monastery each time. In 1163 the remnants of German and Sergius were taken to Novorod for protection but where then brought back in 1180 and buried within a rock chamber below the church.

The island was given to Sweden in 1617, but was later returned to Russia in 1721. In 1719 the Cathedral of the Transfiguration was built in wood above where the relics of German and Sergius had been buried. Unfortunately with three fires occurring during the 1700s the Transfiguration Cathedral was destroyed. It was only during the mid 18th century that the five-domed Cathedral of the Transfiguration was rebuilt again, leading the Island of Valaam into favorable times and where many abbots helped enlarge the monastic complex.

In 1991 the old Monastery of Transfiguration on Valaam Island was returned to the Orthodox Church, and since then many thousands of pilgrims travel to the island each year to spend time in the monastery, treating it as time to ponder on spiritual matters and to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. Other events, like the commemoration day of St. Sergius and St. German and the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior, attract many people to come visit.


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