The Solovetsky Monastery

The Solovki Archipelago (Solovki)

The Solovki Camp (GULAG)

Volume 2. Solovki GULAG

Part 3. The Solovetsky Monastery & The Solovki Concentration Camp

Foundation of Solovki Monastery

"The Solovetsky Islands (Russian: Соловецкие острова), or Solovki (Соловки), are an archipelago located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea, Russia. Area: 347 square kilometers (134 sq mi). "
( The Solovki Encyclopedia )

The foundation of Solovki monastery is connected with the names of three orthodox ascetics: Savvatii, Herman and Zosima.

Foundation of Solovki Monastery

Savvatii first worked in the abode of Cyrill Belozerskii, then in Valaame. According to the legends, for the first time he heard about "the afore-mentioned island is empty" in the middle of the sea. And Savvatii went to Solovki. He learned from the inhabitants of the White Sea coast, that the island is large, 100 kilometers round, and there are mountains, thickets, forests and lakes with fish.

Daily Random Photo.
Solovki - 2004 . Daily Random Photo.

By a chapel on Vyg river, Savvatii met Herman. They decided to travel to Solovki together. After waiting for a tailwind, they crossed the sea and in the summer of 1429 and landed on the uninhabited island. The two found a place near the lake and placed a cross at the site. It is located in 12 km to the north of Prosperity Gulf in Pine Bay. Today this place is known as Savvat'evo. The hermit life of the two monks Savvatii and Herman continued for six years on the island. Life on the uninhabited island forced Herman to leave in Onega "for some needs". Savvatii soon followed him because he felt his death was fast approaching. Savvatii passed away on the continent and was buried in 1435 near the settlement Soroka. In 1436, a year after Savvatii's death, Herman became acquainted with Zosima in Suma, who took in habit in Paleostrovsk. Herman described the island and apoke of Savvatii, which led Zosima to decide to follow in the footsteps of Savvatii. Herman supported this decision. The monks selected another place to settle. It was along coast of the gulf, which was called the "Prosperity Gulf," where weary seafarers found a quiet place to rest during storms. This place was rumored to be the base of new desert along the White Sea coast. A fraternity began to grow around Zosima and Herman.

This is the official version, based on the popular literary work entitled "Life of Solovki thaumaturgies Savvatii and Zosima." It is interesting that it was written during 15th and 16th centuries by numerous authors. Before his death, illiterate Herman asked the monks to write down his stories. In 1520's, these memoirs were used by the Father Superior, Dosifey who traveled both to write the "Life" and to engage in consultations with well-known authors of that time - Maxim Grek and Leo Filosof. These authors authorized the writing of "Life." This literary work became popular during this time as it was well circulated in a large number of variations. Unfortunately, an "official version" is not complete. The process of church editorial corrections led to the removal of the unnecessary and many changes are made, which causes the underlying semitones to disappear. As a result, we only obtain schematic pictures of popular style. Therefore, a number of questions arise when reading the "Life":

  1. Why is it said that "the afore-mentioned island is empty" if it is inhabited and actively used by the tribes "Chud," "Korela" and "Saams"?
  2. Why did Herman, who had lived on islands and Savvatii not initially, select not the most convenient place, such as Prosperity Gulf?
  3. Why did Herman and Zosima select a new place? There was already six years of settlement!

These questions do not have answers in "Life". Therefore, let us make the following logical conclusions:

  1. The legend that "the afore-mentioned island is empty" most likely means that there were no "European"-type settlements on the island. The use of islands by "aboriginal" tribes was not considered as "not emptiness". Another possibility was that the aboriginal tribes were not considered to be a "population". Furthermore, the legend about the loneliness of the island is a kind of claim for jurisdiction of that territory: we were there first!
  2. Herman selected the place in Pine Bay because Prosperity Gulf was already occupied. There were "seafarers." Also there were most likely heathen sanctuaries there because the White Sea consisted of the Chud', Korela, and Saams who are heathens. Moreover, Savvatii was going to live as a hermit, not to preach.
  3. Zosima's purpose was sermon. That is why he selected the new place for building a monastery.

Possibly, the time of the foundation of Solovki monastery actually must be considered separately from the settling by Zosima, but not of Savvatii. Who could know? There are three different characters in this history: the severe ascetic Savvatii, the preacher Zosima and the mysterious conductor Herman. The history of the canonization of "solovki thaumaturgists" is very curious. Herman was a narrator of this story as well. Herman exploited solovki monks to write down his stories about Savvatii and Zosima. They canonized the two monks in 1547. This occurred 68 years after the death of Herman, who was the fellow-companion of Savvatii and the inspirer of Zosima. Perhaps, the idea of founding the monastery belongs to Herman?

The monastery after its founders

For better or worse, the monks settled into a daily routine. They chopped firewood and engaged in salt-making. Thus they embed the future foundation of the economic power of the monastery. Two First Priors of the monastery were sent from Great Novgorod; however, they could not live under the burdens of solovki life and fled. The arrival of the third Father Superior (Iona) was marked by the reception of the letter from Martha Boretskaya, which presented the island to the monastery. Numerous letters and donations were given to the monastery before its churches and temples were officially consecrated. The monastery became so rich that in 1514 an equipment inventory of monastery was required. Up to the middle of the 16th century, the monastery was the most important owner along the White Sea coast. Forests, villages, salt houses, ploughed fields, lakes and fishing places belonged to the cloister. In the 16th and 17th centuries, 1600-2240 thousand tons of salt were made in salt houses of the monastery. This salt was sold all over Russia.

The fact that solovki salt was "black" is not known today. The salt was produced with ground corn and seaweed. As a result, when the salt is drying in a stove it becomes black. One salt-house produced more than 3 tons of salt in less than 48 hours. Salt was made with great effort, was highly valued and made quick returns.

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