The St. George’s (Yuriev) Monastery (Russian: Юрьев монастырь) is usually cited as Russia’s oldest monastery. It stands in 5 kilometers south of Novgorod on the left bank of the Volkhov River near where it flows out of Lake Ilmen. The monastery used to be the most important in the medieval Novgorod Republic. It is part of the World Heritage Site named Historic Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings.
According to legend, the monastery of wood was founded in 1030 by Yaroslav the Wise (whose Christian name was George); the first historically reliable reference to it is from the early 12th century when the stone building of the main church (the Church of St. George, Georgieveskii Church) was started in 1119 by Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich of Novgorod and Pskov and Hegumen (roughly equivalent to a western prior) Kyuriak (Kirik) and built by the master Peter.
The monastery was an important source for historical information on medieval Novgorod, as part of the Novgorod First Chronicle (the Synodal text) was compiled in the monastery.
The Church of St. George is one of the largest in Novgorod and its immediate environs. It is a tall (105 feet tall) white-stone church 85 feet long by 75 feet wide with three silver domes, which is somewhat unusual for Russian churches which usually have five (the main dome representing Christ, the four smaller ones representing the evangelists). Some remnants of the medieval frescoes remain, but most of the church was refrescoes in 1902. Among the frescoes is a large Christ Pantokrator in the main dome, a full-length portrait of Novgorodian Archbishop Feoktist, and another full-length (although smaller) portrait of Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich on the southwestern pier.
The monastery also has the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross in the northeastern corner of the monastery, with five blue domes and gold stars on it, built in the 18th century. The gateway into the monastery is crowned by a tall gold-domed tower which is visible from the city centre, including the Novgorod Kremlin two miles to the north.
The monastery was ravaged during the Soviet rule. Five of its six churches were destroyed by 1928; the monastery was closed in 1929. During the World War II, the buildings were occupied by the German and Spanish armed forces, and were seriously damaged. In 1991 the monastery was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church, and parts of it have been renovated since then. However the western part, including a church there, are still in ruins.