How often do the students of Novgorod State University, being late for lectures at the Humanitarian institute, ask the one and the only question: why it’s situated so far from the bus stop? Every day they run by this beautiful white cathedral, looking at their watch, and never notice the building at all. After classes they hurry somewhere and just have got no time to be surprised neither by the beauty and mystery of the place, where the buildings of the University are located, nor by rapidity of time that bears everything and never gets older. And they’re hardly ever interested why this urban area is called Anthonovo and what stories these ancient walls have witnessed…
St. Anthony monastery (now considered one of the most valuable old russian architectural monument) was founded in the XII c. and is concerned with saint Anthony the Roman who ‘by agency of Providence’ in three days sailed on a stone from ‘the Roman countries’ to Novgorod: “…he traveled along the warm sea, from there to Neva river and from the Neva to the New lake, and from the New lake up Volkhov river, against rapids right to the new Town”. This took place in 1106. Soon, right where the stone reached the bank, the saint founded the monastery in honour of Holy Mother who accompanied him during his sailing.
Life of st. Anthony the Roman says that Anthony chose the way of self-sacrifice in 18 y.o. After his parents’ death he gave most of his heritage to the poor and the rest of gold, silver and precious bottles he pitched in a barrel and threw in sea.
First he settled in mountains with monks who hid from papal persecution. Then Anthony went to the rock that stood by the sea to “be on that stone…for a year and a couple of months” (one of a prayer feat called stylition). Once there was such a strong wind that waves tore off the stone Anthony was standing on (according to the legend Anthony was grasping at grass, that is why he is often painted with a bunch of grass), and carried him to the Neva and through the Ladoga lake to the Volkhov. In three days Anthony found himself in an unknown and far Novgorod land. The stone entered the firth of river Volkhov near the village Volkhovskoe, 3 versts from Novgorod. This event is certified in novgorodian annals.
In the morning saint Anthony was found by the village inhabitants. They in surprise looked at the stranger who didn’t dare to leave the stone that became his home and stronghold from storms. As far as he didn’t know Russian he answered all questions bowing. For three days the saint prayed on the stone and begged the God to tell hem what country he was in. Then he went to Novgorod and by agency of Providence he met a foreign smith who spoke Latin, Greek and Russian. He told st. Anthony where he was. He was surprised to hear that he was in Novgorod the Great, saw St. Sophia, and his stone wasn’t in the Tiber waters, but in Volkhov that is about half a year journey from Rome, while he thought his trip in sea took only three days. Together they entered the cathedral where the priest Nikita served, and the soul of the stranger who was persecuted because of ancestors’ faith in his homecountry, filled with joy when saw the beauty of the orthodox service, that was so poor in the West. Having left the temple Anthony returned to his stone. The inhabitants came to him to get favoring. Thus the saint learnt Russian.
Anthony opened the secret of his appearance to the Novgorodian archbishop Nikita. The priest advised him to build a monastery right on the place where the stone was brought by the sea. First there was a small wooden church in honour of Nativity of our Lady, and there was a monastery nearby. Thus according to the legend St. Anthony monastery that already exists 9 centuries appeared. But that isn’t the end of the legend.
In a year after these events st. Anthony met fishermen that were sad because of a bad catch. The saint asked them to fish around again and promised to give them a billot under the condition that “I will give Holy Virgin Theotokos everything you catch”. The fishermen cast nets and when they took them away among fish there was a barrel that Anthony threw in the sea in Italy. The fishermen didn’t want to give the barrel back. So the debaters asked a mayor to judge them. St. Anthony called al the things that were inside the barrel and got it back. He built a big stone temple and a monastery on this money.
St. Anthony died in August 3, 1147 and was buried in the monastery. The stone the saint sailed on is situated in the rabbet under the fresco with the image of st. Nikita. One can see the mark of Anthony’s right barefoot. They say that the stone has health giving qualities especially when having a toothache.
The temple of Nativity of our Lady was founded in 1117, built to the end in two years and painted in 1125. The cathedral falls into the princely building type. Despite later annexes surrounding the cathedral from 3 sides and some changes, in general it keeps its original forms. The cathedral plan is a little stretching from west to east. There is a round tower in the north-west corner. On the top of the building there are three domes. The hip roof is of later origin. The first covering was composite. The church facades have no ornaments. Only the top of the dome drum is decorated with simple arch ornament.
The architectural forms of the cathedral are close to those of the St. Nicholas and St. George cathedrals. Many researches consider that all these three monuments were built by one master talent of whom can be clearly seen in St. George cathedral.
The temple arches are sustained by six columns, in the eastern side there is a bema (fenced off from the inner space of the temple by a high iconostasis) - inner sanctum of every church. There were resonators under arches inside of the temple to improve acoustic possibilities. Usually they were crocks built into walls so that only neck parts were outside.
The cathedral was a tomb for Novgorodian boyars, archbishops, voivodes and others. There buried the first-rate Novgorodian boyars brothers Alfanovs, torn by people during disorder of 1609. Michael Tatishev, prince Vasiliy Ivanovich Odoevskiy died in 1612, stol’nik Saltikov killed in a fight near Rugodivo in 1700, stol’nik Streshnev, Choglokovs, Olsufevs, Knyajnins and others.
Besides on the monastery area there is a church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary XVI c. with a refectory, treasury cellas XVII c. and a library XVIIIc.
In October 30, 1740 the Theological seminary was holily opened in the monastery. After it was closed in 1918 there was situated the Novgorod practice Institute of national education. Later – Novgorod state pedagogical institute. From 1993 there is the Humanitarian institute of the Yaroslav-the- Wise Novgorod State University.
Today the cathedral of Nativity of our Lady of St. Anthony monastery is open from 10 a. m till 5 p. m, Monday is a day off.